David Low – Letters Home from the 1893 Columbia Exposition in Chicago

See also: The Gloucester Harbor Diorama

Chicago, April 16, 1893

Dear Wife,

Yesterday I was informed that the Exhibit Cars had arrived and that I might expect them to be unloaded tomorrow (Monday). In the afternoon Jensen arrived at the building and I was glad to see him. Brook’s exhibit came yesterday and I helped him a little on laying out his work and opening boxes. The Cars do not come within ¾ of a mile of the building and a rough road to haul over. I have offered to pay for extra care in transportation but fear that it will be in sad condition when it reaches the space.

I have improved what time I had after looking up Car arrivals to look around, going and coming different ways to take in what I could, it is a colossal affair and will be a great exhibit, greater than any one can realize without seeing the buildings. I went over to the Yard Master’s office yesterday forenoon two miles from the Fisheries building and then walked around the tracks until I located the Blue Line Car, the other I could not find. I was pretty tired when I got back. A person can walk 8 to 12 miles a day here and not know it, except by his tiresomeness. There are so many things to see that he does not realize how much he is travelling. I went through the Horticultural building and the Liberal Arts building yesterday. I find whatever building I enter the exhibits are not any far advanced than in the Fisheries Building, some of them less.

The Norwegian exhibit is about completed and is a very fine one. Its paintings of its fisheries (in oil) are fine, very large, and so are those merely in black and white. Canada is also making a great exhibit, partially installed. All the Museums and Natural History Societies in the Dominion have contributed, besides what its government has done.

The State of Washington has an immense Whale’s Skeleton which is being mounted and then to be hoisted up across their space and the Main Aisle. It will come close to Gloucester’s Isinglass & Glue Co. It smells strong and it the people do not see it overhead they will think it is the glue they smell.

Russia, Rhode Island & Maine exhibits have not come yet. The Japanese are busy on theirs and no expense is spared on it.

Everything is being pushed to the utmost everywhere to complete things for the opening and although 12,000 men are at work I do not see how it is possible for a complete whole before June, is so soon. Yet Americans accomplish wonders when they are set upon it.

I wish Fred would get some of the hard black sea weed that grows on the rocks and around the wharves and dry it enough for transportation and send me a peach crate of it and if he could find me some large pieces of the tassel & leaf mosses that are used for pressing, I could utilize them to advantage. The Stage fort side of the Canal often has them. I have been first rate since I have been here, good appetite, sleep well, did not sleep quite as well last night, after learning how far exhibit had got to be teamed. Have made a call to John J. Clark this afternoon, he was right glad to see me. He is not very smart. He has been confined to his house lately.

Amanda the Bank Book, she had better keep unless Mr. Bradford asks for it. You had better settle with Mr. Coffin for me at end of month. If he is not satisfied to take my receipt signed by you for me for his deposit slips, got to Mr. Bradford. I want you to act for me just as if I were there only Mr. B. signs checks, endorses checks and notes for the Company. Mr. Coffin I expect to transact his business with me as Treasurer through you. You will fill out checks for what bills he approves and want paid and you take the checks for them to Mr. B. for signature.


With love for all, very truly,

D. W. Low




Chicago, April 22, 1893

Dear Wife,

The first car-load of Gloucester’s Exhibit was unloaded and placed on our space last Tuesday afternoon, it came in better order than I expected although some patching, puttering and panting is required on the columns and arches. The worst used box was that containing the glass for the doz. picture frames, something had struck one end of it and burst out of the other end. I have not examined its contents. Wednesday we got the part of Arches together. Thursday’s storm gave them a wetting that swelled and twisted them, and our table that we had put together and left the Map of Gloucester on top of, was thoroughly wet and the map soaked out of its binding. About everything on the space was more or less wet. The storm which was an unusually severe one was against the roof on our side and it drove in that night. If the packages had been unpacked, many of the things would have been spoiled. The night guards in the building moved things or it would have been worse. The arch boards which were in the second car were not delivered at the building until Friday afternoon. We had got the floor strengthened and mast up Thursday and topmast up Friday and Jensen busied himself Saturday afternoon in setting up rigging and I unpacked and dusted the arch boards and arranged them for putting on and nailed the triangular stand in position.

