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What does The Devil in the White City add to our knowledge about Frederick Law Olmsted

and Daniel Burnham? What are the most admirable traits of these two men? What are their
most important aesthetic principles?
In The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson takes readers into a richly complex moment in
American history, a moment that would draw together the best and worst of the Gilded Age
Author Erik Larson imbues the incredible events surrounding the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.
Larson tells the stories of two men: Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the fair's
construction, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer masquerading as a charming doctor. Burnham
was responsible for building the White City, overcoming a series of crushing professional
obstacles and personal tragedies to make the Fair the magical, awe-inspiring event that it was.
He hired and brought together some of the greatest architects of the day including Frederick
Law Olmsted. This book has provided everything we know about Olmstead and Burnham.
Tenacity is something they both shared. They also share a vision of the "whole." It wasn't just
about the buildings for Burnham and plants for Olmstead because they each saw the other's
work as part of their own. Despite being haunted by a lack of formal education, Burnham,
motivated by his pride and a sense of determination, tackles and accomplishes the daunting
task of creating a monumental world's fair that will improve the global reputation of the city
of Chicago. The temperamental and melancholy Olmsted takes great pride in his work and
contributes greatly to Burnham's success with the fair despite encountering several bouts of
illness and depression and a heavy workload outside of the fair.
A vivid account of the tragedies and triumphs of the 1893 Worlds Columbian Exposition in
Chicago and the concurrent depravities of Americas first serial killer. In roughly alternating
chapters, former Wall Street Journal reporter Larson tells the stories of Daniel H. Burnham,
chief planner and architect of exposition, and Dr. Henry Howard Holmes, whose rambling
Worlds Fair Hotel, just a short streetcar ride away, housed windowless rooms, a gas chamber,
secret chutes, and a basement crematory. The contrast in these accomplishments of
determined human endeavor could not be more stark--or chilling. Burnham assembled what a
contemporary called "the greatest meeting of artists since the 15th century" to turn the
wasteland of Chicagos swampy Jackson Park into the ephemeral White City, which
enthralled nearly 28 million visitors in a single summer. Overcoming gargantuan obstacles-politically entangled delays, labor unrest, an economic panic, and a fierce Chicago winter--to
say nothing of the architectural challenges, Burnham and his colleagues, including Frederick
Law Olmsted, produced their marvel in just over two years. The fair was a city unto itself, the
first to make wide-scale use of alternating current to illuminate its 200,000 incandescent
bulbs. Spectacular engineering feats included Ferriss gigantic wheel, intended to "out-Eiffel
Eiffel," and, ominously, the latest example of Krupps artillery, "breathing of blood and
carnage." Dr. Holmes, a frequent visitor to the fair, was a consummate swindler and ladykiller who secured his victims trust through "courteous, audacious rascality." Most were
comely young women, and estimates of their total ranged from the nine whose bodies (or
parts thereof) were recovered to nearly 200. Larson does a superb job outlining this
"ineluctable conflict between good and evil, daylight and darkness" Gripping drama, captured
with a reporters nose for a good story and a novelists flair for telling it.

Daniel Burnham, the protagonist, born in New York in mid of the nineteenth-century, moves
to Chicago at the age of nine. He is a talented Chicago architect who, along with his partner
John Root, is given the task of building the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, the World's
Columbian Exposition. Although a skilled architect himself, Burnham is really the
businessman and public relations expert of the pair. Daniel Burnham, with the help of his
father, Burnham studies to get into Harvard and Yale but fails both tests. After trying out a
few cities and a few jobs, Burnham finally goes back to architecture in Chicago with the
urging of his father. Later, he meets John Root, and they eventually build a successful firm
together. The men are the perfect complement to each other, with Burnham, a proven and
quality architect, being the public relations and business genius, and Root being the skilled
and talented architectural genius. However, they lose the opportunity to build an auditorium
in Chicago to Louis Sullivan. Later, Burnham also moves his growing family of five children
to Evanston, a bit away from the city, out of growing concern for his children's safety.
Carl Smiths concise and accessible narrative begins with a survey of
Chicagos stunning rise from a tiny frontier settlement to the nations
second-largest city. He then offers an illuminating exploration of the Plans
creation and reveals how it embodies the renowned architects belief that
cities can and must be remade for the better. The Plan defined the City
Beautiful movement and was the first comprehensive attempt to
reimagine a major American city. Smith points out the ways
the Plan continues to influence debates, even a century after its
publication, about how to create a vibrant and habitable urban
In one sense, Burnham is confident and quite capable of great feats, such as building the first
skyscraper. In another, the architect lacks the confidence that accompanies an Ivy League
education . . . a fact that haunts Burnham later in the novel. Additionally, the author portrays
Burnham as a moral and good man, shown in Burnham's speaking with John Sherman about
breaking off Burnham's engagement with Sherman's daughter. Burnham's brother has created
scandal for the family, and Burnham thinks Sherman would not want his daughter marrying
into such disrepute. The author builds up Burnham as a good, moral, and determined
character so that Burnham represents the good, to be contrasted with the evil that Holmes
represents as the novel progresses.
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. He is clearly committed to creating something positive for not only the city of
Chicago but also the entire country. While grieving the loss of his partner and friend John
Root, Burnham's pride causes him to continue with his work after contemplating quitting the
fair. Burnham's pride is bolstered by the need to prove that he is capable of building the fair
without Root's genius. Union conflicts, crime, and increasing economic toil nationwide and
globally add to the weight of Burnham experiences on a local level.

