Smoking With Kyle Hemmings

Read the Story December 15, 2008
story art

What sparked your interest in the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893?

I had been reading about it and I’m always fascinated with the question of what it would have been like to be alive during some great historic event. Imagine if you could step back into the past and be present at this fair. Would you view it any differently than the people who had no knowledge of events to come. Most likely, you would. The people at this fair had no knowledge of something like WWII or the jet plane.

About a third of the way in, this takes a turn. A waitress disappears. The lights and innovation are now accompanied by something dark. Tell us about this shift and about how light and darkness affect both the story and the fair itself.

Okay. You have this very festive occasion. But in reality there was a serial killer murdering people during the fair. So there’s this contrast between the wonders of new technology and the dark impulses in the human soul. This is where the play between light and shadows come in at the fair. I’m tempted to think of a movie like Fritz Lang’s M. The great use of light and dark in German Expressionism and the role of towering buildings, skyscrapers.

The narrator here has a broad view of the fair and the city and its people, even of the future. Who is the narrator?

Interesting question. The narrator appears to be omniscient, could be me or you or anyone living in the present and looking back and making judgments as to how much progress actually took place over the last one-hundred fifty years or so. It’s a narrator who knows there is no progress without mishaps or unforeseen consequences. I’d like to say with technology comes responsibility. Again there is that question of how new technology, as displayed at the fair, would be used and in whose hands.

What is it that draws us to fairs, and midways in particular?

There is the great sense of spectacle, of witnessing and participating in something new and exciting. When you look back, you can say I was there. I remember as a child I had been to one world’s fair. I felt connected to the people, to the achievements of brilliant minds, and in some way, to the future. I never forgot it.

About the Author:

Kyle Hemmings lives in New Jersey. His work has been featured in Five Fishes, FourPaperLetters, Lacuna Journal, and others.