|THE COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION
by Thomas G. Yanul - copyright 2001
Exactly why C.D. Arnold was chosen to be the construction photographer at this Exposition is not known. Some have stated his being selected was on account of his "connections" to New York architects, the undertone being that it was somehow immoral or underhanded. It was not immoral or incorrect. It's how people make a living, then and now. What is incorrect is to get the job only because you have contacts and aren't qualified, or do it very poorly compared to others who tried to get the work. But this absolutely cannot be said of Arnold. He was a skilled, hard working businessman who did the job and did it well. He was hired as a construction photographer after all, not someone to represent the United States of America to the world. It was a tough, hard, demanding job that apparently was done to the satisfaction of the man who had hired him - presumably Daniel Burnham. chief of construction - if it was in fact that personal of a situation. Whether it was a handshake between these two individuals, or someone on Burnham's construction staff who was told to get a photographer, the result was the same. How hard did other photographers try to get that job ? No one knows, and that's all there is to the argument. We do not know. People can conjecture all they want. The bottom line is the same. Arnold got the job, and did it apparently well enough to be in line for the job of "Official Photographer" when it came along. If that position was even discussed at the outset of his employment, again, no one knows. Animosity often grows out of resentment, or a personal grudge or jealousy. There were no rumblings about Arnold's work that I know of until he became "Official" and then two things became apparent; one was that it was going to be a lucrative business arrangement and two, when you begin exercising control over other people there are going to be conflicts.
The roots of the Chicago Exposition officially began with a Chicago City Council meeting and subsequent announcement by Mayor DeWitt C. Cregier on July 22, 1889 of the appointment of a citizen's committee to look into the matter of holding a world's fair, later expanded by Congress to celebrate the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. The short version includes the appointment of an Executive Committee,and the authorization to sell stock in the corporation to raise $5-million dollars ( fully subscribed by 30,000 stockholders as of Apr. 9, 90 ). The preliminary organization ceased to function with the first meeting of the stockholders on April 4, 1890. The two most important accomplishments or the early organization had been the securing of permission from Congress to be the city of choice and secondly, the raising of funds. With these tasks done the power and planning became the responsibility of the World's Fair Corporation. The Congress actually gave its legal approval on April 25, 1890. Former congressman George R. Davis was among those from the early committee who would later be chosen as "Director General" for the Federal Commission set up by Congress, ostensibly to overlook the Federal Governments large contributions to the fair - which in the end turned out to be construction of a building for themselves and the minting of $5-million worth of silver half-dollars to be sold as commemoratives (of which only about half were actually made)- So in effect the commission was an entity which simply allowed politicians to do favors by appointing members from the States to its Commission. Ceremonial positions of stature and of course a politicians main weapon - patronage and/or publicity.
Director General George R. Davis had been Chicago's point man in Washington. His role along with his Federal Committee became somewhat of a thorn in the side of the corporation. The gentlemen's understanding was that the Federal Commission would take care of National and international issues - getting other countries and states to get involved, etc., but the group often attempted to have a say in matters of the expositions work, which did not sit well with the Fair's Executive Corporate Committees who paid the bills and did the day to day planning. the Ways & Means and Grounds & Buildings Committees met almost daily for three years). The Chicago Corporation was often at odds with "suggestions" on how to do things with the Federal Committee, who had contributed little, money-wise, and were part-time "officials". Davis began to believe that his role as Director General was actually a title of importance, and Arnold was the subject for his wrath. After all, Arnold was at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of power and importance.
NOTE: A Chicago Tribune article dated 3/1/1890 states that C.D. Arnold of New York is staying at the Palmer House hotel. this is just before the stock in the Exposition Co. was subscribed for. Arnold is obviously getting his pitch in early.
ARNOLD'S TWO TROUBLEMAKERS
Arnold's two biggest problems, aside from day to day photo operations, came from two people - Director General Davis and Frederick C. Beach of New York. One caused a "problem" of minor proportions because of bad publicity for the fair - the connection only being that Arnold was the Official Photographer. The other was also a sort of public matter even though few of the public were actually concerned. But the matter was stirred by the press and created discomfort for the Exposition. In the end they stood their ground but Arnold took a licking in public, without justification as far as this author is concerned.
Arnold's problems with Davis came primarily because his Department of Photography had gotten behind in taking photographs for the press, magazines, newspapers and the like. The arrangement, as approved by the Ways & Means Committee, provided that any press or publication that needed photographs would have to go through Arnold's department, who would intern charge a $5 per picture fee and actually take the photo that was needed. Of course it fell behind, as everything did at the fair. No one imagined in the beginning how huge it would become, and also how difficult it would become to manage. It was simple supply and demand, and Arnold got behind.
