Every period in history has a defining event. For the Gilded Age, that event was the Chicago World’s Fair, also known as the Columbian Exposition, as it celebrated the 400th anniversary of Columbus in the New World. Out of the ashes of the great Chicago fire of 1871 rose the neoclassical “White City” with its gardens, midway and exhibition halls designed by a group of noted architects including Frederick Olmstead.
Opening on May 1, 1893, the fair attracted over 2 million people and brought many “firsts” to the American public. Quaker Oats, Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix, Cracker Jack, the hamburger and Juicy Fruit Gum were introduced. It prompted P.T. Barnum to christen it “The greatest show on earth.” L. Frank Baum and his illustrator visited the fair and based on what they saw, the Emerald City of Oz was born. In the shadow of the White City, H.H. Holmes, known as the first modern day serial killer, lured victims to his rooms at the World’s Fair Hotel.
Into this frenzy of ideas and excitement, murder and mayhem, came Ventura County with what was considered one of the most unusual exhibits at the Fair. There was no question about what Ventura County would send, as the premier cash crop at the time was lima beans. At the south end of the California Building stood Ventura County’s lima bean Pagoda, invented by Captain Nehemiah Blackstock, a well-known attorney in Ventura. The architect was George C. Powers and F. A. Foster arranged the beans, while Captain W. A. Thompson of Saticoy showed visitors through the exhibit.
Built in an octagonal shape, the structure was twenty-three and one-half feet high and twelve feet in diameter. Seven thousand and fifty-six pieces of redwood were used to make six hundred and fifteen cases for beans. The name “Ventura” was spelled in lima beans vertically on the outside twenty-two times. All the patterns and trim were created in beans. This very unusual structure advertised the existence of the largest lima bean ranch in the world near Ventura, owned by Dixey Wildes Thompson, who planted nearly thirty-seven tons of lima beans each year.
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