The Devil in the White City By Erik Larson Summary and Analysis Part I: Chapter 6 - Pilgrimage

Summary

After Root's rough design for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair is approved, Burnham builds living quarters for himself at Jackson Park, where he plans to live almost the entire time during construction of the fair. Burnham and Root make the decision to contact five of the most accomplished architects across America. Much to Chicago's dismay, none of the men solicited are from Chicago. Burnham and Root seek out architects from New York, Boston, and Kansas City to help shatter the perception that Chicago would not be able to produce a sophisticated fair. The architect from Kansas City, Henry Van Brunt, responds to the invitation enthusiastically, but the others are reluctant to come on board.

Consequently, Burnham decides to go to New York in the harsh conditions of December 1890 to meet with George Post, Richard Hunt, Charles McKim, all of New York, and Robert Peabody of Boston to try to sway them to join the team of architects creating the fair. Intimidated by their backgrounds and education, Burnham wishes that Olmstead and Root were there to help support his arguments. Burnham describes Chicago's vision to make a fair that goes above and beyond what Paris had produced. He also tries to alleviate the men's fears that their artistic integrity would be compromised in their absences from the Chicago construction site. When Burnham leaves New York, Peabody is the only architect who has officially joined the effort to build the fair. The others continue to take the invitation under advisement.

Burnham returns home from New York to find an angry Chicago. Tension is high with the fair's committee and Chicago architects because they feel blind-sighted and betrayed by Root and Burnham's decision to bring in outsiders. Root and Burnham make a quick decision to bring on five Chicago firms, among them Adler and a reluctant Sullivan. A somewhat sickly and depressed Root then goes to New York again to try to enlist the New York architects. The response remains negative. Finally, the World's Fair Commission makes a monetary offer to these men, and they accept, albeit cautiously.

Analysis

Besides introducing several minor characters, this chapter highlights a few of the book's themes, including the theme of pride. The New York architects' pride may be preventing them from initially accepting Burnham's offer. The accomplished professionals are concerned about their association with Chicago, a city often looked down upon by Easterners. The architects also fear that their designs might be compromised due to their working on the fair from afar. Pride causes the Chicago architects to feel betrayed for not being sought after immediately by virtue of association with the city, and yet insistent on being a part of the fair's creation.

This chapter also introduces a new theme: determination. Certainly Burnham has already been faced with many obstacles: the struggle to select a site for the fair, facing the East coast architects, taking the heat from Chicago for attempting to contract work outside the city, and the looming economic crisis. However, Burnham persists and even shines through all the challenges. Burnham is determined to get what he wants, and he does.

Another purpose of this chapter is to foreshadow Root's illness and upcoming death. Root's poor health only touched upon in this chapter is a sign for what's to come.

Stylistically, Larson also uses images associated with the weather to create mood. Throughout Chapter 6, the cold harsh weather is mentioned during Burnham's trip to New York. The weather is used as a symbol for the "cold" reaction of the East coast architects, and Burnham's "cold" reception upon return home to a group of angry Chicago architects.

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