I've been doing some otherwise non-Twain-related research on the
Eskimo Village at the Chicago World's Fair and wonder if any evidence
has emerged to indicate that Twain visited it while he was in Chicago in
April 1893. He is said to have stayed in his hotel room because of
illness, and his visit to Chicago was apparently before the May 1
opening of the Fair, but the Eskimo Village was the first attraction
established there the previous fall and was open when he was there.
Whether he visited it or not, I think "The Esquimau Maiden's Romance"
was inspired by it and the attention it received that year.
The Eskimo Village at the fair became a sensation in October and
November of 1892 when three "World's Fair babies" were born there
within weeks of the group's arrival from Labrador, and a fourth was born
in January. They were also featured in exposition publicity through the
winter. In early April 1893, several of the Inuit sued the concession
company in a Chicago court because of the poor treatment they were
receiving, and on April 20, ten of the twelve families "seceded" from the
official Eskimo Village on the fairgrounds. On April 25, they
incorporated the Esquimaux Exhibition Company to establish an
independent Eskimo Village outside the fairgrounds. The events in April
were so unusual that they received considerable local and national
attention. Between that and all the "World's Fair babies," the Eskimo
Village became one of the most talked-about attractions at the World's
Twain's story repeats stereotypes about hygiene that were prevalent in
the reporting about the Eskimo Village. The parts about relative values
of furs and iron fishhooks are actually more accurate than many readers
(including myself) probably thought. Most of the Inuit from Labrador at
Chicago were familiar with trade for credit from contact with the Hudson
Bay Company and Moravian missions (which also acted as trading
posts) but Robert Peary funded his Arctic explorations in part by trading
things like bits of scrap metal and wood that were extremely scarce in
Northern Greenland for furs and ivory that were much more valuable
here. The furs worn at Chicago received considerable attention. The
Inuit left the village after the concession company tried to force them to
wear them even as temperatures rose into the 70s in March and April.
There were also fashion articles that compared them favorably with furs
worn by American and European women. Inuit fashion was said to be
more exacting but less frequently changing than that of "civilized"
My research project on the Eskimo Village exhibits really has nothing to
do with Twain but it's yet another example of how he was everywhere
things were happening. Besides Chicago, he apparently had at least
three other opportunities to cross paths with some of the same Inuit who
were in Chicago. While he was in London in early 1900, they were
exhibited there while on route to the World's Fair in Paris. Anthony
Chibbaro's book on the Charleston Exposition (in Arcadia's Images of
America series) lists Twain among the prominent visitors to that
exposition in 1901-1902, and he visited the Jamestown Exposition twice
in 1907. I haven't seen anything else on his visit to Charleston but
assume it must have been during one of his yachting trips with H. H.
Rogers. I also haven't seen anything that mentions him visiting the
amusement section of the Jamestown Exposition where the Eskimo
Village was located. Is anyone aware of any letters or notebook entries
mentioning them from those expositions?