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  • Linda Borromeo

Surprising Lights on the Wooded Island

Updated: May 28


For behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. (Song of Solomon 2:11-12 ESV)

What makes light so powerful?

The light streaming in through a window in late spring makes everything feel more hopeful and promising.


At the Chicago World's Fair, a beautiful kind of light was remembered by many who attended the Exposition in 1893. On the Wooded Island, visitors found a place of natural beauty in the midst of a sometimes overwhelming displays of new wonders and technology.


Unlike the main Fair, the Wooded Island did not rely on electricity. Small, multi-colored oil lamps gave the Island a warm and inviting glow after dark.



In the painting above, the fairy lamps are shown by the path, ready to lend their light to strollers after dark.


A Place of Joy and Wonder


Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the Wooded Island provided a place of peaceful beauty for visitors to take a break from viewing the thousands of exhibits at the rest of the Fair. Many people were in awe of the vast network of electric lights powering the central part of the Fair. But on the Wooded Island, people loved the oil fairy lamps giving the paths a magical feeling.


Chicagology shares a passage from the Picturesque World's Fair about the fairy lamps:


"The very spirit of the island’s atmosphere is caught in the illustration [below], the flowers, the shrubbery, the sturdy trees and the fairy lamps which gave such brilliancy to the night scene, are all depicted just as they were. The spot was one of the most charming on the Island."



An Island Mystery


These fairy lamps play an important role in lighting the way for my characters, Christie and Melina.

In my book, Mystery Fair, Melina is searching for her missing father. Long thought dead, new evidence gives a small ray of hope that he may still be alive. If so, Melina knows he must be in serious danger.

Melina follows the clues to the Wooded Island. As twilight approaches, she slips out into the darkness to search for answers. Her way is lit by the small oil lamps glowing warmly along the winding paths on the Island.

All around Melina, these lights shine out, jewel-like, through colored glass globes. The multi-colored lamps flicker and dance, making the Island a fairy world of light guiding her way.


As with the increasing light of spring, Melina finds a new path lit by the little fairy lamps. Even in the dark, they provide a message that she may find answers if she continues to search for the truth wherever it may lead.


Reliving a Moment in Time


Long after the Fair, visitors remembered the fairy lamps. They tried to recapture their memories of the fairy lamps six years later. The Chevy Chase Historical Society shares an attempt to recreate the Wooded Island and the little oil lamps:


"Visitors to the World’s Fair, at Chicago, will long remember the enchanting scenes on the Wooded Island during the summer evenings, when lit up by apparently innumerable miniature lamps in glowing colors, giving it the appearance of a veritable fairyland.  At a heavy expense the management has arranged with the Chicago Lamp-Candle Company for a revival of these delightful scenes..."


Can fairyland be recaptured? Perhaps not. However, the sights on Chevy Chase Lake may have created new magical memories just as spring brings new light and hope now.


Enjoy the longer days of light as we enjoy the arrival of spring and summer.



Then God said, "Let lights appear in the sky to separate the day from the night. Let them be signs to mark the seasons, days, and years. (Genesis 1:14 NLT)


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