Another Reason to Love Backstories

To be present in every situation is a gift.

There was this guy named Elias who had a hard time deciding what to do with his life. He didn’t care too much for working on his dad’s farm in Kansas. He heard that there was money to be made on construction of the Union Pacific Railroad, so he worked on the railroad in Colorado for a while. He worked with a guy named Walter Chrysler, who would also go on to do other things with his life.

When he was done with the railroad job, he was a fiddler in Denver for a time. He gave it a shot at being a mailman for a while, in a little town called Kissimmee, Florida (near what is now Orlando). He was handy with tools and became a carpenter, and eventually a contractor. He worked on a project in Chicago in the early 1890s.

It was kind of a big deal at the time; it was the “1893 World Columbian Exposition,” “Columbian” because it was a year after the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ bumping into this continent looking for China.

Do obstacles stop you, define you or inspire you?

Chicago was struggling to get all the buildings and preparations done to host what would later become known as “The World’s Fair.” The workers and even some of the planners and organizers were laying sod on the grounds on the night before the Exposition opened.

A fire had swept through the grounds, and a tornado had done considerable damage to buildings as well during the construction, and at times, there were questions about whether the big event might ever happen.

The big, beautiful white buildings were a sight to behold, and many dubbed it “The White City.” Chicagoans were proud of it, and rightly so. The fair attracted people who came from all over the world to see all the attractions.

There was a major exhibit that boasted of the latest developments in science and industry. The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago is the only surviving building.

The pride that Chicagoans felt was evident everywhere, but nowhere was it as pronounced and frequent as in the daily newspapers. After a time, the rest of the country’s newspapers grew a bit fatigued from the constant bragging about the gargantuan event taking place on the shore of Lake Michigan.

Because of the continual chatter, Chicago was dubbed “The Windy City” — not because of any meteorological or weather-related realities, but because all the locals never stopped chattering about their beloved exposition, and people assumed that the town got a bit gusty from all the hot air being generated.

Don’t let anyone pigeonhole your genius. Maybe you need to step outside the lines and make it on your own.

A guy named George had a pretty good idea for something that he wanted to showcase at the exposition. He tried and tried and tried to get the organizers to see his “new, big thing…” Finally, George gave up and set up his contraption just outside the grounds of the big fair, so he could take advantage of the traffic going in and out of the fairgrounds. George’s large rotating cars were carried round and round, carrying — get this, 60 people at a time — in each car! They are now a staple of every fair, firemen’s picnic, and local festival.

His name was George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. Yup, he was the inventor of the Ferris Wheel. He knew of the principle of “Go Big or Go Home.” Can you imagine how big that first Ferris Wheel was?

Daniel Burnham was the head of the architectural firm that was responsible for building the “White City,” and he had no end to problems of handling such a gargantuan task. The exposition got delayed several times, missing the 1892 anniversary of the Columbus trip, and there were political snafus, fights, and intrigue on many levels.

There was a cranky, irascible young architect who couldn’t seem to get along with anyone and had grandiose ideas of his own. He was fired, but he turned out okay. Frank Lloyd Wright was not ruined by being canned from Burnham’s firm.

Our friend, Elias? He worked on construction of various parts of the “White City.” Years later he regaled his children with tales of the beautiful, magical buildings and the people wandering the grounds of the Columbian Exposition with rapt attention.

Elias Disney’s stories inspired his sons, Roy and Walter, to become storytellers of the first order.

Knowing that everything is temporary helps us to endure tough times, embrace the good things, and live life with a little more urgency.

What stories are each of us telling about some of our life experiences, mundane jobs, goofy coworkers, and projects that filled us with wonder and awe? Someone within hearing range of your story might just be a Walt Disney. Will one of your coworkers be a Walter Chrysler? (I’m not saying that you have to be named Walt…)

Do you know any extreme geniuses like Frank Lloyd Wright? (Shout out to a renowned Wisconsin boy, though most of us are a tad nicer than FLW…) As for ourselves, sometimes we have to earn our chops doing all kinds of other stuff before we find our groove.

My dad has a lot of great sayings. One is “Everything is temporary.” When we’re not doing headline-making, heart-singing, soul-gratifying stuff — what are we learning? How can you change that reality into something that does make your heart sing?

When you do get that gift of doing “it” with energy and focus and people that you love, are you thankful, humble, and present?

