Occasionally genealogists spend research time delving into the nooks and crannies of history to broaden the knowledge of an ancestor’s life. For some time I have been gathering information on the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Specifically the Japanese Pavilion under the direction of Royal Commissioner Seiichi Tejima (1850 -1918) and the charming teapot exhibit contributed by my first cousin, Frances Lorinda Heath Eldridge (1847-1930) of Yokohama, Japan.
As described by R.E.A. Dorr in “Arthur’s Home Magazine, Vol 62”. Published in 1892,
“Of all the countries that will exhibit at the fair, the plans outlined by Japan are now attracting the greatest interest. The appropriation of $630, 000 by the legislature or parliament of the Flowery Kingdom was a genuine surprise, and there was at once much curiosity to learn how so large a sum was to be expended. A few days after the appropriation was announced by cable, Mr. S. Tegima (sic), the Japanese royal commissioner, arrived in Chicago. He was a most courtly, elegant gentleman, who, except on occasions of extreme ceremonial, appeared in European costume. He was wined and dined at the Chicago clubs and in the most exclusive homes. He was taken to Jackson Park and shown the exposition grounds and plans of the buildings in process of construction.
Finally Mr. Tegima asked for a business meeting with the director-general and chief of construction. At this meeting he unfolded a plan of operations for Japan which it is believed will eclipse the plans of any other foreign power. He demanded space at the north end of the wooded island for a Japanese building to cost $100,000 and for a botanical garden to cost nearly as much more. He proposed an annual appropriation by his government to keep both in order and repair. The propositions were both accepted, and Mr. Tegima, having secured surveys of the ground allotted him, left for Japan with the promise to return in July with two hundred native carpenters and gardeners and begin work on August 1st.
The building will be a duplicate of one of the emperor’s most beautiful and ancient temples. It will be built in Japan in sections, taken apart, sent to America in a Japanese war-vessel, and put together by the emperor’s own workmen at Jackson Park. The garden, too, will be laid out in Japan, and Mr. Tegima promises that landscape gardening effects will be produced far more wonderful and beautiful than anything before seen outside his own country. Tons of earth will be brought with the plants, as many of those to be used thrive only in their native soil.
Inside the Japanese palace will be a collection of relics, carvings and other articles showing the implements of industry and the art treasures of this ancient people. Many of these articles will be loaned by the emperor from his private collection, and from the national museums. Native attendants and soldiers will have charge of and guard these treasures of the East, and native gardeners will have exclusive charge of the flower beds. In short, a small section of Japan will be shown at the fair.
Altogether Japan will occupy within the exposition grounds 148, 975 square feet of space.”
Anxious to provide the exposition with the best representation of Japan, the number of items shipped far exceeded by many tons the contracted amount. The Meiji had heavily invested in the industrialization of Japan and promoting their arts and goods to the world. The enthusiasm for the opportunity the exposition offered was met with an enormous gathering of exhibit material. What was excess was sold at the Exposition and shops in Chicago.
“The Japan Daily Mail” revealed that the “Ho-o-den” – the pavilion- was so jammed with items “as to be well-nigh bewildering”. The pavilion, known to westerners as the Phoenix Pavilion, was given to the City of Chicago as a permanent showcase of Japanese art and a gesture of good will and the city maintained it thus for 120 years.
The pavilion was lost to fire in 1946, but many of the individual items remain and revitalization is underway. Just last year three two-sided panels called fusuma were found in a Chicago Park facility. Yoko Ono has contributed a major piece of art to the project. The garden in Jackson Park has been re-designated as “The Garden of the Phoenix” and promises to restore the grounds, install a pavilion and once again inspire visitors to the site.
It is worth noting that Seiichi Tejima is a venerated figure in modern day Japan. Mr Tejima was curator of the Tokyo Educational Museum. He had relationships with many collectors and museums and as Dr. James Stuart Eldridge (my cousin’s husband) was favored by the Meiji emperor and was a collector of Japanese art, artifacts and antiquities, it would be no small leap to think that Mr. Tejima went to Frances and asked her to contribute her collection of rare Japanese pottery teapots.
Since my cousins…the Eldridge’s direct descendants…did not know of the exhibit, but do have letters and Japanese artifacts, it might be fun to have them go through what they have in order to find mention of Mr. Tejima and together perhaps we will be able to connect the 123- year-old dots.
Deborah J. Martin-Plugh
Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher
© Copyright September 2016. All Rights Reserved.
Photograph of Mr. Tejima courtesy of Tejima Seiichi Sensei Den (手島精一先生伝), Published in 1929.