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. Even today, the Ferris wheel
is a favorite feature in amusement parks all over the world. Burnham doesn't have the
educational background that some of his detractors do. The Easterners question Burnham's
ability to make big things happen. The disparaging attitude eats at Burnham and makes him
more driven to make the fair a success. Again, the theme of pride appears in this chapter as
Burnham's pride pushes him further to ensure the fair's success.
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.
The amount of power Burnham wields over the fair is evident as he encounters power
struggles and disagreements with Ferris and Olmsted. Daniel Burnham's emerging as a more
powerful and confident character. The contrast and convergence of light and dark at the fair
are symbolic of the themes of good and evil reflected in the nature in Burnham and Holmes,
respectively, throughout the novel.
Despite major setbacks, Burnham remains steadfast in his commitment to do what it takes to
make the fair a financial success. In an example of irony, Burnham scours his brain to figure
out what he can do to boost fair attendance legitimately; the tragedy of a devastating fire
turns out to be the ticket to draw people to the fair. The social commentary makes a clear
statement about what really motivates people.

Frederick Law Olmsted is a distinguished landscape architect whom Burnham and Root hire
for the creation of the fair. Being well established in his profession and credited with his
contributions to Central Park in New York, Olmsted is driven to work on the fair by a desire
to validate his profession. The temperamental and melancholy Olmsted takes great pride in
his work and contributes greatly to Burnham's success with the fair despite encountering
several bouts of illness and depression and a heavy workload outside of the fair.
Chicago's pride ultimately makes the city and its people dream big enough to win the bid for
the fair under the premise of outdoing the recent Paris fair. In Olmsted is a man driven not by
money or prestige but by something different: pride in his work. Ironically, Ellsworth's appeal
to Olmsted's pride in his country isn't what gets him on board as landscape architect for the
fair; Olmsted's pride in his profession prompts him to make a commitment in the fair.
Olmsted becomes annoyed after he hears a tugboat company has made an offer to Burnham,
which could get in the way of Olmsted's vision of boating at the fair. One major purpose
Olmsted's character serves in the novel is to help create suspense and worry.
Justin Martin recounts the life of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead (1822-1903). Mr.
Martin reports on Olmstead's numerous public space designs, which include the U.S. Capitol
grounds, New York City's Central Park, and Boston's Emerald Necklace. The author relays that
besides his professional career, Frederick Law Olmstead was a well known journalist and
abolitionist. Justin Martin is in conversation with Tupper Thomas, former president of the

Prospect Park Alliance at McNally Jackson Books in New York City. The people of Chicago have

developed a great sense of pride in the fair. Even Olmsted, characterized thus far in the novel
as someone who is critical and often complaining, seems proud and more satisfied with the
exposition. Olmsted dies of dementia in 1903.
Larson's evocative prose fully engulfs the viewer in the period, and the dark and dreadful
scenes with Henry H. Holmes are given welcome respite by the tales of Burnham's amazing
accomplishment. The enjoyment of this stunning work is only heightened by the knowledge
that the story is true. Frederick Law Olmsted was a social reformer. He didn't simply create
places that were beautiful in the abstract. An awesome and timeless intent stands behind
Olmsted's designs, allowing his work to survive to the present day. With our urgent need to
revitalize cities and a widespread yearning for green space, his work is more relevant now
than it was during his lifetime.

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