Ray Johnson: Friend of the White City

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Author Ray Johnson is truly a friend of the White City. He provides free lectures and tours on Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition via The Friends of the White City. He was kind enough to answer a few questions bout the tours and the organization.

When did you begin the Friends of the White City Tours?

 We started the tours for the first full season last year!  We ran a test run of the tours the year before but on a very limited basis.

I took one of the tours and found that you kicked things up a notch by bringing artifacts like tokens from the Exposition, as well as tips for hunting on eBay. What was your first piece of Columbian Exposition memorabilia?

My first piece was the Columbian Half Dollar that my wife had gotten me for a birthday present.  Lots of history behind that coin.  Not only was it a coin minted by the U.S. Mint to help raise money for the Fair, but it also was used as a bargaining chip in a lawsuit between the U.S. Govt. and the World Columbian Exposition Company.  The U.S. threatened to take away the coins if the Fair remained open on Sundays.  The U.S. lost the lawsuit, but after July 16th the Fair voluntarily closed on Sundays because it was not a very profitable day for the Fair anyway and many of the exhibitors wanted to be off Sundays anyway.

On the tour, you seemed to read the group for what would interest it. How scripted are each of the tours?

I do not have a script for the tours but rely on my research and knowledge of the Fair.  I can usually read the group based on questions asked and have so much information stuffed into my head that aside from feeling like it will pop at times I can easily switch gears and talk more about what the group seems most interested in.  If we expand the tours and have to train additional tour guides, we my have to start scripting at least part of it.

The FOTC was granted status as a not for profit corporation. How does this impact your activities?

The great thing about being granted 501 c 3 status is that it opens us up to apply for grants that we may not have been able to before.  (As of yet haven’t applied for any but most definitely will be as soon as possible)

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You’re quite the historian. What kind of crossover do you find with the Friends of the White City, History Cop and Chicago’s Haunt Detective

There is a ton of crossover.  HistoryCop is really the home of my Research Services Company “Johnson Research Services” where I conduct research for others who may not have the opportunity to visit Chicago themselves.  Other authors, TV shows, family historians, government agencies, teachers, etc.  It is a ton of fun.  I have run into many people who have links to the Columbian Exposition as we conduct the research.

The Haunt Detective site is where I conduct research concerning Chicago Myths, Urban Legends, Ghost Stories, etc.  I like to try to pull out the facts vs. fiction in many of these stories because with hauntings and ghost stories there is generally a ton of misinformation or historical fantasy added to make the stories more interesting.  I don’t have a problem with fiction or even a good ghost story but I don’t like it when people misrepresent history in order to make a buck!  Of course there is always the story of Clarence Darrow haunting “well what else” but the Clarence Darrow Bridge.  Cool Story and likely the place for a good haunting or a place for him to come back but as of yet no real appearance that can be substantiated.

 What is the schedule for 2015?

We plan on conducting the tour this year at 11:00am from the first Saturday in May through the last Saturday in October to coincide with the months of the Fair (May through October 1893).

We have to update the website and there may be some construction on the Darrow Bridge this year so we will have to play the route by ear but we do in tend on still meeting on the east side of the Darrow Bridge just south of the Museum of Science and Industry.

Information on tours, events and the history of the White City can be found at http://www.friendsofthewhitecity.org/.

Ray Johnson is also the author of Chicago’s Haunt Detective and Chicago History – The Stranger Side.



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1 Comment.

  • 1 Francis J. Buchholz Jr. Dec 13, 2019 at 8:36 pm

    Would like to talk to you about the 1893 Fair. I am a member of the St. Louis World’ Fair Society. I am interest in obtaining pictures of the interior of the Cars used on the Ferris Wheel at the Fair, for the same Ferris Wheel was used in the 1904 Fair. Everyone seems to have exterior pictures and dimensions but no pictures of the interior.

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