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.

Holmes meets Myrta’s great-uncle, Jonathan Belknap. Larson explains later that something indefinable but disturbing makes Belknap uneasy upon meeting Holmes, but he gives Holmes money to buy a home for him and Myrta. Holmes forges Belknap’s signature on a banknote, then invites Belknap to Chicago to take a tour of his hotel. Belknap declines Holmes’ invitation to see the roof, but agrees to stay the night. Patrick Quinlan unsuccessfully attempts to enter Belknap’s room. The next day, Belknap discovers the banknote forgery, and Holmes apologizes.

Summary: Chapter 8: The Landscape of Regret

The Eastern architects see Jackson Park for the first time and come away stunned and discouraged. The landscape will be challenging to build on because of dead trees, quicksand underneath the initial layers, and water fluctuations in the lake. 

Root returns to Chicago and meets the architects after their visit to Jackson Park. He begins to act uncharacteristically tired and ill, but invites them to his home the next day and then returns home himself.

To build enthusiasm, the Fair’s Grounds and Buildings Committee hosts an extravagant banquet to honor the architects. Burnham and Lyman Gage, president of the Exposition, deliver rousing speeches, and people seem united. However, at Root’s home the next day, the Eastern architects still have a “listless and hopeless attitude.” They believe it will be difficult to design such big and cheap buildings. They also worry about the ground surfaces and timeline.

Summary: Chapter 9: Vanishing Point

Icilius “Ned” Conner, his wife Julia, and daughter Pearl rent a flat in Holmes’ hotel. Ned works for Holmes in a jewelry store on the bottom floor. Holmes hires Julia in the drugstore, and hires Ned’s sister Gertrude when she moves to Chicago. Holmes makes Ned uneasy because of his strong hold on Julia and Gertie. As a favor to Holmes, Ned tests the vault to see if it is soundproof. While he is disturbed by it, Ned does not further question the purpose of the vault.

Many people are disappearing in Chicago. Parents send letters inquiring about the whereabouts of their missing daughters. The police force is too small and poorly trained to investigate properly. When found, unclaimed bodies are often used at medical colleges for dissection or anatomy instruction.

Summary: Chapter 10: Alone

The Board of Architects gather in Burnham & Root’s library to begin work. Root is absent. William R. Mead stands in for McKim, whose mother died. They elect Hunt as chairman and Sullivan as secretary. They choose a neoclassical style. Dora calls to say Root has pneumonia. Burnham stays with Root and visits Hunt, who is confined to his hotel by painful gout.

Four days later, Root dies at age forty-one. After being partners and close friends for eighteen years, Burnham is alone. He struggles between grief and a desire to correct the newspapers who say that Root drove the Fair, when in fact Burnham did most of the leading and guiding. The Eastern architects depart, and after attending Root’s memorial service, Burnham gets back to work. 

Meanwhile, a large bank fails in Kansas City, and Lyman Gage resigns as president of the Fair to keep his own bank afloat. Union leaders push for workers’ rights. Fire, weather, and disease worry the community. Prendergast descends deeper into madness.

Analysis: Chapters 5-10

Holmes demonstrates how he manipulates people and situations to benefit himself. As with Mrs. Horton, Holmes is drawn to Myrta Belknap’s vulnerability. Larson says Myrta “became an immediate obsession, her image and need locked in his brain.” Myrta senses Holmes’ fixation, but mistakes it for career ambition. To her, he seems to be driven to advance up the social ladder through hard work. In reality, his ambition is to possess as much power as he can over people. Once he has Myrta, his interest wanes and he sees her growing jealousy as an obstacle. However, he clearly thinks she may provide future gain, because he doesn’t sever the relationship. Holmes next uses her great-uncle Jonathan Belknap, whom he convinces to write a check, and then forges his signature. Belknap is the first character we meet who might see through Holmes’ charming exterior.

Holmes plans his hotel, or “castle,” for illegal purposes. He purchases the lot under a false name so he can buy supplies on credit. Later, when creditors come to collect their debts, he directs them to the building’s “owner,” Campbell, instead of himself. He knows he can deflect real consequences for quite some time using this ruse. Holmes’ main purpose in deciding to design the building himself is to keep his suspicious additions to the hotel a secret: the secret chute, the gas jet, the soundproof vault, the cremation chamber.

Holmes jumps on the opportunity to make his building a hotel for Fair guests. He shows an overarching desire to be profitable, even in spite of negative consequences. He uses the ground floor to open other businesses, from which he collects rent. He could use this money to pay back his debts, but he doesn’t. When he marries Myrta, Holmes attempts to sue his ex-wife Clara for infidelity simply to profit from her. He refuses to pay workers even for perfect work and fires them. This high turnover ensures that nobody is around long enough to grow suspicious of his building design. Holmes keeps Quinlan, Pitezel, and Chappell around, not because he likes them but because he suspects they will be useful for him.

In the world of the Fair, the committee spends months deliberating before choosing Jackson Park as the Fair’s location, leaving less than two and a half years until Opening Day. This may seem like a long time, but the necessary construction was immense, essentially a small city. Larson continually emphasizes how impossible the timeline seems to everyone involved. The land itself and the impending financial panic add to the obstacles the architects must overcome. When the architects initially see Jackson Park, the horribly bleak, cold weather is symbolic of the challenges ahead. Root’s death is a major blow, both personally for Burnham and artistically for the Fair. The lake itself holds another interesting bit of symbolism. By this time, we know that one similar feature between Burnham and Holmes is their blue eyes. Olmsted suggests they choose Jackson Park because of its proximity to the “calm blue” of Lake Michigan, yet the water fluctuations will make construction of the fairgrounds difficult because it means the land will change. So, just as blue-eyed Burnham and Holmes represent creation and destruction, the blue lake also symbolizes creation and destruction.

Pride both hurts and helps the Fair because of its power to divide and unite. Burnham and Root are very proud of Chicago, but the Eastern architects, particularly the ones from New York, have pride in both their own reputations and their cities. They are wary of attaching their names to a project that may be unsuccessful, and are concerned they will not be allowed artistic freedom. Additionally, architects in Chicago get their pride hurt because it seems that Burnham does not have enough faith in the talent of his own city’s architects. Burnham understands the power of this pride and quickly includes an equal number of local firms. The Grounds and Buildings Committee attempts to unite the architects by showering them with a praise-filled banquet, and it seems to work somewhat. Despite some continued negative attitudes, the men finally begin to work together. When Root dies, Burnham struggles with his pride even through grief, as he wants to correct the community and asset that he was the guiding force behind the Fair, not Root. However, he shelves his own pride and gets back to work for the sake of Chicago.