The dig in the White City

Rusty nails, white plaster, and bits of glass: potentially dangerous debris to most of us, but this past Saturday such materials constituted buried treasure to a group of undergraduates excavating in Jackson Park near the Museum of Science and Industry. Conducting the first archaeological dig of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition site, the students may have found evidence of the buildings that formed the White City—and bottles of soda or beer that visitors consumed.

Back in a University lab, the students—taking part in the College's Chicago Studies Program—will further examine the artifacts, which also include bricks, ceramic pieces, and a streak of black soil that may be a foundation's decayed remnants. Teacher Rebecca Graff, AM'01, an urban-archaeology graduate student, is writing her dissertation on 19th-century American tourism habits and consumption, using the Columbian Exposition as her prime example.

Graff and the undergraduates hope to add to existing knowledge about the fair, which comes from photographs, pamphlets, and souvenirs. "We have the plans for the fair, for instance," she said, "but we don't have a map that shows exactly where the buildings were. This will give us some idea where they were actually built."

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Photos (left to right): Students dig right outside the Museum of Science and Industry; they arrange and record some of the recovered materials; this piece of glass may have been part of a tonic bottle.

Photos by Dan Dry.

May 23, 2008