The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City

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Daniel Burnham Character Analysis

The Director of Works at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Burnham is a talented architect, as well as a shrewd organizer of other architects. He is instrumental in assembling an elite creative team to design the Fair, and encouraging the architects to work together and to pursue a grand, neoclassical style. While Burnham is ambitious — to the point where he largely gives up family life during the World’s Fair — he often defers to the judgments of others, such as his partner, John Root, and Olmsted, the landscape architect at the World’s Fair. Much like Chicago itself, Burnham is motivated by a sense of inferiority to the creative elite in the Eastern United States, and his rejection as a young man from Harvard and Yale haunts him throughout his life. By the end of his life, Burnham has earned honorary degrees from both Harvard and Yale, and is widely regarded as the greatest architect in the United States. He has asserted himself as a major force in the architecture, and in the process, Chicago has asserted itself as a major cultural force in the United States and the Western world.

Daniel Burnham Quotes in The Devil in the White City

The The Devil in the White City quotes below are all either spoken by Daniel Burnham or refer to Daniel Burnham. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of The Devil in the White City published in 2004.
Part 2, Chapter 1 Quotes

The dome was too much — not too tall to be built, simply too proud for its context. It would diminish Hunt’s building and in so doing diminish Hunt and disrupt the harmony of the other structures on the Grand Court.

Related Characters: Daniel Burnham, Richard Morris Hunt, George B. Post
Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:

As the architects of the Chicago World's Fair plan their designs, controversy inevitably breaks out. The planners of the World's Fair are a veritable who's who of the country's greatest designers and architects, and also a who's who of the country's biggest egos. As the Fair draws nearer, the architects, such as Hunt, Post, and Burnham, have to learn to work together. One example of how the architects must learn to cooperate comes in this quotation: Post has designed an enormous domed building that—in spite of its majesty—will distract from the other buildings and ruin the overall effect.

With every decision Burnham and his colleagues make, they have to ask themselves two questions: is this right for my building, and is it right for the World's Fair as a whole? Naturally, the first question comes much more naturally than the second, and in this case, Post has failed to ask the second question altogether. The most successful architects at the World's Fair learn to balance their desire for individual glory with their enthusiasm for the success of the Fair and the city as a whole.

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Part 2, Chapter 3 Quotes

At Jackson Park, aggravation was endemic. Simple matters, Burnham found, often became imbroglios. Even Olmsted had become an irritant. He was brilliant and charming, but once fixed on a thing, he was as unyielding as a slab of Joliet limestone.

Related Characters: Daniel Burnham, Frederick Law Olmsted
Page Number: 143
Explanation and Analysis:

Burnham, who's been placed in charge of the World's Fair, struggles to control the volatile group of architectural "prima donnas" on his board. One of these prima donnas is Frederick Law Olmsted. Olmsted has been a good friend to Burnham, yielding to Burnham's "vision" of the Fair. But there are also times when Olmsted refuses to back off from his point of view, and Burnham finds it exhausting trying to convince such a brilliant man as Olmsted of anything he doesn't already believe.

The quotation is important because it reminds us that Burnham, in spite of his vast architectural talent, isn't really on the board of the World's Fair to build buildings. Burnham is chosen to head the Fair because he's good at organizing and delegating other people. Burnham's job is to communicate an overall idea of how the Fair should look, then rely on his talented board members to carry out this idea in time for the 1893 Fair.

Part 2, Chapter 5 Quotes

If an engineer capable of besting Eiffel did not step forward soon, Burnham knew, there simply would not be enough time left to build anything worthy of the fair. Somehow [Burnham] needed to rouse the engineers of America.

Related Characters: Daniel Burnham
Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:

As Burnham proceeds with his designs for the Chicago World's Fair, it becomes clear that the Fair isn't going to serve its intended purpose: it's not going to put Chicago on the map to the extent that was hoped. The Fair is going to fail because it lacks a single truly impressive architectural marvel; something that can rival the achievement of Gustave Eiffel, the architect of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The quotation is important, then, because it reminds us what an international project the Chicago World's Fair really was: Chicago wasn't only trying to impress the elite of New York and Philadelphia; it was trying to assert American dominance in technology and engineering to Europe as well.

