And they traveled there on the Nickel Plate Railroad
from Bluffton, to Findlay to Chicago
In 1893 the village of Bluffton (population under 1,700) had no running water, no electric plant, no telephones, no rural mail delivery, and Central Mennonite College (Bluffton University) did not yet exist.
Despite this, it is reported that 109 residents of Bluffton traveled to the 1893 Columbian Exposition, known as the World’s Fair in Chicago. The actual number may have been higher.
For the record, from Beaverdam there were 16 attendees, Rockport 28, Pandora 7, and Mt. Cory 10.
How do we know this? And, an even more interesting question is: “How did all those people get to Chicago?”
Here’s the answer to the event that opened in May and ran through Oct. 30, 1893, drawing over 27 million visitors to Chicago.
After the fair ended, the News reported that 109 Bluffton visitors “signed in” when the entered the fair.
The News account attached to this story also listed the number of attendees from over 30 northwestern Ohio communities.
Throughout the spring and summer of 1893, the Bluffton News listed names of Bluffton residents who attended the fair.
One example follows: “Mr. and Mrs. A. Hauenstein, Will Hauenstein, Mrs. Thomas Murray, W.J. Staater and wife and Abe Wise constitute the World’s Fair party from Bluffton this week.”
(Be certain to read the story directly beneath this account. It concerns Bluffton boys hopping a freight train to watch a baseball game in Lima.)
When the Hauenstein-Murray-Staater-Wise party returned home, the News published the following:
A Blufftonian just returned from the World’s Fair tells of the following scene in the Midway: A turbaned fakir was vociferously plying his mysterious art, and had a crowd about him, when he espied the benevolent looking countenance of Abe Wise.
“Ah, here the man, the man with the good kind face he will see the fair, he will place the coin in the box so, every body see, all fair done.
The man take the coin, so, and he drop it in the box, so, and count,” and Abe took the coin and slowly dropped them in a little box, and with the foreign coin a silver dollar.
“Now” said the fakir, “the man he count coin, sure and silver dollaire, all sure,” and Abe repeated for the forty-eleventh time that he was sure that he counted them aright, and couldn’t be fooled.
Abe repeating some mummery, and then exclaimed triumphantly, “Now, you open the box, and see how many coin. Whole box full of coin,” and Abe opened the box, and merciful powers! out glided a long, slim snake. It looked as though the inside of the box was all snake, and it wriggled and glided up Abe’s sleeve.
With a yell he dropped the box and scattered himself promiscuously and so did the crowd. And the fakir picked up his wriggie snake, his worthless coins, and his good silver dollar and grinned and sat himself down to wait for other benevolent, good, kind looking victims.
How did everyone arrive in Chicago? They traveled by rail from Bluffton.
The Nickel Plate Road, with a passenger stop in Bluffton, advertised all summer special rates and services offered to fair attendees.
The News also listed at least one news item stating “Nicely furnished room in Chicago near the fair grounds for rent cheap for one of the two weeks following Sept. 23. Call at the (News) office.
A News ad that summer from the NKP stated it offered three trains east and west daily, which included palace, buffet, sleepers and superb dining cars.
Trains arrived at and departed from the Nickel Plate Depot, corner 12th and Clark streets in Chicago. Special rates were offered for parties and baggage was checked to Chicago.
What a deal!
Typical 1893 passenger train
The actual trip from Bluffton to Chicago via the NKP probably took passengers from Bluffton to Findlay. There, one of the three daily the east-west NKP trains from New York to Chicago, offered passenger service directly to Chicago.
Forty-six countries had pavilions at the exposition. There were 14 main "great buildings" centered around a giant reflective pool called the Grand Basin.
Bluffton News item about NKP trains to Chicago
• Bluffton offered four trains daily to Findlay (east bound)
• At Findlay passengers connected with trains that went directly to Chicago
Report from Bluffton News showing number
of area residents to attended the fair
Typical passenger train in 1893
Map of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago
News clippings from 1893 issues of the Bluffton News