Summary: Chapter 22: Acquiring Minnie

Holmes continues to prosper off his ventures. He collects rent, runs the hotel, manages a mail-order medicine service, and leads the Silver Ash Institute, among others. He continues to furnish his hotel on credit without intending to pay. He sympathetically wards off letters from the Cigrands, Conners, and private detectives, giving false leads and promising to notify police if he hears anything about the whereabouts of the young women, whom he actually murdered.

While searching for a new secretary, Holmes discovers that an old acquaintance, Minnie R. Williams, has moved to Chicago. Her “plain, short, and plump” physical appearance isn’t his usual type.

Minnie and her sister Anna were orphaned in Mississippi. Anna went to a reverend, and Minnie went to Texas with her rich guardian-uncle. When he died in her third year at the Boston Academy of Elocution, she inherited a valuable estate in Texas. Holmes met her on a business trip to Boston and made successive trips to court her with gifts and outings. Eventually he bored of her, but she had fallen in love.

Holmes asks Minnie to work for him, then to marry him, on one condition: she must call him Henry or Harry Holmes, though she only knows him as Harry Gordon. Unbeknownst to her, he never records their marriage, and he remains married to Clara Lovering and Myrta Belknap on paper. He persuades Minnie to transfer the Texas land to “Alexander Bond,” (Holmes) who gives the deed to “Benton T. Lyman” (Pitezel). Holmes now owns Minnie’s inheritance.

Holmes fabricates the Campbell-Yates Manufacturing Company. This company produces nothing, but serves to hold assets and hold off creditors. Holmes lists the five owners as: himself; Minnie; H. S. Campbell (the fictitious owner of Holmes’ castle); A. S. Yates, also fictive; Henry Owens (a porter employed by Holmes).

Summary: Chapter 23: Dreadful Things Done by Girls

In Spring of 1893, Chicago prepares rapidly for the Fair. Exhibits from around the world arrive: a British locomotive and ships, German weapons, Buffalo Bill and his Wild West show, sphinxes, mummies, and cannibals. Bloom opens the Algerian village a year early and reaps profit. He shows his belly-dancers at a club, but there is no suitable musical accompaniment. On piano he improvises the tune that we now associate with snake charming.

New York gives unsolicited advice on food, dress, and culture. Adelaide Hollingsworth donates a 700-page book with recipes and advice for women on how to be homemakers. A journalist named Jacob Riis warns Chicago to clean up its streets, a monumental task. Carrie Watson, owner of the biggest brothel, doubles her staff in anticipation.

After his failed election, Carter Henry Harrison becomes editor of the Chicago Times. He announces he wishes to run again to be the “Fair Mayor” if the public wills it. Most leaders and newspapers oppose him as they believe he represents the old, artless Chicago, but the working men consider him their ally. 

Prendergast is confident he plays a major role in Harrison’s rising popularity. He believes that when he wins, Harrison will owe him the appointment of Corporation Counsel, because that’s how the political machine works.  Prendergast writes postcards to men he trusts will soon be his associates. Trude receives and keeps another rambling card. Harrison is elected to his fifth term in April 1893. He does not even know Prendergast.

Summary: Chapter 24: The Invitation

Holmes invites Minnie’s sister Anna to visit and attend the Fair, intending to allay Anna’s suspicions about himself. She plans her visit in June.

Summary: Chapter 25: Final Preparations

The death toll rises, and union carpenters strike for a minimum wage and other conditions. The Ferris wheel remains unfinished. The white paint requires constant patching.

Burnham feels optimistic despite these setbacks, especially when McKim organizes a banquet in his honor. Progress is evident. Over 200 state buildings and exhibits have been erected. Plenty of non-union carpenters take the strikers’ places. Olmsted’s birds arrive. Buffalo Bill opens his Wild West show next to the fairgrounds early and sells out immediately. However, the unfinished reality of the fairgrounds does overwhelm Burnham. Packing crates, boxcars, rail tracks, and temporary roads lie everywhere.

Burnham and the union workers reach an agreement. These concessions of minimum wage and overtime pay are a breakthrough for the organized labor movement in Chicago and the nation.

Olmsted returns to Chicago sick and disheartened by the unfinished landscape. He waits for the building construction to finish so he can plant. He regrets leaving his business to Rudolf Ulrich and distrusts him. Ulrich does not want to delegate and has become Burnham’s personal assistant, neglecting Olmsted’s overall landscape vision for the Fair. Olmsted accepts that his work will not be complete by the beginning of the Fair. Still, the progress he can see enlivens him.

Joseph McCarthy, a milk peddler, sees Prendergast walking in circles with a hat over his eyes. He walks into a tree.

A massive storm damages the Fair. Pelting rain causes the roofs of the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building and the Woman’s Building to leak and cascade onto exhibits. The Ferris wheel’s drainage pumps cannot handle the excess of water. Mud turns into puddles, and puddles turn into lakes. Approximately 20,000 men work day and night in pouring rain to overcome the setbacks.

