The Devil in the White City By Erik Larson Summary and Analysis Part III: Chapter 26 - Opening Day

Summary

On Opening Day of the fair — May 1, 1893 — a line of carriages carries important people, including President Grover Cleveland and Daniel Burnham, to the fair at Jackson Park. President Cleveland speaks at a ceremony signifying the much-anticipated opening of the exposition. The general consensus among the crowd is that the fair is a success, despite the mud-covered walkways and roads, unfinished landscaping, and unfinished Ferris wheel. Attendance registers between 500,000 and 600,000 people.

However, the cause for celebration doesn't last long. Day two of the fair reels in roughly 10,000 people. Burnham is concerned. Economic strife's spread worldwide. Several banks are closing, and the stock market is near crashing. In response, Burnham pushes Olmsted and Ferris to finish their projects. Burnham feels confident that fair attendance will improve once word circulates that the fair is actually finished. Burnham assigns Millet the job of promoting the fair to boost attendance. Despite these efforts, by the end of the month, fair attendance isn't anywhere close to where it needs to be for the fair to profit.

Analysis

The theme of determination again surfaces in Burnham's actions. Burnham's job is not yet finished. Given the economic climate, Burnham could have easily given up on making the fair a financial success. However, he perseveres in his intent to give Chicago well-deserved acclaim for an incredible exposition.

Reading like a roller coaster, this chapter offers excitement and intrigue. Within a day of the fair's opening, speculation turns from calling the exposition the "most heavily attended entertainment in the history of the world" to "one of the greatest failures of all time." Suspense and tension persist with the unanswered question: Will the fair ever profit?

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