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Helen Keller's Visit To The World's Fair

Creator: n/a
Date: December 1893
Publication: St. Nicholas; An Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks
Source: Available at selected libraries

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-WE are indebted to Mr. John P. Spaulding of Boston, and to Helen Keller herself, for permission. to print her letter to Mr. Spaulding, which is here given; and her teacher, Miss Anna M. Sullivan, has kindly sent an interesting introductory note to accompany the letter. The story of Helen's life has already been told to readers of this magazine in the notable article "Helen Keller," written by Mrs. Florence Howe Hall, and printed in ST. Nicholas for September, 1889. -- EDITOR.-.


IN the letter from Helen Keller here printed, you will read in her own words that she spent three weeks in Chicago during the Exposition, "and had a perfectly splendid time." Thousands and thousands of American young folk will share her enthusiasm as they recall the delightful days at the wonderful show, when, seeing it all and hearing all about it, they took in pleasure and information at every turn. But little Helen Keller can neither see nor hear. Everything is a blank to her until an impression can be made either through her imagination or through the deaf and dumb language of the hands and fingers; and even then, in Helen Keller's case, the words are not seen but felt by her own palm and fingers as they lightly hold the hand that is making these signs of words and letters.


The president and the managers of the Exposition were exceedingly kind to her, and did all in their power to make her visit pleasant and instructive. So widely is she known, and so general is the interest in her, that wherever she went she received loving attention. The task of describing things to her was made lighter by the helpful sympathy of the chiefs of the departments. They gladly permitted her to pass her fingers over the exhibits whenever it was possible, and cheerfully gave her all the information they could. Of course I interpreted everything to Helen by means of the manual alphabet. She was allowed even to climb upon the great Krupp gun, and its workings were explained to us by one of the German officers, Everywhere the show-cases were opened for her, and rare works of art were given to her for examination.


At the Cape of Good Hope exhibit the great doors were unlocked, and Helen was admitted to the realm of diamonds, where everything was carefully explained to us about the precious stone: how it is mined, separated from the matrix, weighed, cut, and set. Wherever it was possible she touched the machinery, and followed the work being done. Then she was made very happy by being allowed to find a diamond herself -- the only true diamond, we assured her, that had ever been found in the United States.


But the French bronzes afforded her more pleasure than anything else at the Fair. The picture which she presented as she bent over a beautiful group, her eager fingers studying the faces or following the graceful lines of the figures, in her effort to catch the artists' thought, was the most touching and pathetic I have ever seen. And, strange as it may seem to those who depend upon their eyes for the pleasure which they derive from works of art, this little blind girl, who has not seen the light since she was nineteen months old, rarely failed to divine the thoughts which the artists had wrought into their work.


Constant practice, indeed, has given to Helen's sense of touch a delicacy and precision seldom attained even by the blind. Sometimes it seems as if her very soul were in her fingers, she finds so much to interest her everywhere. People frequently said to me at the Fair: "She sees more with her fingers than we do with our eyes." And in one of her letters she says, "I am like the people my dear friend Dr. Holmes tells about, 'with eyes in their fingers that spy out everything interesting, and take hold of it as the magnet picks out iron-filings.'"


Descriptions are to Helen what paintings are to us; and her well-trained imagination gives the light and color. One evening, as we sat in a gondola, I tried to tell Helen how the thousands of tiny electric lights were reflected in the water of the lagoons, when she asked: "Does it look as if a shower of golden fish had been caught in an invisible net?" Is it any wonder that Dr. Holmes says of her, "She is a poet whose lyre was taken from her in her early days, but whose soul is full of music"?


So we see, pathetic as Helen's life must always seem to those who enjoy the blessings of sight and hearing, that it is yet full of brightness and cheer, of courage and hope.


Sweet Helen, when I think of thee, --
With sightless eye and sealed ear,
Yet pining not in misery,
But with a spirit full of cheer,
Seeing with inward vision clear
The loveliness of earth and sky, --
I blush that mortals blessed as I
So little see, so little hear!






HULTON, PENN., August 18, 1893.


MY DEAR FRIEND: Teacher is very tired, so I will take upon myself the pleasant duty of writing to you. I know you are impatient to hear all about our visit to the World's Fair. We spent nearly three weeks in Chicago, and had a perfectly splendid time. We thought of you very often, and wished that you were with us, enjoying everything as much as we did. It was all so grand and marvelous. I am sure the world has never seen anything half as beautiful as the Dream City of the West, and I feel very proud and glad that this dream of loveliness has been realized in our own dear country. Of course it would be impossible for me to tell you in a letter all that we did, felt, and saw while we were in Chicago; for we saw innumerable wonders, the works of man in every country and in all times: marvels of invention; wonderful treasures of skill and patient industry; and beautiful works of art, which made us feel, when we touched them, that the artist's soul was in his hand when he created them.

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