On May 1, 1893, nearly five months after the overthrow of the Hawaiian constitutional monarchy, the Chicago World’s Fair opened its doors. This fair was a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World.
At the fair, a road called the Midway Plaisance showcased different ethnic villages and performances, including Hawai‘i’s.
The Midway Plaisance of the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition packed amusements along a mile-long strip and segregated them from the main exposition or the ‘White City’. (Imada)
The Hawaiian exhibit at the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in 1893 was organized by settler Hawaiians who were rallying for American annexation and trying to encourage tourism and more white settlement in the Islands. (Kamehiro)
“Between the Chinese Theatre and the Ferris Wheel stood the cyclorama (a large pictorial representation encircling the spectator and often having real objects as a foreground) of the greatest active volcano in the northern hemisphere.”
“In front of the pavilion was a heroic statue of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire, made by Mrs (Ellen Rankin) Copp, the sculptor, and under the canopy a choir of Kanak musicians sang to the public, evoking much applause.”
“The crater of the volcano is 800 feet deep and 2 miles across. It is a lake of bubbling and thunderous lava set in the side of Mona Loa, a mountain 15,000 feet high. The station for the spectator of the picture was a heap of lava which had exuded and solidified in the center of the crater.”
“A priest climbed the cliffs that rimmed the scene and chanted an invocation to Pele, and his form added to the realism of the effects. The mountain peak and the Pacific Ocean, the baleful fires of the never slumbering volcano, the mists and lava floods, all conspired to make a great picture.” (The Inter Ocean, Chicago, January 7, 1894)
Circling the walls within are some 22,000 square feet or nearly half an acre of canvas, whereon is depicted ‘the inferno of the Pacific,’ the largest volcano on the face of the earth.
While not without merit, it does not compare with the other as a panoramic painting, the effect being largely produced by electric lights, pyrotechnics, and other mechanical contrivances.
The point of observation is in the very heart of the crater, and not on its brow where thousands of travellers have stood. Gazing upward and around, the spectator is encompassed with a hissing, bubbling sea of lava, with tongues of flame and clouds of steam rising from fathomless pits to overhanging crags and masses of rock.
All this is expressed with studied but not with artistic realism, fragments of rock being blended with painted cliffs on which are dummies and painted figures, presumably intended for tourists, while flashlights in various colors, with detonation of bombs and crackers, imitate in showman fashion the awful grandeur of an eruption. (Chicagology)
Such was Hawai‘i’s participation in the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.
The volcano concession also advertised the first hula troupe to perform at a world fair, accentuating the shift in the character of Native Hawaiian displays in international exhibitions from sovereign, historically-situated, and modern self-presentation to feminized, exotic, tourist curiosity.
Jennie Wilson, whose mother is a native Hawaiian, and an unknown companion, performing at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago at the Midway Plaisance in an exhibit called the” South Seas Islanders.”
This was the first time the hula was performed in the mainland of the United States. She and her group inadvertently contributed to the bad reputation of the hula with the ‘come-on’ song they were required to sing to urge audiences to see the ‘naughty hula.’ (Chicagology)
Besides the Hawai‘i cyclorama, there were five other rotunda panoramas represented at World Columbian Exposition: Gettysburg (Philippoteaux studio), Jerusalem On The Day Of The Crucifixion (Reed & Gross), Chicago Fire panorama (Reed & Gross), Bernese Oberland,(import from Switzerland), and Battle Of Chattanooga (Eugen Bracht studio, Berlin).