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The Devil in the White City

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Characters

Frederick Law Olmsted

Characters Frederick Law Olmsted

Olmsted exemplifies the “artist” archetype. As a landscape architect, he previously worked on New York City’s Central Park, and takes great pride in his skills and profession. He insists on his artistic vision and cares nothing for profit. Olmsted’s persistent self-criticism haunts him until his death. Even in his last days at the asylum his family commits him to, he recognizes the grounds he designed, and the realization that “they” have not honored his long-term vision torments him. However, Olmsted’s perfectionism is crucial to the success of the Fair. His deep exploration of color and sensation is central to the magical experience, and his insistence on electric boats, his refusal of commonplace flowerbeds, and his willingness to redo everything when necessary are examples of his legacy in landscape architecture.

Olmsted experiences the dark side of artistry. Relentless depression affects his ability to work for long stretches. For much of the book he is confined to bed, either with melancholia or an array of illnesses. Despite his mental battles, Olmsted is persistent and pushes through the darkness—or despite the darkness—for the sake of his vision. His mind does not stop him from leaving a lasting legacy.