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The Devil in the White City

  • Study Guide
Summary

Part I: Frozen Music (Chapters 5-10)

Summary Part I: Frozen Music (Chapters 5-10)

Summary: Chapter 5: “Don’t Be Afraid”

Holmes courts and then marries a woman named Myrta. Z. Belknap, who moves from Minneapolis to Chicago. Holmes especially likes her “aura of vulnerability and need.” He tries to divorce and sue his first wife, Clara, for infidelity, but ultimately does not prosecute. At first Myrta works in the drugstore, but she grows jealous of Holmes’ interactions with female customers. Eventually her parents move to Illinois and she moves in with them. There, she gives birth to her daughter, Lucy. Holmes strings Myrta along by visiting her and Lucy and giving them money and gifts.

Holmes purchases the vacant lot under the false name H. S. Campbell and designs his building himself. He includes a secret chute to the basement, a walk-in vault with a gas jet, and a sub-basement for the “permanent storage of sensitive material.” He pays a fraction of the cost by firing workers without pay and buying supplies on credit. He never pays, despite having the money, and refers creditors to H. S. Campbell. He sells the drugstore and builds a new one in his own building, adds other businesses, and moves there in May 1890. Holmes finds out that Jackson Park has been chosen as the site for the Fair, and realizes his property is now very valuable because of its close proximity.

Holmes retains connections with three men: Patrick Quinlan, Benjamin Pitezel, and Charles Chappell. Larson foreshadows that Pitezel’s children—Alice, Nellie, and Howard—will be known throughout America. 

Summary: Chapter 6: Pilgrimage

After the committee picks Jackson Park as the site for the World’s Fair, Burnham, Root, and Olmsted start to plan. They envision lagoons and canals on the lakeshore, and design a central “Grand Court” with five enormous surrounding palaces. Burnham travels to New York in December 1890 to meet with five architects he wants to design the major buildings: George B. Post, Charles McKim, Richard M. Hunt, Robert Peabody, and Henry Van Brunt.

The architects Burnham meets are unenthusiastic. They are skeptical that they can finish the Fair in time, but they agree to meet Olmsted in Chicago later. Root travels to New York to try and further convince the architects, but he cannot excite them, even with the prospect of artistic freedom. Both Burnham and Root feel they are offering the opportunity of a lifetime and are frustrated by their apathy. However, the architects accept tentatively after being formally commissioned for a large sum. Chicago’s own architects feel betrayed that Burnham went to New York, and Burnham decides to ask five Chicago firms to join the team.

Summary: Chapter 7: A Hotel for the Fair

Holmes decides to make his building a hotel for the Fair. He delegates tasks and ensures a high turnover of workers, so nobody becomes suspicious of his “necessary modifications.” He designs a kiln in the basement that resembles a cremation chamber.