The Devil in the White City | Study Guide

Erik Larson

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The Devil in the White City | Part 3, Chapters 43–47 : In the White City | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 43: Prendergast

Prendergast continues to believe the mayor will appoint him as corporation counsel. He even visits the man currently holding the position, who mockingly introduces him to staff members as his successor.

Chapter 44: Toward Triumph

Chicago Day, October 9, brings record ticket sales, with more than 750,000 people in attendance. At last the Columbian Exposition Company can pay its remaining debts.

Chapter 45: Departures

Closing day, October 30, is approaching. Holmes plans to leave Chicago since pressures from creditors and inquiries from family members are mounting. Holmes sets fire to the castle's top floor, but the insurance company will pay only Hiram S. Campbell, the policyholder, so Holmes gets no money. Holmes flees to Fort Worth, Texas, where Minnie's property is located. He brings along Pitezel and Georgiana Yoke and insures Pitezel's life for $10,000.

Chapter 46: Nightfall

For the fair's last day, Millet is planning an all-day celebration and a reprise of Columbus's landing in the New World, using full-size replicas of Columbus's ships. On October 28, some 5,000 mayors and city councilors attend the fair, and Mayor Harrison announces his upcoming nuptials. That evening Prendergast shows up at the mayor's house and shoots Harrison dead. As a result, closing ceremonies are canceled, and the fair ends with an elaborate funeral for the popular mayor.

Chapter 47: The Black City

The fair's closing results in a rise in unemployment. Striking workers in Chicago bring federal troops to the city, and on July 5, 1894, arsonists set several of the defunct exhibition buildings ablaze. In the following year, the New York World reports many people went missing during the fair and speculates about whether they found their way to Holmes's castle. By 1895 Holmes has been identified as a serial killer.

Analysis

Three story threads are tied up in the closing chapters of Part 3. First, the mad Prendergast, who is introduced in Part 1, Chapter 4 and makes brief appearances throughout the narrative, finally carries out the tragic deed that was foreshadowed. His murder of the mayor directly affects the Chicago World's Fair, casting a pall on a day that should have been an enormous celebration. Also, Burnham has been struggling with anemic ticket sales for months. After the Ferris Wheel opens, the fair begins drawing many more people, and Chicago Day, October 9, is a vindication for Burnham because the Columbian Exposition Company finally is able to pay off its debt. The mayors' day, two days before closing, is also very successful, and everyone is hoping for the best ticket sales on the last day. The planners prepare to dazzle crowds with a reenactment of Columbus's landing as a reminder of what the fair is commemorating—the discovery of America, which made the United States possible. This will be the fair's final tribute to American glory. But suddenly the city is plunged into mourning by the mayor's death, which eclipses the fair's glory.

The fair's success is again eclipsed a few years later by the discovery that Holmes is a serial killer and used the fair as a cover to lure people, mostly women, to his hotel. In fact he commits many murders before the fair opens and after it closes. Nonetheless, the serial killer and the Chicago World's Fair become inextricably linked in people's minds. In creating the fair, Burnham works hard to achieve a place in history, and he succeeds, but Holmes's murderous deeds taint the fair's legacy.

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