The Devil in the White City By Erik Larson Summary and Analysis Part II: Chapter 17 - Dedication Day

Summary

Olmsted continues to be disenchanted with the fair's slow construction progress. Delays in construction ultimately mean delays in his crew's landscape work. Additionally, the workers disrespect and sometimes destroy what Olmsted's crew has already created. Adding to Olmsted's disgruntlement is the fact that Burnham still thinks that steam-powered boats are satisfactory for the exposition's boat service. Olmsted works diligently to protect the Wooded Island, an area he wants to reserve for nature. Many powerful people in society, including Theodore Roosevelt, set forth grand ideas about use of the island space. Finally, Olmsted, with Burnham's urging, allows a bid from Japan for the Wooded Island, an offer he sees as a lesser of all evils in interrupting his vision.

With his health continuing to decline, Olmsted decides to take some time off and travels to Europe with his two children. While in France, Olmsted explores the Paris fair's site, or what is left of it. After seeing the site for the 1889 Paris exposition, Olmsted's concerns are only heightened. An English doctor visits Olmsted and insists on taking him back to his house outside of London to help him regain his health. While there, Olmsted takes rides through the British countryside that both alleviate and aggravate his concerns about the success of the fair. His anxiety is exaggerated by the cholera outbreak in Europe.

Back in the states, Burnham faces challenges both lingering and new. He urges his leaders to speed production of the construction of the fair. He still has not found an Eiffel Tower rival despite an interesting proposal from the Pittsburgh man, George Ferris. Additionally, Burnham makes the decision to make all the buildings for the exposition white. Eventually, Burnham replaces the man originally responsible for color selection with famous artist Francis Millet, who invents the concept of spray paint to get the job done.

During this time, the fair construction site experiences a setbacks and storm damage that impede progress. Burnham sends one of his men to begin the process of piping water from the springs in Waukesha, Wisconsin. The people of Waukesha take exception to the plan to tap their natural springs. Burnham's man sends in a midnight crew to avoid the townspeople's scrutiny and scorn, only to be met with an organized mass of citizens willing to dole out violence to prevent a pipeline. Eventually, Burnham's man buys a nearby spring and lets the town of Waukesha have its peace. The fair's overall reputation continues to be at risk as more workers die in the construction process.

Eventually, Olmsted returns home from Europe and makes his way to Chicago. He is pleased with the progress that has been made, albeit not obvious to the lay person. Burnham and the fair crews are in the midst of preparing for the Dedication Day in October. Despite the fair being unfinished, Dedication Day is a success with well over 100,000 people in attendance.

Analysis

The progress of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair takes a positive turn in this chapter. The tone of Chapter 17 is more optimistic, as Burnham seems to take more control over the fair than ever before. Despite setbacks, Burnham finds numerous successes. In this sense, Burnham's character is developed even more in this chapter, with his drive to succeed clearly evidenced. Burnham becomes the archetypal hero, battling challenges with more confidence and power and providing Chicago with a successful Dedication Day for the fair.

Chapter 17 includes some interesting allusions, which make for a more entertaining and interesting read. The allusions also help illuminate the fair's power to inspire and transform society. For example, the chapter refers to The Pledge of Allegiance being created as a national response to Dedication Day at the fair. Millet also invents spray paint in his new assignment. In this sense, Larson shows the fair's enormity and long-lasting influence on America.

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