It's very revealing that when Burnham faces a crisis of creativity, he doesn't try to design anything himself. Burnham, in spite of his intelligence and talent as a designer, isn't really a creative force on the board of the World's Fair: his job is to encourage creativity in others.

Epilogue, Chapter 1 Quotes

As Wright’s academic star rose, so too did Sullivan’s. Burnham’s fell from the sky. It became re rigueur among architecture critics and historians to argue that Burnham in his insecurity and slavish devotion to the classical yearnings of the eastern architects had indeed killed American architecture. But that view was too simplistic, as some architecture historians and critics have more recently acknowledged. The fair awakened America to beauty and as such was a necessary passage that laid the foundation for men like Frank Lloyd Wright …

Related Characters: Daniel Burnham, Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright
Page Number: 376
Explanation and Analysis:

After the World's Fair, there was a period in American architecture in which Burnham's neoclassical style, epitomized by the white monumental buildings at the Fair, became the norm for U.S. cities. But by the 1920s and 30s, the pendulum had swung back in the other direction: modernism and the avant-garde (represented by Louis Sullivan, one of Burnham's rivals, and his protege, Frank Lloyd Wright) became the most celebrated styles in U.S. metropolises.

Larson, having written 400 pages on the genius of Daniel Patrick Burnham, is understandably reluctant to admit that Burnham was second-rate, as so many contemporary architects claim. Instead, Larson opts for a "third way"—he admits that Burnham was a little old-fashioned, but argues that even if Burnham's specific style wasn't the most influential, it led to a general interest in architecture itself, paradoxically paving the way for figures like Frank Lloyd Wright (who rejected the aesthetic principles Burnham had stood for).

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Daniel Burnham Character Timeline in The Devil in the White City