The book, The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson, gives life and rich detail and texture to the story of the 1893 World Columbian Exposition. He has researched this down to the most minute detail and the book, entirely factual, is well documented with footnotes and references to sources; it reads like a mystery thriller by any master storyteller.

To say that I recommend it is kinda like saying that oxygen can be pretty good for you.

Tom Dietzler
Tom Dietzler
Lifelong, proud somewhat strident Wisconsinite, I love my state and love to sing its praises. A bon vivant and raconteur, lover of history, literature and good conversations. Laughter and music are salves that I frequently am applying to my soul. I have spent time (too much) in manufacturing and printing and have found great joy in my current position as director of operations at a large church in the same area where I grew up. Husband to Rhonda and father of two adult children Melanie and Zack, I’m the constant companion of my five-year-old Lab, Oliver, who is my muse to a lot of my stories. I’m a fan of deep conversation and my interests are in learning and gaining wisdom, so in the last few years I have become and less politically vocal, and hopefully more respectful and open-minded. Rhonda and I sold our home in 2018, bought a condo and have traveled a bit more, golfed a bit more and are enjoying life a bit more. If you take the time to get to know me, prepare yourself for an invite to the 30th state to join the union, a gem located in the upper Midwest, full of beautiful scenery formed by the glaciers, with lots of lakes and trees and gorgeous scenery, and the nicest people that you’d ever want to meet.
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Susan Rooks

Heading out shortly, Tom, but I just have to say that it doesn’t get much better than reading one of YOUR stories first thing in the morning — or at any time! Damn straight everything is temporary! But such fun!

Aaron Towle
Aaron Towle

Great story Tom. Sometimes we need to try on lots of shoes before we can run the race. It’s never too late to find your niche!

Len Bernat

Tom – The twists and turns of life that shape us and the people we are fortunate to know. What a wonderful way to prepare for Thanksgiving. Thanks for sharing.

Mike Pitocco

Love it Tom. If we don’t tell our story WHO WILL?? It wasn’t until I told my story that I saw the tapestry from the distance that time created……how seemingly small things wove together and connected.

Larry Tyler

Great story Tom. I feel that obstacles sharpen our skills. They give us tools that we may carry with us throughout life.

Maureen Y. Nowicki

Your stories are so heart-felt, Tom. Your line “do not anyone pigeonhole your genius” is so incredibly empowering and brings one back to seeing the value in living in the present fully and completely. Carpe diem and there is nothing like doing something with those people who get that gift of doing – I know I feel pretty humbled and grateful in that moment. It is a truly invaluable one!

Noemi Zarb

Always so full of heart and soul, Tom. Living one’s dreams is much vaunted yet it is easier said than done. For starters, there is fortune’s hand in being at the right time and at the right place. Even more pertinent is to ask what are our society, our institutions, and our families, and we doing (I don’t mean vapid hype) by way of encouragement? Do we ever question that one size does not fit all in our perception of schooling, education, workplace and everything else?

What also struck me is the hubris underlining the non-survival (except for one museum) of all the buildings built for the World Fair in Chicago. Buildings loom so solid when they are newly built, yet they are ultimately very fragile for they easily succumb to natural disasters and human destruction.

I don’t know what led to the wiping out of the buildings you mention built with so much pride and sweat. If development is the reason, it saddens me a great deal for architecture mirrors life in a very significant way by imparting the presence of the past, the vibes of the present and the spirit and values of the people who conceived it.

This leads me to the treasure trove of history which can teach us so much about our roots, our current situation and future footsteps – the wonder of ongoing becoming.

Paula Goodman

Tom, this was really a delight to read! Inspiring and a breath of fresh air, perfect for th mid week. “Everything is temporary” Is wise to say, you never know. Tho think of all the humans that have been, are, and will be…thats a lot of stories! Thank you for this article! Very enjoyable. Have a lovely rest of the week! Paula


Love this history lesson, Tom, and the message of resilience, persistence, curiosity & inspiration. Everything is temporary, especially our feelings, which, when we’re aware of that, can make us more resilient.

Thanks for sharing!


Tom, love this, we must never hesitiate to step out of the box and see wht it will bring. Great post.

Aldo Delli Paoli

Life is an adventure with a beginning decided by others, an end unwanted by us, and many randomly chosen interludes by chance.



Powerful voices from around the globe that speak to our shared human experience. May they inspire you and give you great hope.



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