The Devil in the White City By Erik Larson Summary and Analysis Part II: Chapter 11 - Convocation

Summary

It's now February 1891, and all the architects for the fair meet in Chicago to unveil their plans for the separate buildings they've designed. The men are amazed at the fair's potential to be an architectural masterpiece. However, Olmsted only grows more concerned about his role as landscape architect. For one, he fears the architects have lost sight of the vision he has created. He's also worried about construction timing because the bulk of his work can be done only after the buildings are erected; only two and a half years remain before the fair's opening. Additionally, Olmsted is bothered by the decision-making for fair boats being left up to the committee instead of him. To express his concerns, Olmsted drafts a memo outlining his landscaping plans for Jackson Park and the fair.

A few weeks before this meeting, early construction of the fair gets underway, and Burnham and the fair builders run into problems. A company employed by the exposition to dig a drainage ditch hires Italian immigrants. Union workers protest and beat up two of the workers. Unions are angry that the work is being hired out to foreigners. The exposition corporation meets for several weeks with the unions to negotiate. Burnham also encounters frustrations with having to get every move cleared by the commission. He feels the need to find a replacement for Root and eventually hires a man named Atwood as designer for the fair. Tensions rise on a global level as unions threaten to rally against the fair. Crime seems to increase nationwide, and Chicago prepares to fight the criminal elements that the fair inevitably will bring.

Analysis

Chapter 11 builds tension and suspense to the question of whether the fair will be built at all, let alone on time. Union conflicts, crime, and increasing economic toil nationwide and globally add to the weight of Burnham experiences on a local level. Olmsted's questioning of the time needed to construct his part of the fair makes plans for the overall event even more tenuous.

Olmsted's character develops a bit more in this chapter. Here, Olmsted's complaints and worries are repeated, perhaps signifying more about Olmsted's character than legitimate concerns.

The increase in police consciousness about crime potential during the Chicago fair also serves as foreshadowing. A shift is taking place in the text. Soon, readers will begin to see directly into Holmes's murders rather than looking through author Larson's implications.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

Both John Root and Daniel Burnham meet their wives in their work on




Quiz