The timeline below shows where the character Daniel Burnham appears in The Devil in the White City. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Prologue: Aboard the Olympic
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It is April 14, 1912, the day of a famous disaster at sea. Daniel Hudson Burnham, the world-famous architect, sits in the cabin of a ship. He’s 65 years... (full context)
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Burnham is riding from America to Europe with his wife, Margaret, on the R.M.S. Olympic. Out... (full context)
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Burnham and Millet were two of the planners of the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, planned... (full context)
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...came to the city looking for freedom and independence. Only after the fair ended did Burnham and the press learn about the murders this person, a young, handsome doctor, must have... (full context)
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Back on the Olympic, Burnham contemplates his aching feet. He and Millet are some of the only designers of the... (full context)
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Burnham learns from the ship’s steward that Millet’s ship has experienced an accident, and the Olympic... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 2: The Trouble is Just Begun
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Inside the Tribune sit Chicago’s two most important architects, Daniel Burnham, aged 43, and his partner, John Root, 40. Despite their enormous reputation, having built... (full context)
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Burnham, the architect, was born in New York, but his family moved to Chicago when he... (full context)
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Root and Burnham made their name designing a mansion for John B. Sherman, a wealthy superintendent of Chicago’s... (full context)
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...the ground could lead to gas explosions. Root is the artistic side of the partnership; Burnham is better at playing the politics of the architectural world. Both men respect and rely... (full context)
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Root and Burnham’s success encourages a wave of building and design in Chicago, and they become wealthy. At... (full context)
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...corporation called the World’s Columbian Exposition Company to organize and pay for the fair, while Burnham and Root are given architectural control over the fair. Their task is daunting: essentially, they... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 4: Becomingness
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...scheduled for October 12, 1892, while the formal opening is set for May 1, 1893. Burnham and Root have only 26 months to complete their projects. (full context)
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Burnham’s friend on the board of World’s Columbian Exposition Company, James Ellsworth, goes to Massachusetts, where... (full context)
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Olmsted comes to Chicago with Henry Sargent Codman, a young and talented landscape architect. Burnham is impressed with both Olmsted and Codman, particularly their fast pace; Olmsted and Codman, for... (full context)
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While the board decides where to build, Chicago’s skyline continues to grow. Burnham and his colleagues go to a ceremony to celebrate the completion of two notable skyscrapers,... (full context)
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...World’s Fair. Still, on October 30, the board of the World’s Columbian Exposition Company appoints Burnham chief of construction — Root is the supervising architect and Olmsted is the supervising landscape... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 6: Pilgrimage
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Daniel Burnham travels to New York for the most important step in the construction of the... (full context)
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Burnham meets with the five architects in New York; he tried to bring Olmsted, knowing that... (full context)
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Back in Chicago, Burnham is surprised to find that Chicago architectural firms feel betrayed that he went to New... (full context)
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Root travels to New York, where he meets with Burnham’s five architects, but has little more luck — once again, they agree to visit Chicago... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 8: The Landscape of Regret
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...One Eastern architect, Peabody, says that the area is impossible for hosting the World’s Fair; Burnham replies that the area has been decided upon already. (full context)
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...the East, says that the men need to place the Fair’s interests about their own. Burnham makes a speech in which he argues that 1893 will be the third great year... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 10: Alone
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On January 12, 1891, Burnham invites Eastern and Chicago architects to his library; Root is absent. Burnham is aware that... (full context)
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Shortly after the meeting, Burnham learns that Root has pneumonia and is bedridden. For the next few weeks, Burnham is... (full context)
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While Burnham and the Board of Architects works on designs, banks continue to fail, and unions fight... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 1: Convocation
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On February 24, 1891, the Board of Architects, including Burnham, Olmsted, and Hunt meet with the Grounds and Building Committee to present plans for buildings.... (full context)
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Sullivan, who designs the Transportation Building, takes advice from Burnham and designs a single large entrance, but refuses to acknowledge where the idea came from,... (full context)
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...too stern and intimidating for what is supposed to be an entertaining occasion. He tells Burnham that he wants the landscape for the Fair to “soften” the atmosphere created by the... (full context)
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Burnham is frustrated by the bureaucracy of designing for the Fair. He holds a contest to... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 3: Vexed
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It is the spring of 1891, and Burnham has begun to tire of designing the Fair. He spends almost no time with his... (full context)
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Workers are building in Jackson Park, but slowly and inefficiently. Burnham is irritated that no architect has proposed a building to rival the Eiffel Tower in... (full context)
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...underway between electricity companies for the right to illuminate the World’s Fair. Thomas Edison visits Burnham and advises him to use DC (Direct Current) powered incandescent bulbs. At the same time,... (full context)
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Burnham continues to experience setbacks. Hunt and the other Eastern architects have not completed their final... (full context)
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While Burnham tries to complete the Fair on time, people from around the country send “bids” for... (full context)
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...the time the tallest in the world. Though various designers submit plans for taller towers, Burnham wonders if the centerpiece of the Fair should be a tower at all. Gustave Eiffel... (full context)
