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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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We approached the White City the first time from the lake side, and got our first impression of the Fair from the peristyle. It was a bright, clear day; the sky and water were a perfect blue, making a most beautiful setting for the Dream City, crowned by the glistening dome of the Administration Building. Then we moved slowly up the Court of Honor, pausing every now and then while the teacher described the beautiful scene to me: the groups of noble buildings; the lagoons dotted with fast-moving boats; the stately statue of the Republic; the fluted columns of the peristyle; and, beyond, the deep, deep blue lake. Oh, how wonderful it all was! Our day was most delightfully spent in getting a general idea of the Fair, and trying to understand the new world in which we found ourselves. Late in the afternoon, when the day was almost done, we stepped into a gondola, and made the trip through the lagoons. The burning sun, as he sank westward in his golden car, threw a soft rosy light over the White City, making it seem more than ever like Fairyland. When it was quite dark the illuminations began, and the fountains were all lighted up. Teacher described everything to me so vividly and clearly that it seemed as if I could really see the wonderful showers of light dart up into the sky, tremble there for an instant, sink and fall, like stars, into the depths of the lake. But, dear friend, the most delightful days must end; for little girls will get sleepy and tired, even in Fairyland. While the White City was yet crowded with eager sight-seers, we returned to our hotel through the Midway Plaisance, a most bewildering and fascinating place, the Home of the Nations. We were greatly pleased to see all those foreign people we had read about in history, gathered together in one place, at peace with one another, and apparently happy in their new homes. At the entrance to the Arabian house we saw a dear little baby boy in his mother's arms, and we stopped a moment to speak to him. He greeted us with a bright smile, and looked up at the strange faces with surprised pleasure. "Where was the baby born?" we asked the mother. "In Damascus," was the reply. Those words made me start. That far-away city, with its strange Oriental life, seemed very near indeed. I felt like sitting down beside the gentle woman who had the lovely baby, for there were many questions which I wished to ask her; but it was late, and tomorrow with new opportunities and delights was hastening toward us. So I bade the little Oriental good-by, and went away, feeling as if I had really been to Damascus.


In the days that followed we spent many most enjoyable hours in the Plaisance. Old Vienna, and the Japanese and Irish villages, were very interesting and instructive. I did not like the Turks very well, but the Japanese were gay and amusing. Of course we rode in the Ferris Wheel. Just think of being swung two hundred and fifty feet in the air! No, I was not at all afraid. I liked it. I also rode on the ice-railway, and had a sail in the great Whaleback, and enjoyed them both very much; but I must not stop to tell you about these things when there is so much of greater interest which I wish to tell you, for I saw a great many of the most wonderful and beautiful things at the Fair. Every one was very kind to me. The president of the Fair gave me permission to examine all the exhibits. Was not that exceedingly kind? Nearly all the exhibitors seemed perfectly willing to let me touch the most delicate things, and were good about explaining everything to me. A French gentleman showed me the wonderful French bronzes. I think they gave me more pleasure than anything else at the Fair: they were so lifelike and beautiful to my touch. Dear Mr. Bell went with us himself to the Electrical Building, and showed us some of the historic telephones. Dr. Gillett went with us to the Liberal Arts and Woman's Buildings. In the former I visited Tiffany's exhibit, and held the beautiful Tiffany diamond, and touched many other costly and rare things. I sat in King Ludwig's arm-chair, and felt quite like a queen when Dr. Gillett told me that I had many dutiful subjects. At the Woman's Building we met the Princess Maria Schaovsky, of Russia -- a very kind lady. We also met a lovely dark-eyed Syrian lady. She had such a beautiful soft hand, and spoke English perfectly. Mr. Bell and Professor Putnam explained the curious and interesting things in the Anthropological department to me. I was especially interested in the Peruvian relics and all that was told to me about them. At the time of the discovery of America, it seems, Peru, like Mexico, was inhabited by Indians who were considerably advanced in civilization, and who were governed by a race of princes called Incas, whose dominions extended along the Andes from the United States to the southern part of Chile. The life and achievements of this strange and almost forgotten people, as they are revealed to us by their pottery, implements, and sacred altars, are very interesting, and I should like to know more about them.

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We spent one very pleasant afternoon in La Rabida, which is modeled after the monastery in Spain where Columbus, weary and hungry, sought and received shelter for himself and his little son four centuries ago. The kind monks detained him for several months, and, becoming interested in his dreams of discovery, gave him letters to persons high in authority. After several years of failures and hardships he at length returned to La Rabida, bearing a royal order that the people should provide him with vessels and supplies for his journey. When he came back from America he again visited the monastery, bearing the news and trophies of his discovery.


There is a great deal more about which I would like to write, but I fear my letter is getting too long, so I will say good-by for the present.


We are having a delightful time here, resting and enjoying all the beauty of the place. The country has especial attractions for us after the heat and excitement of Chicago. I do not know when we shall leave, but I am anxious to see the dear ones at home.


Lovingly, your little friend,

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