One of the great treasure troves of the Library of Congress is its collection of panoramic photos. Some of the best come from Chicagoan George R. Lawrence and his company. (Motto: “The Hitherto Impossible in Photography Is Our Specialty").

Such pictures of Chicago begin with the Great Fire, marking an incredible devastation best appreciated in a panoramic format. The photos follow the city’s rebuilding, through the Columbian Exposition, the growth of the lakefront, and the Century of Progress.  

These images show an era when popular entertainment meant mass assemblies—a World War II-era exhibition battle, a massive gathering of the International Eucharistic Conference in Soldier Field, a Cubs-Sox World Series, and perhaps best of all, the International Ballooning Contest at Aero Park in Chicago.

It’s a city that might well have been a more entertaining place to live. At least, that’s the impression you get when you see these amazing images.

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