The Devil in the White City

  • Study Guide
Summary

Part II: An Awful Fight (Chapters 11-15)

Summary Part II: An Awful Fight (Chapters 11-15)

Bertha Palmer, head of the Board of Lady Managers, proves trouble for Sophia Hayden. Palmer decides to invite women nationwide to donate anything as decorations for Hayden’s building. A long battle follows between the two women, resulting in Hayden having a mental breakdown.

Workers at the Fair begin to die due to hazards on the jobsite.

Summary: Chapter 14: Remains of the Day

Julia Conner becomes pregnant, and Holmes agrees to marry her only if she allows him to give her an abortion. Julia visits her friends, the Crowes, in a nearby apartment on Christmas Eve. Holmes takes Julia to the basement for the “abortion,” and suffocates her with chloroform. He does the same to Pearl. Upon realizing their absence on Christmas, Mrs. Crowe inquires with Holmes, and he tells her that Julia and Pearl have returned home to Iowa.

Holmes hires Charles Chappell as an articulator to clean and reassemble Julia’s skeleton. He sells it to a medical school in Chicago. Holmes has learned that there exists a high demand for corpses in the medical community for teaching purposes, either surgical practice or anatomical instruction.

Summary: Chapter 15: A Gauntlet Dropped

Labor strife increases and violence in Chicago rises. The Fair so far has cost more than anyone expected. To immediately reduce expenditures, Burnham makes drastic cuts to the workforce, knowing many men will face homelessness and poverty.

To rouse the engineers of America into submitting a design to best the Eiffel Tower, Burnham speaks at a meeting of the Saturday Afternoon Club, a group of engineers who discuss the challenges in constructing the Fair. He inspires a 33-year-old engineer from Pittsburgh to rise to the occasion.

Conflict brews between Burnham and George Davis, the Director-General of the Fair. The directors of the Exposition Company decide to ask for a direct appropriation from Congress to continue funding the Fair, and the result is a harsh and detailed review of all expenditures.

Analysis: Chapters 11-15

The eleventh chapter begins with a major turning point for the Fair: the presentation to the Grounds and Buildings Committee. The architects have finally decided to work together and devote their full intellect to designing the Fair. The result is a proposal of a dream city that leaves the committee stunned. By the end of the presentation, everyone in the room knows something special has occurred. Even though everyone constantly worries about whether they will have enough time, they turn their vision toward the future and commit to building this dream. Once the architects’ initial plans are completed, Olmsted is freed to really begin planning. The meeting is important for him specifically because he clearly sees the obstacles ahead of him. Namely, he knows that the plans for the buildings are so complex that he will have to do his work at the very end. Therefore, he needs to create something that can be completed in a short amount of time. He sets his vision of a sweeping landscape that both works with the grand Roman style of the buildings and yet brings a “poetic” and lively atmosphere. He fixates on the gracefulness of electric boats and becomes obsessed with this aspect of his design.

These chapters highlight how bureaucratic parties can impede progress. The main turmoil occurs between the National Commission and the Exposition Company over finances. The Exposition Company raised the money for the Fair and wants to continue controlling it. The more they argue, the slower they are to make decisions, and these delays are frustrating for Burnham, because he is used to having control over his own company. The National Commission keeps forming new paid departments even though the Fair has already cost much more than expected. Burnham calls his interactions with them a “dance of false grace” that wastes time because he must try and hurry along decisions without offending anyone, instead of being able to get down to business. Burnham eventually feuds with the Commission’s head, Director-General Davis, over who gets to design the artistic interior of the buildings. These conflicts are examples of how pride can divide a unified vision and slow progress.

Through all the setbacks, Burnham displays a great capacity for leadership. He comes up with an innovative way to delegate by hosting a contest to design the Woman’s Building, showing his investment in the advancement of architecture. As a leader, he stands up for the winning woman’s design when other male architects question whether she is capable of having designed it herself. Burnham takes a chance and hires Charles Atwood to replace Root, despite his personal grief over the loss of his friend. Larson tells us that Atwood is addicted to opium and an hour late to meet with Burnham, but Burnham thinks he is brilliant and hires him anyway. Burnham persistently seeks a challenger for the Eiffel Tower. When he hires construction companies and writes their contracts, he makes the executive decision to give himself full power. He also makes the difficult decision to lay off laborers to cut expenses. These are all examples of strong leadership qualities: delegation, fighting for innovation, taking risks, and making difficult decisions. The difference between Burnham’s and Holmes’ drives for power is that Burnham knows he is the best person to control the Fair. Holmes wants power for his own pleasure.

In chapters twelve and fourteen, Holmes concludes his manipulation of the Conners by killing Pearl and Julia. Before this, however, Gertrude acts strangely around Holmes, and may be one of Holmes’ few escaped victims. We do not know for sure that he tried to kill her, but something isn’t right because Gertrude refuses to look at Holmes, blushes, and leaves suddenly, refusing to explain anything to Ned. Ned doesn’t seem very perceptive, and Holmes uses this oblivion to his advantage. At first, Ned doesn’t believe Julia could be having an affair with Holmes, though it is obvious to his friends. Holmes fools Ned by acting sympathetic and suggesting Ned take out life insurance for his family. Ned is ultimately a sad pawn in Holmes’ game. By having a secret affair with Julia but encouraging Ned to keep trying to win her back, Holmes increases and plays the tension in their marriage until they divorce. Again, as soon as he has Julia, Holmes gets bored. Julia’s pregnancy presents a major vulnerability for Holmes to extort. He still forces Julia to go through the anguish of abortion even though he probably planned to kill her all along. This puts him up close and personal to see her confusion and struggle as she dies, which excites him sexually.