The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair is brought back to life with augmented reality

CHICAGO – If you’ve ever wanted to travel back in time to Chicago’s 1893 Columbian Exposition, one resident’s mission was to make it possible.

Michael Finney has always been fascinated by “The White City,” the unofficial name for over 200 encapsulating structures built atop Jackson Park.

The fair, which ran from May 1, 1893 to October 30, 1893, was brought into the 21st century by author Erik Larson’s book The Devil and the White City – which also tells the story of the fair’s construction along with HH Holmes’ exploits as a serial killer operating out of a house on 63rd and Wallace.

As a longtime fan of the fair, Finney wanted to commemorate the 125th anniversary in 2018. So he started acquiring photos from an antique book published in 1893 to promote the event. From there, Finney tweeted an interesting picture of the fair every day.

“While doing this, I thought I had amassed a good amount of data. I could probably make a book out of this,” Finney said.

Finney published 1893: Chicago’s Columbian Exposition in August 2019. He didn’t stop there.

The following year, Finney produced a documentary of the same name using old photos mixed with modern photography.

“I released the soundtrack shortly after the film and the merch series,” Finney said. “Late 2020, early 2021, I was like, ‘What else could I do with this project?'”

Rather than proceeding with another film or book, Finney used his engineering expertise to bring the World’s Fair to an emerging new medium – augmented reality.

The medium really arrived in the mainstream in 2016 with “Pokémon Go”. A smartphone is all users need to experience what Finney has created over the past two years. Users can also use an augmented reality headset or glasses.

Aiming to bring most of the entire fair back to life, Finney has released the first enhanced structure that users can see anywhere in the city or the world – the Administration Building.

The administration building in 1893

The Administration Building was one of the crown jewels of the Grand Basin, one of six buildings surrounding the lake.

“The goal of Phase 2 is to give the Grand Basin a voice or character,” Finney said.

Fans of The Devil and the White City rejoice as Finney is considering bringing famed architect Daniel Burnham back to life.

One of the iconic structures that Finney has worked on is the Statue of the Republic. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the fair, a smaller replica was installed in Jackson Park in 1918, intended to be destroyed by fire.

The original statue, destroyed in 1896, stood 65 feet above the Grand Basin.

Replica of the Statue of the Republic

Although Finney was a big fan of the Columbian Exposition, he knew he needed help from some Chicago institutions.

“We’ve really combed through the archives across the city, the Chicago History Museum and the Art Institute,” Finney said.

The research enabled him to first build a physical scale of the administration building before using software to create full-size and miniature-size versions of it in augmented reality.

While it may seem ideal to return to Jackson Park to check out the buildings, Finney’s vision for the project is for users to be able to spend time at the replica fairground wherever they are.

“I love the idea of ​​taking people outside and walking,” Finney said.

While the administration building is free, Finney plans to sell his upcoming buildings as a bundle. Users also have the option to buy buildings a la carte.

While still in phase one of the four planned phases, Finney is now working on the completion of the peristyle that provided water access to the mess hall. He hopes to complete a total of six structures in the first phase.

To download Finney’s augmented reality project, visit The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair is brought back to life with augmented reality

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