While translating Madame Léon Grandin’s 1894 travel memoir, A Parisienne in Chicago, Impressions of the World’s Columbian Exposition, I also played the role of tag-along tourist. Since I am not a Chicagoan, I allowed Madame Grandin to lead me around the city, pointing out its most striking aspects. From strolls in Washington Park, busy circuits of shopping and culture in the Loop, and long days exploring the Exposition at Jackson Park, Madame Grandin took full advantage of her ten month stay to discover many different facets of the city.
Mapping the neighborhoods and places in Chicago mentioned by Madame Grandin helped me to visualize her movements throughout the city. Madame Grandin and her husband, the sculptor Léon Grandin, lived in a series of boarding houses located near Jackson Park. Upon arrival at the train station in Chicago in August of 1892, they were greeted by a grueling heat wave and headed to the south side of the city. Since Léon was part of a team of sculptors working on the Columbian Fountain for the exposition, the boarding house at 3700 South Ellis Avenue was convenient to the fairgrounds. Although they complained about the miserly landlady and the insubstantial meals, their room offered a pleasant view of Lake Michigan. In search of more comfortable accommodations and better food, the Grandins moved to another rooming house near Drexel Boulevard, which Madame Grandin compared to the elegant Avenue des Champs Elysées. During the final months of their stay, they lodged at the Everett Hotel at 3619 Lake Park Drive.
After spending several weeks exploring the south side of the city, Madame Grandin discovered that a tram car conveniently shuttled between Jackson Park and The Loop. The throbbing heart of the city, The Loop was the focus of many of her expeditions, including visits to the Athenaeum, the Chicago Public Library, and the Auditorium, where she and her husband attended the Inaugural Ball of the Exposition in October 1892. Madame Grandin also frequented the commercial establishments of The Loop, including the elegant Siegel Cooper department store and Gunther’s Confectionary on State Street, where she found the candies far superior to those in Paris and indulged her sweet tooth. Madame Grandin’s outgoing personality and curiosity about the city soon led to a flurry of social activity. Her friendship with two instructors at the Art Institute, Lydia Hess and Marie Gélon Cameron, enabled her to visit their studios and classes, located at the time in the Athenaeum. She even managed to obtain an introduction to Bertha Palmer and attended numerous receptions at Palmer’s elegant home on Lake Shore Drive.
Although the primary reason for her trip was to accompany her husband to the Exposition, it seems that the city of Chicago was the most impressive spectacle of all. As Madame Grandin circulated in the bustling streets, explored exhibits at the fair, strolled in the parks, and socialized at parties, dances, and cultural events, she discovered a dynamic urban setting which, in many ways, she found preferable to her home city of Paris.