Wednesday, October 15, 2014

On the 1893 World's Columbian EXPO

On the 1893 World's Columbian EXPO: Four-hundred and one years after Christopher Columbus landed in the Bahamas (and "discovered" the Americas), the city of Chicago hosted a World's Fair. It was to be bigger and better than any previous World's Fair, as its planners particularly sought to outdo the Paris EXPO of 1889 (where the Eiffel Tower had been unveiled). Despite the onset of a serious financial panic in 1893, the Fair's planners spared no expense to show off Chicago's greatness. Only two decades since the city's Great Fire of 1871, the Fair represented a grand opportunity to exhibit how the rebuilding process had made Chicago ultra-modern, especially in terms of railways, roadways, and skyscrapers. Some of the Fair's highlights included the world's first Ferris Wheel, one of the world's first steam locomotives (the John Bull), and numerous Beaux-Arts/neoclassical buildings which required around 120,000 incandescent lamps to light up at night. Pragmatist philosopher William James remarked that everybody who visited the Fair "grew religious," while socialist politician Eugene V. Debs believed the Fair had a "healthy effect" on American workers at the time. By the time the Fair closed in October, it was drawing more than 150,000 visitors/day. With such high daily attendance figures, the total number of visitors eventually surpassed 25 million.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

On Frank Rizzo's Philadelphia

On Frank Rizzo's Philadelphia: As mayor of Philadelphia for most of the 1970s, Francis "Frank" Rizzo left an indelible mark on the city's history. Whether it was his rocky relationship with the local African-American community or the attempted voter recall during his second term, Rizzo certainly proved to be a controversial figure. Yet prior to his mayoral career, he served as Philly's police commissioner in the late 1960s. And it was Rizzo's tenure as police commissioner that offered the clearest hints as to how he would govern as mayor. For example, in a city where one-third of the residents identified as African American, Rizzo increased the number of black police officers to mimic Philly's demographics. Although the department's number of black officers only made it to 2 in 10, it was still above the national average for big city police forces at the time. Regarding police tactics, Rizzo was one of the first commissioners to require his officers to patrol in pairs. And in neighborhoods where ethnoracial tensions ran high, he often paired officers with different ethnoracial backgrounds. Despite these unique initiatives, however, Rizzo's tenure was marred by an August 1970 police raid on the Black Panther's headquarters. Even though he did not directly authorize the raid, Rizzo placed great trust in his officers to employ heavy-handed tactics when detaining suspects and gathering evidence.