Sunday, July 31, 2005

In Case the Latest Pyramid Scheme Fails, Here's Another

As a late but satisfied reader of Erik Larson's "The Devil in the White City" about the great Chicago World's Fair, I came across the following passage this morning...

"The exposition promised to surpass the Paris exposition on every level -- every level, that is, except one, and that persistent deficit troubled [Daniel] Burnham. The fair still had nothing planned that would equal, let alone eclipse, the Eiffel Tower...

"A competition held by the [Chicago] Tribune brought a wave of implausible proposals...

"J.B. McComber, representing the Chicago-Tower Spiral-Spring Ascension and Toboggan Transportation Company, proposed a tower with a height of 8,947 feet, nearly nine times the height of the Eiffel Tower with a base one thousand feet in diameter sunk two thousand feet into the earth. Elevated rails would lead from the top of the tower all the way to New York, Boston, Baltimore, and other cities. Visitors ready to conclude their visit to the fair and daring enough to ride elevators to the top would then toboggan all the way back home. 'As the cost of the tower and its slides is of secondary importance,' McComber noted, 'I do not mention it here, but will furnish figures upon application.'"

Fortunately, Chicago had Daniel Burnham in charge. Larson writes, "Everyone was thinking in terms of towers, but Burnham, for one, did not think a tower was the best approach. Eiffel had done it first and best. More than merely tall, his tower was grace frozen in iron, as much an evocation of the spirit of the age as Chartres had been in its time. To build a tower would be to follow Eiffel into territory he already had conquered for France."

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