The Devil in the White City

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Summary

Part III: In the White City (Chapters 26-31)

Summary Part III: In the White City (Chapters 26-31)

Summary: Chapter 31: One Good Turn

The time comes for the first turn of the Ferris Wheel. Ferris cannot attend, but sends his partner W. F. Gronau to oversee the occasion. The wheel makes an alarming noise, but Rice explains that rust is just scraping off the metal. People cheer as the wheel begins to turn. Rice telegraphs Ferris to let him know of his success. However, the boxcars have yet to be hung.

Simultaneously, Infanta Eulalia, sister of King Alfonso XII and daughter of exiled Queen Isabel II, visits from Spain. Her arrival is an opportunity for Chicago to show off its new refinement to the world, specifically New York. Chicago arranges several events in her honor, but Eulalia has little patience for ceremony and instead chooses to walk in the crowd incognito and dine in the German Village. She arrives late, leaves early, or skips most of the events. Articles suggest that Chicago is insulted. 

Analysis: Chapters 26-31

In this section, the Fair proves that there can be triumph through persistence. Larson’s description of this real event shows the complexity of the Fair’s success and the consequences of its obstacles. Through incredible persistence, Burnham’s men are able to accomplish a seemingly impossible amount of work in a very short time. Just the night before Opening Day, there are boxcars and trash and empty crates all over the grounds, but 10,000 men work through the night, determined to accomplish something presentable, because failure is simply not an option.

The delay caused by the committees’ prideful arguing turns out to be serious. Larson lists many exhibits that had been advertised but remain incomplete at the opening of the Fair, including the Ferris wheel. While Olmsted is upset about having to plant flowerbeds, Larson says the first thing people marvel at are his lawns. Olmsted and Burnham are perfectionists, but they are wise enough to accept that there must be incomplete aspects of the Fair in order to give the crowd something presentable. They do not let it dampen their spirits so much as to render them frozen in anxiety. When the Ferris wheel does eventually turn, it is a highlight of success for the Fair and for engineers of America. Americans boast that this accomplishment overshadows France’s accomplishment of the Eiffel Tower.

The chapters about Holmes in this section are relatively short, but they continue to give us insight about his need to manipulate others. As is his pattern, when Minnie becomes inconvenient for him, he simply moves her out of the way. Her jealousy of his interactions with other women does not bother him at all in an emotional way; Minnie’s feelings are simply getting in his way of using her for his pleasure and her money. Holmes doesn’t kill her at this point because he has invited her sister Anna to visit. He knows Anna is already suspicious of him, and he wants to dispel these fears before proceeding further. The melancholy atmosphere of the hotel also has the effect of keeping guests in their rooms, separated from each other, making it much easier for Holmes to kill them.

Larson has been developing Prendergast’s character throughout the book in small increments, showing his descent into insanity. Prendergast’s complex delusion that Harrison will give him the appointment of Corporation Counsel causes him to prematurely consider his role as a leader. He offers a future assistantship to a journalist, signifying that he truly believes he will get this position. According to his letter, he also believes Jesus Christ is the ultimate authority, so it may follow that he believes in fate and divine appointment. Regardless, Prendergast’s delusion should be a red flag that he is probably dangerous. Larson foreshadows that trouble will occur when Prendergast discovers that nobody knows anything about him, and Harrison has no plans to appoint him a government job.