Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair being brought back to life with augmented reality
CHICAGO — If you’ve ever wanted to travel back in time to the 1893’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, one resident’s mission has been to make that possible.
Michael Finney has always been fascinated with “The White City,” the unofficial name for over 200 incapsulating structures built on top of Jackson Park.
The fair, which took place from May 1, 1893 to Oct. 30, 1893, was brought into the 21st century by author Erik Larson’s book “The Devil and the White City” — which equally tells the story of the construction of the fair along with H.H. Holmes’ exploits as a serial killer operating out of a home at 63rd and Wallace.
Finney, as a longtime fan of the fair, wanted to commemorate the 125th anniversary in 2018. So, he started to acquire photos from an antique book that was released in 1893 to promote the event. From there, Finney tweeted out an interesting picture from the fair each and every day.
“While I was doing that, I thought I have amassed a good amount of data. I could probably turn this into a book,” Finney said.
Released in Aug. 2019, Finney published “1893: Chicago’s Columbian Exposition.” He didn’t stop there.
The following year, Finney produced a documentary of the same name featuring old photos mixed with modern photography.
“I released the soundtrack a little after the film and line of merch,” Finney said. “In late 2020, early 2021, I thought, ‘what else I could do with this project?’”
Instead of continuing on with another film or book, Finney used his engineering experience to get the World’s Fair into an emerging new medium — augmented reality.
The medium first really emerged to the mainstream in 2016 with “Pokémon Go.” A smartphone is all users need to experience what Finney has been creating for the last two years. Users can also use an augmented reality headset or glasses.
With an eye on bringing most of the entire fair back to life, Finney has released the first augmented structure users can view anywhere in the city or the world — the Administration Building.
The Administration Building was one of the crown jewels of the Grand Basin, which was one of six structures surrounding the lake.
“The phase 2 goal is to give a voice or character around the Grand Basin,” Finney said.
Fans of “The Devil and the White City” may perk up due to Finney considering bringing famed architect Daniel Burnham back to life.
One of the iconic structures Finney has been working on is The Statue of the Republic. Ordered to be destroyed by fire, a smaller replica was installed in Jackson Park in 1918 to mark the 25th anniversary of the fair.
The original statue, which was destroyed in 1896, stood 65 feet above the Grand Basin.
Despite being a big Columbian Exposition buff, Finney knew he needed help from some Chicago institutions.
“We have really scoured the archives around the city, the Chicago History Museum and the Art Institute,” Finney said.
The research allowed him to first build a physical scale of the Administration Building before using software to build full-scale and a miniature scale versions of it in augmented reality.
While going back to Jackson Park to see the buildings may seem ideal, Finney’s vision for the project is for users to be able to spend time at the recreated fair wherever they are.
“Love the idea of getting people outside and going,” Finney said.
While the Administration Building is free, Finney plans to sell his upcoming buildings as a bundle. Users will have the option to purchase buildings à la carte as well.
While still in Phase One of the four planned phases, Finney is now working on finishing the Peristyle, which provided a water entrance to the fair. He hopes to have a total of six structures done in the first phase.
To download Finney’s augmented reality project, visit Chicago1893.com.
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