It was a deuce of a job putting on the Arch boards to No. 1 Arch…they did not cover the arch in width b a half inch and they had straightened out in the box so that they had to be sawed and planed to get any sort of a fit. And all the others that we have put on are the same way, we shall have to nail a rope border on to cover the deficiencies although when the arch is up (we got the first one up yesterday) its height hides its deficiencies very much from the floor, but not from the gallery. We are in hopes to get the rest of the arch boards on tomorrow and most of the arches in place, although it they bother us much, we may not get them on until another day.

Mr. Brooks is getting along nicely, his exhibit will be a fine one: so artistic. Mr. Rogers has his nearly completed and it looks well he had not put the artistic taste and expense into his that Mr. Brooks has. Mr. Kempt, E. K. Burnham’s man is hard at work fixing up his.

We all lend each other a hand when needed, which is quite a help to all, more especially to me when any lifting it done.

For four days the weather had been awful cold wet rain, or snow, every day with mud almost to top of overshoes. It has cleared off this afternoon and tonight the new moon is shining brightly. I hope it will be bright and warm now, to dry up the buildings inside as well as out. I have passed through the week without taking cold which was a wonder considering how damp and cold everything was but I kept busy at work and when I began to feel cold went into the office and warmed up which was only two or three times. I am in hopes to get the main features of exhibit in place to look like something by the opening, having all details work and embellishments for afterwork.

I send a bill of Charles Lloyd which I would like to have paid him at once. I meant ot have done it before I left home as he only charged me for the material used. When you write let me know how Eben is getting along. I hope he is all right, from his sickness. I am glad Fred has got work. There is no outlook here. I board with one who is with one of the great Architects of the City and have had quite a talk with him.


Love to all, yours,





Chicago, May 1, 1893

Dear Wife,

I was so tired last night that when I came from supper I threw myself on the bed and did not wake up until 11 PM then undressed and went to bed. It rained hard Saturday night and when I went to the Park Sunday morning I found the night watchman had moved some things and spread canvass over considerable space and part of the model platform and water was coming down on it lively. Wasn’t I made and didn’t it make me feel blue. I have been protesting my mouth and letters eversince I have been here against the leakey roof and the damage it was doing to the exhibit in my charge and nothing has been done. The Supt. of the Building, who is independent of Capt. Collins (which is the curse of this exposition, too many heads with divided responsibility) says he has orders to repair and make the roof tight but there has been no weather to do it. It has rained every day for a fortnight now, so there is a little excuse for him but no excuse for the Architect who planned the roof. It leaks where the different parts come together worst and the Gloucester space it right under it. I spent the day yesterday in finishing up the decorations over the Octagon exhibit and helping Jensen unpacking his models and stowing the boxes under the platform.

Today all work stopped at 10 AM when our bunting was hoisted. The opening has been a great success as far as attendance is concerned. I guess a quarter million visited the grounds today and it was a handsome sight to see, at a distance, close to, you would see them wading in mud. The Electric Launches and Gondolas on the Lagoon added to the effect, altogether it was a success. Inside of the Fisheries building, incomplete as it is, the Gloucester Exhibit I am pleased to say attracted the most attention and held spectators longer than other exhibits, numerous was the questions asked notwithstanding the information all around it in plain letters.

Tomorrow, I shall try and get my wharves and Fish houses in position they were placed temporary for today. The Vessels and the Marine Railway with the Puritan hauled out were the only things placed in permanent position. There is a great deal of work to be done yet. I am feeling in health first rate but get awfully tired when I get through at night.

My pass with my photo attached I got today, the photo is a good one with a metallic badge which I am obliged May 1, 1893 gether costs $3.00, the badge when returned, $2.00 is returned for.

Tell Fred if Reed & Gamage’s check has not been cashed, to send it to me and I will endorse it payable to you if it is to my order, so that you can get the money for it. I hope you fixed up the house to your liking. I do not know that I have mentioned it in any letters yesterday’s Tribune was sold out early, and as high as 3.00 was paid for a copy. I will send one tomorrow giving an account on the opening.

Love to all, yours



I am tired enough to go to bed and shall do so, although only quarter past nine.