Publishers were screaming to get things done on time, but the sheer overwhelming numbers of people making demands on the Photography department had turned into a nightmare - or really a tempest in a teapot. Some of Arnold's detractors said it was the worst thing that happened to the fair. WELL ! How about the fact that the Exposition had actually gone technically bankrupt very early in the fair and only the quiet and immediate overnight pooling of hundreds of thousands of dollars, kept the expo solvent. These monies came directly from members of the Exposition company's Executive Committee who wrote unsecured checks for up to $100,000 each. And if you read a lot of boring minutes of meetings you learn of serious problems for months of materials not arriving for construction, misplaced displays, no where to put things, hugh logistical delays and mix-ups. And to say Arnold's department being late with some photographs to publishers was "the worst thing to happen to the Exposition ?".give me a break.. What did happen is that publishers cried to DG Davis after not being able to resolve the situation through the Expos Committees or President. How do you resolve overwhelming demand for something, an unforeseen dilemma that literally affected practically every item of the fair. Arnold's and the publishers problems were a flea on an elephant - and the poor animal was infested ! So the press ran to DG Davis , who had pretty much been spurned whenever he gave advice to the Corporate Committees. He was a Director looking for something to direct, something to utilize his "great federal powers." Arnold was chosen to fall on his pitard. And since it was the press and publishers who were being miffed, they turned to the only thing they had available, their editorial pages and letters to the editors. They cranked out how bad Arnold was, how he was ignoring the needs of the press who wanted the people to see and know what the fair was like through their publications. (of course they also wanted to sell a few rags and mags to make a little profit). So DG Davis and his "friends", used their private forum to put heat on the fair's President and Committees, and that in turn filtered down to Arnold, and he was told to change the rules. - (rules made by the Ways & Means Committee to guard investor's money) The rules were changed to allow papers and magazine publishers and others to use their own photographers to get their pictures. The fair organizers still got their fees for the photos, the publishers got their pictures quicker, and DG Davis could thump his chest about how he had affected change and straightened things out at the expo. Arnold was the only one who suffered the consequences. He was low man on the totem pole.
As to Arnold's other nemeses, it was Frederick Converse Beach. Beach was the scion of an extended old and powerful New York family. His father (Alfred Ely) and an uncle published the New York Sun newspaper and owned the Scientific American Journal among other things. Young Beach was one of the rich young men who took up the hobby of photography. Many of the so-called "Amateurs" in photography of that period were wealthy individuals, some of whom never had to work and simply indulged themselves in this newfangled medium. They had the time, money, and education. Beach would often hold "outings" for his newly formed Society of Amateur Photographers, taking a steam yacht down the Hudson on photographic
expeditions...one was reported in a photo magazine and told how they stopped over at West Point Military Academy to have lunch. It was a tough life being an "amateur photographer". To add a note which might refresh your knowledge of Alfred Ely Beach; he was the man who thought of the idea of building a subway in New York City. When his proposal was rejected he went ahead and built a test subway anyway - under the streets of New York City. That gives you some indication of who and what the Beach family was all about; wealthy, powerful, and inclined to want things done their way. Historians who know about Beach told me that his nature was that it would be done his way, or not at all. He was not accustomed to being told no. And this is the personality that came to attack Arnold.
Somewhere along the line before the expo opened, rules had been adopted by the Ways & Means Committee that covered camera use on the fair grounds. This was hardly unprecedented, being a feature of our 1876 Centennial Fair and other world fairs. It was a means to produce income, like all the other concessions, to try to pay for the exposition which was after all, a privately funded event with all investors money at risk. Beach, as one of the founders of the amateur photographic society and editor of its house organ magazine, the American Amateur Photographer, got it in his mind that he was going to champion a cause, that amateur photographers should be allowed in for free to shoot what they wanted, with whatever they wanted. Beach argued vehemently, first against the Chicago Corporation but later against Arnold personally. an easier target I suspect than the financial heavyweights that made up the Chicago Corporation. It was preferred that allowing amateurs unfettered access to the fair would advertise the fair to the rest of the world. Of course the crackerjack Dept. of Publicity and Promotions thought they already were handling that job quite well thank you. So after repeated attempts, Beach decided it was Arnold's doing that was keeping the "amateurs" out of the fair, charging them an outrageous $2 daily fee and shooting with 4x5" cameras cameras and no tripods. Beach was after all part of the New York wealthy establishment and that meant he had an ear of many a newspaper. they raked Arnold over the coals with rancorous editorials often pulling Beach's own magazine rhetoric and publishing it in their papers). In some cases a letter to the editor attacking Arnold, would soon appear as an editorial in another. One wonders at who the originators of those "letters to the editor" were. Arnold remarked that he had never even met Beach and couldn't understand his animosity. It was personal, but one sided. But the rules on hand cameras stood. After all, it was the Ways & Means who really made the decisions. They knew that in order to make the fair profitable, or at least break even, they had to garner money from any place they could. And in the end, it was the concessions that made the fair a financial success. Arnold was simply a cog in the wheel - and also one of the few people involved with the expo who had a dual role: he was both a private entrepreneur with the concession to sell photographs, and also an employee of the Commission required to make a photographic record of the fair. It was two-hat affair which I assume took some delicate political balancing. Beach's rancor lasted for many months but pretty much died away after the editorship of the Club's magazine was taken over by Aflred Stieglitz in July,1993. Stieglitz may not have like the situation either but for him it was not a cause-celeb as it had been for Beach.
Although a considerable amount of record material is available, much is missing, especially the specific details. Published records of the committees often relate only final decisions, not the intricate details of the hows and whys, only the wherefores. So conjecture runs rampant on why something was, or was not done. We can only make educated guesses about a great many things dealing with the exposition. But that's the stuff of history. Some modern social historians have read grand social phenomena into Arnold's photographs. I call that story telling, not historical professionalism.
I will simply try to tell what I know about Arnold's operation as a business and as a professional photographer hired to do a job - a monumental task that no one person could have envisioned.
"The subject of the frontispiece, Col. Geo. R. Davis the Director General of the World's Fair and the man on whose broad shoulders rests the chief responsibility of the conduct of that stupendous undertaking"
[ that statement must have sat well with the Columbian Exposition Corporation !]