MUSEUM CAMPUS — The Field Museum wouldn't exist without the 1893 World's Fair, according to its president, Richard Lariviere.
The landmark exhibition held in Chicago from May 1 through Oct. 31, 1893, brought thousands of artifacts from around the world to the Midwest, laying the foundation for the then-Field Columbian Museum's anthropology collection, which is still growing today.
To celebrate the fair's 120th birthday this year, museum curators combed the archives for the same taxidermy, fossils, mummies and cultural artifacts that wowed Chicagoans and travelers back then.
"The World's Columbian Exposition broke box office records that would put the 'Book of Mormon' to shame," said Cheryl Cooke from Allstate, one of the exhibit's sponsors, at an opening event Tuesday.
"President Grover Cleveland called it 'a stupendous thing.' Harper's magazine was overcome with astonishment and admiration, and one fair-goer told his wife that the trip to Chicago was well worth it, even if it took all of their burial money."
The six-room gallery pairs museum artifacts with archival photos, historical facts and interactive, touch-screen displays, which were crowded by fourth-graders from Leif Ericson Academy during Tuesday's preview.
A station that enables visitors to "play" rare instruments displayed from East Asia was a crowd favorite.
The exhibit opens to the public Friday and will be on display through Sept. 7. Tickets are $23-$30 for adults, $19-$25 for seniors and students and $16-$21 for children ages 4 to 11. Admission is included with Discovery and All-Access passes.
The items on display at "Opening the Vaults: Wonders of the 1893 World's Fair" will wow even frequent museum guests, since the temporary exhibit "provides a unique look at objects that have rarely — and in many cases, never — been on display since they amazed fair-goers over 100 years ago," Lariviere said.
Opening Field's "hidden collection to display artifacts and specimens ... will bring to life one of the most spectacular events in the history of Chicago," he said.