I cast my shade upon the relic of the American dream. It’s a warm day in the summer, with the sun covering half the sky, juxtaposed by black clouds and a cool breeze sweeping across the horizon over the Nation Mall. It’s calming in its nature, the quiet before the storm. Thunder crackles in the distance as I survey my great city. Men and women look up to the sky behind me. Some stare past me with frightened eyes and hurry away. Others stare past me in amazement, taking pictures of the coming storm with me as compliment. Only one truly stares at me. A woman stares at me and my sisters with desperate eyes. She is unlike the many drones walking by only to stumble upon my presence. She must know me, she must know my pain. The woman crosses the street without looking away, without even blinking, staring into my soul. She looks away and approaches the door unaware of its current state. Forever locked, the door remains. Tears run down the woman’s face as she looks up at me again. Her eyes are red and saddened but still left hopeful. A cool wind blows past me and the essence of a summer rain lies upon my home. The women, left trapped at the entrance of my home, sits calmly against the door as the rain passes. She unveils a notebook and a pen and begins lay words upon an already started story. Her story is the story about the remnants of me.
As the rain comes down upon my face leaving my stone tears to drop like falling ash, I wonder about my forgotten home. Days go by as my empty halls remain unattended. Men and women walk through from time to time to apply nails, metal, and fix chipped paint. They leave stitches to wounds that are not physical and leave theses halls to suffer quietly alone. A subtle draft blows through a crack between the front doors and makes its way inside like a silent breath. The last beam of sunlight pierced through the stain glass windows and lands on the central pedestal.
Left behind, this pedestal looms bare and alone without its mother standing above. The adjacent halls mirrored each other, left baron and dark. Thunder roars above and echoes through the halls accompanied by the relentless summer downpour. A flash of light momentarily illuminates the halls revealing a colorful glow across the marble floors. The diamond shapes of golden brown, black, white, and blue illuminated and converge around the central pedestal. Eyes stare through the windows, unfazed and curious. The woman below me dreams about my home and what it was, maybe even dreaming about what it could be. My halls were once great; housing what was once the culmination of American ingenuity. Artifacts of The Centennial Exposition of 1876 decorated these halls. My home was at the forefront of what was now the new United States of America. The new America was successful, and my home was created because of this recent success.
The Centennial Exposition proved that tThe United States was to become one of the great world powers. People from all around the world were amazed by America’s ingenuity and the massive scale of the event in Philadelphia, housing over 200 buildings and serving just over 10 million attendees. This was a time where Americans still took pride in creation, and this was at the start of American capitalism. The Corliss Steam machine was the main attraction of the event. Its sheer size and power a suitable metaphor of how American is a powerful machine, and it was just starting. The American Dream had just kick-started and riding the wave of an industrial and capitalistic renaissance, my home was commissioned to be build. My home was created as a remembrance of the event and housed many artifacts and pieces of art over the years. As a national museum, I have had the opportunity to witness many famous individuals—even Presidents visit my home and marvel in my own presence. But the glory of my existence has waned just as the sun has today, leaving me soaked and covered in a dark pall. Many of the great pieces of American history are no longer here; they are history just as I am. The contents of my home are now scattered about Washington in many of the new museums to accompany the many themes they represent, whether that be capitalism, invention, or art. I can only hope that the day may never come where I may be bound to another home.
I have seen many buildings rise here in Washington, D.C., many of which are museums just like my home, but I was the first. The world I see is always moving forward, leaving the past behind. I wonder, what happens to forgotten museums? Is there a museum of forgotten museums? Is there a place where the forgotten like me can call our new home? One day I may be able to be seen again, be important and really mean something to everyone, not just someone who cares; someone like the woman below me. She sought me out and knows my pain. Even though the rain has stopped and my stone tears no longer drop, there is a sadness. My home is a beautiful place but only forgotten.
The woman walks away from my home with her notebook, but then suddenly stops. She turns to look at me once again, revealing a drawing of me and my home. Despite the storm and my ash filled tears, she drew me and my sisters smiling above my beautiful home accompanied by the sun. I am Columbia and the Arts and Industry Building is my forgotten home.
The United States was never really whole until April 9th, 1865. This was the day that Robert E. Lee surrendered in the American Civil War. Preceding the war, The United States was a wild country without true unification. It was still untamed and didn’t have the framework or the infrastructure to even contribute to the global economy or global affairs. At this time, it was still not possible to move supplies and people from one side of the country to the other by rail. No one looked to the United States to do anything but dump unwanted people like the Irish in the 1840s, and the Chinese in the 1880s. But through the bloodshed of The American Civil War, The United States was able to start again. With the factories and industry created for the war, the United States was able to begin to produce steel, and other supplies to rework the infrastructure throughout the entire country. In addition to the push for new infrastructure, The United States, for the first time, had an able and standing Army. All these new assets finally came together in 1869 when the transcontinental railroad was complete. A new age of America was set to begin. Riding off the highs of self-achievement, the people of The United States wanted to prove to the rest of the world that they were just as great as everyone else, or even better. The opportunity presented itself when The United States was granted permission to host the World’s Fair in Philadelphia in 1876, celebrating 100 years since the signing of The Declaration of Independence. The fair committee, composed of the likes of Joseph R. Hawley, John Welsh, Alfred T. Goshorn, Daniel J. Morrell, and H. J. Schwarzmann, were able to appropriate funds for the fair through he selling of stocks and bonds with the promise of repayment once The Fair was completed. Once it could be determined that the nation could proﬁt off the event, the U.S. government stepped in and assisted in any way possible. All the best sculptors, architects, and masters of industry in the United States were brought together to foster the event.
