Mayor Harrison becomes involved with a much younger woman. They want to wait for a public announcement on American Cities Day, two days before the close of the Fair on October 30th. There, Harrison will show himself off as leader of the city that “built the greatest Fair of all time.”

Summary: Chapter 42: Freaks

The Retrenchment Committee reports to the Board of Directors that the Fair’s expenditure is “shamefully extravagant.” They propose to have complete power of the remaining finances. When the board rejects this as too excessive, the Retrenchment Committee quits. 

New York had previously criticized Chicago fervently, but Chicago shocked them with class and refinement. Charles T. Root, editor of the New York Dry Goods Reporter, publishes an editorial essentially apologizing to Chicago for New York’s carping and disbelief that Chicago could host a World’s Fair.

Despite this positivity, the exposition directors are desperate to raise the rate of paid admissions. They pressure railroads to lower their fares for the sake of this national wonder. The ChicagoTribune attacks Chauncey Depew, the Fair’s ally in New York, for not doing more to advocate for cheaper transportation.

Millet continues to arrange events to boost attendance. He organizes boat races between Midway villages and plans Friday swim races. He invents “The Ball of the Midway Freaks,” set for August 16th, where belly dancers will dance with senior officers like Burnham and Davis. Celebrity George Francis Train hosts the ball at the Natatorium. Decorations are opulent. All Midway participants wear their native dress, and the ballroom bursts with energy. The night-long ball is a wonderfully strange hit. By day, the Fair is sophisticated, but at night, it transforms into a wild party.

In August, the daily admission average tops 100,000, but the economic depression grows worse. Banks and railroads continue to fail. Suicides and riots rise. Laborers call for change.

Analysis: Chapters 38-42

These chapters illustrate the ever-constant struggle between the businessman and the artist. In a way, this struggle is emblematic of Chicago’s entire problem. Chicago as a city touts its industrial achievements, so it is no surprise that the city leaders value the profitability of the Fair, especially given the economic panic. They want Chicago to look good to the outside world, but they also want to make money. At the very least, the Fair needs to break even and not leave the city in massive debt. However, we already know that Chicago is physically dirty and dark as a direct consequence of their industry, so to transform the city into a place that is also respected for its refinement, the government must spend a lot of money.

The architects are on the other end of this struggle. They have been tasked with creating something grand and magical with their artistic eye and vision. In effect, they are in charge of proving to the rest of America that Chicago can hold its own at the table of sophistication. Unsurprisingly, they completely fail to fall within the proposed budget, and the National Commission’s many useless committees and arguments with the Exposition Company slow its progress. With a shortened timeline, the architects use cheaper materials to work faster, and then employ more men to do that work. But cheaper materials do not hold up well against severe weather, and they end up repairing much of their work. The resulting time delay costs the Fair attendance as rumors spread that it is unfinished. Now, the directors decide to appoint a Retrenchment Committee to investigate the spending. Burnham is in a perfect place to see both sides of the problem. He knows that artistry and seemingly unimportant things like litter on the lawns will cause a drop in attendance, yet attendance is the only hope of recouping the debt.

In chapter forty-two, Larson expands on Millet’s character. We know from the prologue that Millet and Burnham are close friends, and this chapter really shows Millet’s ingenuity. We already sense somewhat that he is an innovator, because he developed the first way to spray paint, and this application greatly sped up the Fair’s progress. Now, Burnham tasks Millet with the important job of finding ways to boost attendance at the Fair. Millet has already begun this task by inventing special days to honor specific groups of people. Now, he turns to the Midway. He uses natural human curiosity to his advantage when he organizes the “Ball of the Midway Freaks.” People want to see the juxtaposition of wild belly dancers dancing with their refined gentlemen leaders. Ironically, Millet manages to accomplish some of Olmsted’s goal of “fun” at Burnham’s direction. He turns nights at the Fair into parties.

The success of the Ferris wheel is arguably the most important part of the Fair. The wheel works on the first try without incident, and captures fun, magnificence, and romanticism in the golden hour of sunset. We can interpret symbolic significance in the fact that the wheel stands up just fine to the foreshadowed test of strong wind. On the day of the storm, the wheel continues to function perfectly. This triumph reflects the triumph of the Fair as a whole. Despite all the stormy conditions, literal and metaphorical, the Fair prevails.

The fire in the Cold Storage tower may be the most tragic event of the Fair, and Larson depicts it in great detail. The most important thing we learn from this fire is that once again, a tragedy could have been prevented if someone said something when they noticed something wrong. The construction error, though clearly identified, was never rectified, and no one notified Burnham. To his knowledge, the building was constructed according to the engineering designs that he approved. Most likely, nobody told Burnham because they didn’t want him to get angry, and nobody wanted to be held accountable. As Murphy predicted, the tower catches on fire again. Larson paints a vivid picture of the firemen shaking hands and hugging in the flames. Before they die, the last thing they want is human connection.

Meanwhile, Holmes further traps Anna and Minnie in his evil schemes in chapter thirty-nine. Having earned both women’s complete trust, Holmes separates them with ease, taking Anna on a hotel “tour” while Minnie cleans out the apartment for their long trip to Europe. Anna never considers how strange it is for Holmes to ask her to find a document when it would be quicker for him to retrieve it himself. Through Anna’s murder, we again see Holmes’ demented pleasure. He spends a long time listening to her suffocate and carefully weighing his options, telling us that his joy isn’t in the killing itself, but in the power he holds over the last moments of life. Holmes relishes in the struggle he causes. In no time at all, he moves on to his next victim in chapter forty-one: Georgiana Yoke. Nobody asks questions about Anna and Minnie yet, as Holmes engineered the situation that they are supposed to be in Europe.