Summary: The Fair

The Fair’s effect on America endures. Walt Disney’s father, Elias, told Walt about building the White City, and Walt went on to create the Magic Kingdom. L. Frank Baum and artist William Wallace Denslow visited the Fair, and they later dreamed up Oz. We now have Columbus Day, as well as a Ferris wheel and a Midway at almost all fairs. We use alternating current. We eat Cracker Jacks and Shredded Wheat. Most cities have Romanesque columns or facades on an older building.

The Fair introduced the idea that cities themselves can be beautiful displays of architecture. Afterward, cities asked Burnham to apply similar thinking to their cities, and he became one of the first influential figures in modern urban planning. Chicago preserved the Fair’s Palace of Fine Arts, which now houses the Museum of Science and Industry. It still looks over the now completely wild Wooded Island.

The Fair’s place in architecture is a source of debate. Some say that its neoclassical design set the nation’s progress back, killing American architecture. Louis Sullivan adopted this view after Burnham’s death. Adler & Sullivan all but stopped receiving commissions and Adler quit the firm in 1895. Sullivan’s arrogant attitude tarnished relationships that may have led to commissions. He fell into drugs and alcohol, and occasionally came to Burnham for money.   

Burnham received honorary master’s degrees from both Harvard and Yale, whose rejections had bothered him his entire life. Some people continued to believe that John Root had been the artistic vision behind the Fair, but Burnham maintained that they only had “the faintest suggestion of a plan” at the time he died. However, Root’s death and its timing spurred Burnham to grow in his artistry. Many buildings of Burnham’s remain, though only seven are in Chicago.

Burnham became somewhat of an environmentalist, realizing that reliance on natural resources was unsustainable. He also foretold the end of horses as transportation. His work never ceased. In his fifties, he developed colitis and diabetes, which caused a lifelong foot infection. He knew his visions were beyond him. On Independence Day in 1909, he told a friend: “You’ll see it lovely. I never will. But it will be lovely.”

Summary: Recessional

In the years after the Fair, Olmsted’s failing memory developed into dementia and paranoia. Eventually his family felt they had no choice but to take him to an asylum. Despite the dementia, he recognized that he had designed the grounds of his new home, McLean Asylum. Just like his other big works, he did not feel his long-term vision had been realized. He died on August 28, 1903.