The Devil in the White City

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Epilogue: The Last Crossing

Summary Epilogue: The Last Crossing

Holmes did not want an autopsy, though study of his brain might have furthered science. After Holmes’ death, Geyer became ill. The prison’s warden committed suicide. The priest who delivered Holmes’ last rites died mysteriously. The jury foreman was electrocuted. Emeline Cigrand’s father burned in a boiler explosion. District Attorney Graham’s office caught on fire and left only a single photograph of Holmes. He has no tombstone. 

Summary: Aboard the Olympic

Before boarding the Olympic, Burnham addressed a 19-page letter to Millet on the Titanic. He wanted him to push for Henry Bacon as designer at the next meeting for the Lincoln Commission.

Burnham soon learns of the Titanic’s tragedy and Millet’s death. The Olympic does not rush to its aid. Another ship already reached it, and its builder, J. Bruce Ismay, thought it would be too humiliating for the Olympic to see its sister ship in ruins.

Burnham lives 47 more days. His diabetes, colitis, foot infection, and food poisoning put him into a coma, and he dies on June 1, 1912. His wife, Margaret, moves to Pasadena and lives through both world wars before dying in 1945. They are both buried in the Graceland Cemetery in Chicago, near many of their friends from the Fair.

Analysis: Epilogue

The epilogue presents how everyone’s lives play out after the Fair, with Burnham leaving the richest legacy. In the beginning of the book, he quotes: “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” Burnham’s life proved that he really believed and lived out that thought. He built a grand city, and its effects stretch far and away into the future. He never saw the ripple effects of his creativity, such as the creation of Disney World or The Wizard of Oz, but they are part of his legacy. He only began to see the way that cities unfurled due to his urban planning. Burnham consistently had his sights set on the future.

Olmsted’s ending is tragic. His mind finally betrayed him after making so many beautiful things, but not so much that he couldn’t recognize that his own asylum didn’t live out his vision for the landscape. George Ferris’ fate is also tragic. The Ferris wheel was one of the greatest, most notable creations to come out of the Fair. Ferris was celebrated far and wide, yet he ended up having to sell his share to survive. Others went on to profit while he died in poverty, and his once-loving wife would not even accept his ashes. Dora Root’s ending is not so much tragic as heartbreaking. She had to watch Burnham live out her husband’s dream. Harriet Monroe, Dora’s sister, went on to found Poetry magazine, but we can imagine that Root’s death left a hole in both their lives that was never replaced.

Sullivan’s story reminds us of the importance of attitude. He had plenty of talent, but too much pride, and his inability to work with others rendered him almost useless. Despite helping to build the greatest Fair of all time, he ended up turning to drugs and asking Burnham for money. The most pathetic part is that after Burnham died, Sullivan claimed that Burnham killed the architecture of Chicago with his insecurity. The rest of the architects and entrepreneurs lived predictably. Buffalo Bill was happy to die penniless after giving his money away, and Bloom’s innovative mind helped to found the United Nations. The justice served to Prendergast feels hollow compared to the pain Chicago experienced in losing its mayor. It is a delicious bit of irony that Trude, who received many postcards, was Prendergast’s prosecutor.

Finally, Holmes received his due punishment. He finally confessed, but still tried to have the last little bit of power. He lied about the number of people he killed. There is no reason for it, other than to mess with the police and create uncertainty. Only nine murders were confirmed, but estimates ranged much higher, and some people that he said he killed were still alive. Holmes insisted that he didn’t want an autopsy, despite knowing that his brain could have furthered science. Just like Burnham, Holmes’ legacy lives beyond himself, though in a more supernatural way. The several misfortunes that took place after his death are eyebrow-raising, and strangely connected to people associated with Holmes’ arrest and death.