Road Trip Wednesday: Blast from the 19th Century Past

Thanks to that gals at YA Highway for this blog prompt.

If you could travel back to any historical era for research purposes, which would you choose?

Definitely late 19th century United States — specifically, 1876 Philadelphia.  Boy oh boy do I wanna see the International Centennial Exhibition that’s the back drop for Eleanor’s story.

The International Centennial Exhibition was the first World’s Fair hosted in the United States, and we used the event to also host a giant “party” celebrating our country’s 100th birthday.  It was an enormous “city” built to house the various nations and their feats of man.

The place was like Disney World — and (don’t laugh) Disney World is my favorite place in the whole wide world.  There was even a little train you could ride that would take you around the Exhibition Grounds.  There was music playing everywhere; new inventions to see (like the telephone and ketchup!); popcorn to be eaten and exotic treats to try; and thousands upon thousands of visitors to mingle with everyday.

The fair lasted six months, and in that time, 10,000,000 people came from around the world to see it.  Ten thousand people visited on the opening day alone!

The most popular building to visit was Machinery Hall, where the world displayed their newest inventions.  This building is also where most of Eleanor’s story takes place, so it holds a special place in my heart (and Eleanor’s).

Here’s how she describes the fair:

I joined the throngs that poured through the Exhibition turnstiles, paid my fifty cents, and strode into the enormous Grand Plaza.  It was like a field of flowers with parasols everywhere, twirling and bobbing in the breeze.  A bronze fountain rose from the plaza’s center and towered over the thousands of visitors.  It was Bartholdi’s fountain of Light and Water, and I paused before it to let the mist spray over me.

I had already visited the Exhibition.  I had gasped and twittered with all the other visitors, but even the greatest feats of man lose their luster when one’s head is filled with storm clouds.

I lowered my parasol and swiveled left.  Before me was most popular building at the Exhibition: Machinery Hall.  It was a long, narrow building made entirely of wood and glass, and I had to crane my neck to see the top.

I marched in through the building’s eastern entrance.  Sun poured in from windows that spanned the walls, and sharp beams of light flew from the metal surfaces that packed the building.  The metal of machines.

Engines, furnaces, sewing machines, locomotives – every example of man’s newest creations hummed with life in this building.  The hall resounded with the whirs and clicks of a mechanical symphony.  Singing with it was the chorus of people’s laughter and chatter, and above it all was the percussive boom of a massive steam engine.

It was the Corliss Engine.  It sat in the center of Machinery Hall and soared forty feet up into the rafters.  Two monstrous cylinders spun a thirty foot wheel, and the energy it gave was enough to power every machine in the building.

On the fair’s opening day, I’d watched President Grant and Emperor Dom Pedro pull levers to start the machine.  The Corliss Engine was the Centennial Exhibition’s crowning triumph.

So there you have it.  Much of The Spirit-Hunters is set at the Centennial Exhibition, and in Machinery Hall specifically.  I think it would be amazing to see the newest versions of technology we now take for granted.

However, I think I’ll have to forgo the corset.  I’m not sure I can handle the Philadelphia heat in a wool gown, two petticoats, a corset, and a flowery bonnet…

What about you all?  What historical era do you wish you could experience?


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