Olmsted’s health waxes and wanes. The plants he ordered have not arrived, and he is forced to plant the flowerbeds he hates to make the landscape look presentable for Opening Day.

Opening Day cannot be postponed. Guests from all over the world arrive in Chicago, and a parade prepares to welcome President Grover Cleveland. The Fair is the most exciting thing since the Chicago Fire of 1871, and all the city’s newspapers ready themselves for the historic edition. Some print an inside-page announcement for Holmes’ World’s Fair Hotel.

The night before the opening, the British reporter F. Herbert Stead scouts the fairgrounds. He finds a confusing scene of “gross incompleteness,” covered in garbage, empty crates, and freight cars.

Analysis: Chapters 22-25

Holmes pulls off his most complex manipulation yet in “acquiring” Minnie. Larson chooses the word “acquiring” to reflect Holmes’ perspective. To Minnie, they fall in love. But to Holmes, he is only obtaining Minnie as an object to use. Larson sums up Holmes’ mindset in a quote near the beginning of the chapter: “What he craved was possession and the power it gave him; what he adored was anticipation – the slow acquisition of love, then life, and finally the secrets within.” Larson compares Holmes and Jack the Ripper. They both need to find women with the right kind of vulnerability. Whereas Jack the Ripper finds this vulnerability in London prostitutes, Holmes finds it in women transitioning into big-city life. In fact, Holmes had already created some of Minnie’s vulnerability himself. He had “considered acquiring her” when he previously met her in Boston, and made a conscious effort to win her over at that time. The result was that she fell in love with him, so when she moves to Chicago, she is both vulnerable because of the new transition to a big city, and because she already desires Holmes.

With Minnie, Holmes can fulfill his two desires: possessing women and possessing money. It seemingly takes him no effort at all to persuade her to transfer the grants of her inheritance to his name. Between this transfer and naming her as an owner in the fictitious Campbell-Yates Manufacturing Company, Holmes has Minnie completely under his emotional and financial grasp. Holmes makes shrewd business maneuvers, and has at least five different streams of income. Yet, he continues to buy high-end furniture on credit and depends on his skills of “delay and heartfelt remorse” to keep the creditors at bay. However, just as Holmes killed Julia and Emeline when he received his satisfaction and deemed them useless, he realizes that his entire operation is coming close to running its course. He never meant to solve the problem with his creditors or run them off completely. As with women, he just wants to have his thrill, feel powerful, and be on his way.

Holmes’ manipulation extends to the people investigating the disappearances of his victims: Julia and Pearl Conner, and Emeline Cigrand. The irony of his manipulation is profound. By his nature, Holmes does not experience the same emotions as other humans, and yet “emotion” is exactly what he uses to dupe the private detectives hired by the Cigrands and Conners. He knows that being evasive will alert suspicion, so he manufactures sympathy and grief that he cannot provide the detectives with more information. In fact, Larson says the detectives depart “as cheerily as if they had known each other all their lives.” Holmes has a way of exuding warmth and sincerity, and almost nobody recognizes it as a façade. If the detectives had been able to connect that multiple women had gone missing from the same place, perhaps they would have begun to suspect Holmes. But Chicago’s size and disorganization means missing people are poorly investigated, which makes it the perfect city for Holmes to hide his darkness.

Carter Henry Harrison is both similar and dissimilar to Burnham and Holmes. Burnham (and other leaders) dislike Harrison because he symbolizes the part of Chicago that they want to improve. One of Burnham’s goals with the Fair is to show Chicago off as a refined city, but Harrison relates most with the lower, working class. He drinks a lot, smokes, and visits the brothels. He meets his criticisms with humor and does not pretend to be overly sophisticated, and many people love him for his sincerity. Harrison garners enough support to win his next election in part because of the high level of unrest in the laborer community. The similarity between him, Burnham, and Root is their charismatic personalities. They all can engage whomever they speak with, and all three secure trust and respect from their target audiences, even manipulating people: Harrison for votes, Burnham for control over the Fair, and Holmes to attain victims and money.

One interesting contrast between Burnham and Holmes is their use of façade. Larson describes some unsolicited advice on culture and sophistication from New Yorkers. It is clear from the quoted repartee between New York and Chicago newspapers that New York doubts whether Chicago will prove itself capable of cleaning itself up and presenting a World’s Fair of elegance. Chicago is insecure about being “second class,” which is one of the reasons they want the Fair in the first place. Larson says Burnham “embodie[s] this insecurity.” He was rejected from Harvard and Yale, and his taste for finer things reflects how he constantly tries to make up for his insecurities. One can argue that his architecture reflects this same insecurity. Burnham’s main design is the central Court of Honor, and he chooses for the court’s main buildings to have a neoclassical design. Namely, a design like ancient Roman structures, with columns and decorated facades; Burnham wants everyone struck dumb with awe. Burnham reflects facades in his life, both in architecture and lifestyle, out of insecurity. Holmes, on the other hand, deliberately puts on an emotional façade of warmth and sensuality. He is able to do this because of his self-confidence in manipulation of human emotion. One façade is born of insecurity, and one façade of self-confidence.