Summary and Analysis
Chapters 54-57 - The Fair, Recessional, Holmes, Aboard the Olympic
Initially, Chapter 54 takes the form of a tribute to the fair and its impact on Chicago, the nation, and the world for years to come. The inspiration for the creation of Oz and some of Frank Lloyd Wright's famous architectural designs are attributed to the fair. The fields of architecture and overall building design carry the fair's influence into the future. The chapter also describes Chicago architect Louis Sullivan's decline into debt and alcoholism and Daniel Burnham's declining health in the early 1900s.
Chapter 55 describes what happens to several key characters in the years after the fair. Ferris succumbs to typhoid fever in 1896. Olmsted dies of dementia in 1903. Sol Bloom loses everything in a bad investment but proves resilient as he finds a future career in politics. Prendergast is sentenced to death in 1893 for the murder of Mayor Harrison.
In Chapter 57, Holmes goes to trial in Philadelphia, is convicted, and is given the maximum sentence of death. He admits to killing many people. However, no one is sure exactly how many people he murdered because he confessed three times during his imprisonment — each version varying in detail. Fearful that his body might be used for science or other purposes, Holmes arranges to be encased in cement in his coffin. After Holmes's death, strange things happen to key people connected with convicting Holmes. For example, Geyer falls very ill. The Moyamensing prison warden commits suicide. Emeline Cigrand's father was scalded during the explosion of a boiler. District Attorney George Graham's office was consumed by fire; the only item that escaped damage was a photo of H.H. Holmes.
The final chapter, Aboard the Olympic, fast forwards to 1912 and reconnects with the beginning of the book. On the ship, Daniel Burnham awaits news of the fate of the Titanic and one of its passengers, his friend Frank Millet. Unfortunately, Millet does not survive the tragedy. Despite the Titanic's traumatic end, the Olympic gets back on course to Europe. Unfortunately, Daniel Burnham dies about a month and a half later.
These chapters serve as closure for many of the characters in the novel. History has written their fates, and Larson just seems to relay the end to their stories.
In Chapter 57, Holmes expresses paranoia about his dead body. Ironic that Holmes, someone who donated many peoples' remains to science, is concerned about the fate of his corpse.
The themes of good and evil resurface in the epilogue, illustrating the idea that both virtue and vice can have long-lasting impact. The fair has a positive and lingering effect on the nation by inspiring great people to do great things, such as Walt Disney and his magical productions. However, Holmes also has an enduring impact, as strange and tragic things happen to those who played a role in convicting him. In this case, neither good nor evil prevails. They linger and co-exist, just as they did during the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.