In 1876, The United States hosted the Centennial Exposition, the ﬁrst World’s Fair in The United States, in Philadelphia. The committee oversaw the creation of the fair and brought in all the best citizens, industrialists, farmers, artists, farmers, artists, educators, scientists, and inventors to create The Fair, and showcase their creations. In the words of an anonymous poet who watched the creation of the fair unfold: To frame a nations hundred years A camp of palaces appears! Over 200 buildings were constructed by some of the best engineers and sculptors to create the atmosphere of The Fair, stretching over three miles in Fairmount Park. Several buildings were created aside from the main exhibition building including Agricultural Hall, Horticulture Hall, The Womens Pavilion, Judges Hall, and The United States government building to showcase different areas of interest to fairgoers. In anticipation of a large turnout, large temporary hotels were constructed to house the visitors of The World’s Fair. As the contract for the plans were put in place, an appropriation was made requiring any profit from the fair to be used to construct a national museum to hold as many of the great American artifacts of The Fair.
The Centennial Exposition opened to 186,272 people from across The United States and around the world, totaling an estimated 10 million admissions throughout The Exhibition. People were stunned by the architecture, and the whole world marveled at the promise America had to offer. In the words of Professor Reuleaux (a German commissioner who had attended every fair prior to 1876), “The numerous separate exhibits harmonize with the principle halls like movements of a mighty fugue in which every voice intones the melody anew, in its own character, linked and interwoven with the others, until at last the whole immense industrial orchestra carries the theme to the resounding and thunderous finale. Never before has this been achieved so perfectly.” The main exhibition building was the largest building in the world at the time, covering up to 22 acres. Inside housed many of great attractions and inventions by Americans that intrigued visitors. Among these inventions were: Alexander Bell’s telephone, Heinz Ketchup, The Remington Typewriter, The Wallace Farmer Electric Dynamo, and Hires Root Beer. But the main attraction of the hall and of The Fair was The Corliss Steam engine. To get to it, attendees had to walk past many other displays, like the Krupp exhibit showing off American weaponry. The Corliss Steam machine was a main attraction because of its sheer size and power—it was a suitable metaphor for American engineering and its strength. ‘The Machine’ powered all the exhibits at The Fair. The event proved that America has the ability and resources to compete with the older European nations. This also marked a new era for The Industrial Revolution. As said by an anonymous European fair goer, “The United States has come of age. The Centennial Exposition was considered a huge success for The United States as a whole.
Many foreign leaders were able to witness the scale and promise of American industry, with many surprised by the strength The United States possessed even though just 11 years prior the country was in a full fledged civil war. Following The Exposition, the number of imports and exports increased dramatically. In 1865, imports and exports for The United States saw a decrease of 34%. Following the opening of the fair, imports and exports increased 65%; then 139% the year after, surging The United States’ economy in a time of recession. The U.S. was now a significant player in the growing global economy, and was able to influence the world.
Following The Fair, The United States began its late push for imperialization and broke apart The Spanish Empire in the Spanish American War. This war was a shock to many European nations as it proved that The U.S. might even have been on the same level militarily as they—this event also worried them. The World’s Fair of 1876 was just a snapshot of what America was going to become, and after its conclusion, the construction of The Arts and Industry Building in Washington, D.C., began. The Arts and Industry Building was constructed to mirror many of the models constructed in Philadelphia for The Fair. The goal was to hold many of the great sculptures, art work, and history of The United States and the fair itself. Riding the wave of success the fair brought to the United States, and with the profitability of the fair, the building was to be constructed without sparing any expense. In the plans, the building was modeled to be symmetrical in nature, and influenced by Greek cultural designs. Washington, D.C. has a very strong Greek influence on all of the monuments and buildings, but The Arts and Industry Building has a very American Identity to it. It was designed by Adolf Cluss, who was responsible for the designing of many buildings in Washington, D.C. As a builder, he tended to stray away from the Victorian style of building for his own unique style. The building and its contents quickly became a staple of American achievement and design.
Unfortunately, the building is empty today, with all of its contents being split among all of the Smithsonian Museums in D.C., and a majority of Adolf Cluss’ buildings have been torn down to build newer, ‘standardized’ buildings. As with the American way, we continue to look forward and create the latest and greatest things while forgetting about our past and how we got to where we are today.
It’s sad to see the lack of effort America has put into maintaining its infrastructure—even our own history. Our trains are outdated, our bridges are falling down, our debt keeps rising, and our poor are getting poorer. The United States is no longer pushing boundaries like it used to. Our country is, unfortunately, in stagnation, and is in desperate need of reengineering if we are able to maintain our stance as a world power. Places like The Arts and Industry Building need to be preserved as they are the perfect example of what The United States is capable of. It’s tough to say, but after realizing where we have come from, and trying to see where we are going, we need to take a step back. Every time something goes wrong in the world, the question should not be what is the United States going to do, but what can we all do to make things better. The economic gap The U.S. has over the rest of the world is shrinking, and it’s about time The United States starts working with everyone to find a solution to problems rather than being the nation to offer absolution for the world’s wrongs.