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To make the Fair safe, Burnham organizes a large police force, and purifies the drinking water using the modern methods pioneered... (full context)
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...and Palmer dismisses her as decorator of the interior. Hayden breaks down in front of Burnham, furious at Palmer’s maneuvers; Burnham calls a doctor and has Hayden sent to a mental... (full context)
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Olmsted quarrels with Burnham about the proper boats for the Fair. Olmsted wants old-fashioned “poetic” boats, while Burnham considers... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 5: A Gauntlet Dropped
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Burnham is unusually kind to his workers: he pays them sick leave, gives them eight-hour work... (full context)
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Burnham receives hundreds of plans for elaborate towers and buildings meant to rival the Eiffel Tower,... (full context)
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Burnham argues with the Director-General of the World’s Columbian Exposition Company, George Davis. He asks Davis... (full context)
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Burnham and Davis testify at a preliminary Congressional session in Chicago to ask for more money... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 7: Dedication Day
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...to allow New York its own dedication ceremony on October 12. Olmsted is irritated that Burnham still wants to use modern steamboats at the Fair. Olmsted also wants the “Wooded Island”... (full context)
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...manservant in an English home; Bloom hires him as his personal bodyguard and assistant. Meanwhile, Burnham continues to turn town plans for buildings to rival the Eiffel Tower, including one from... (full context)
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Floods cause Chicago’s drinking water to become filthy; Burnham invests more time in providing clean water to fair-goers. He builds a pipeline connecting Chicago... (full context)
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...June, a large part of the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building collapses. The contractor blames Burnham for encouraging him to proceed too quickly. Workers die throughout the summer. Meanwhile, Burnham has... (full context)
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...have planted the appropriate flowers and trees, thought they won’t be visible for some time. Burnham has approved a beautiful style of boat for the World’s Fair, exactly the kind Olmsted... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 13: Dreadful Things Done by Girls
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...outrage lies a sense of inferiority to New York City and to the “Eastern elite.” Burnham, who was turned away from Harvard and Yale, feels this sense of inferiority stronger than... (full context)
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...removing garbage and reducing smoke and bad smells. The newspapers blame the World’s Fair and Burnham for contributing to the dirtiness. The owner of a brothel recalls the sexual madness that... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 15: Final Preparations
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...is beginning to chip slightly, and seven workers have died building the World’s Fair. Still, Burnham is pleased with the progress of the Fair. He attends a sumptuous dinner in New... (full context)
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...buildings have been completed, and more than 200 others are well under way. The sculptor Daniel Chester French has created an enormous “Statue of the Republic.” McKim privately notes that the... (full context)
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Burnham becomes more concerned in June, as the carpenters’ strike becomes more serious, and he begins... (full context)
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Burnham negotiates with carpenters and ironworkers, afraid that their strikes could disrupt the Fair. They settle... (full context)
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...and blames his absence for the unfinished nature of the landscaping. Olmsted is concerned that Burnham is more loyal to Ulrich, Olmsted’s superintendent, than to Olmsted himself. Important shipments of plants... (full context)
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...regularly rain heavily, slowing the workers’ progress, causing leaks in buildings, and destroying electrical circuits. Burnham is concerned that the weather poses a challenge to the completion of the World’s Fair,... (full context)
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...again, and he is depressed to learn that many think that the landscaping is lackluster. Burnham suggests that he use shortcuts to ensure that the landscaping is finished on time, such... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 1: Opening Day
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...applause than any of the other guests, who include dukes and duchesses from Europe, and Burnham and Davis, forced to share a carriage despite their rivalry. (full context)
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...the cooperation between the various designers and organizers of the World’s Fair. The expression on Burnham’s face is unreadable during this speech. President Cleveland’s speech is the shortest, and the World’s... (full context)
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Burnham knows that there is work ahead, but he is confident that the World’s Fair will... (full context)
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...he needs to hurry to finish his designs, but he struggles to muster the energy. Burnham hires Francis Millet to insure that people attend the Fair while the designers finish it.... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 4: Night is the Magician
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Burnham leads tours of the World’s Fair for guests, including John Root’s widow, Dora. He is... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 8: Vertigo
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...ride was a great success, and the other cars are quickly added to the wheel. Burnham wants the area surrounding the Ferris Wheel to be open; Ferris wants it closed off... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 9: Heathen Wanted
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...added, and that the grounds be cleaned more thoroughly. He also finds the steam vessels Burnham has approved to be loud and annoying. Olmsted wants to create a mood of charm... (full context)
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Burnham is surprised and confused by Olmsted’s suggestions. He wants the Fair to be monumental and... (full context)
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...breaks out at the Cold Storage Building, leading several investors and insurers to pull out. Burnham isn’t informed of the fire or the investors’ cancellations. (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 11: Rising Wave
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...it was before. Still, the number of daily visitors is well below 200,000, the number Burnham wanted. (full context)
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...the World’s Fair increases, logistical problems arise. The garbage disposal system becomes so extensive that Burnham is forced to allow workers to use elevators after dark. Yet the World’s Fair continues... (full context)
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...number of criminal incidents, as officials had predicted. More common are medical incidents, for which Burnham has designed a separate hospital. (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 13: Worry
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World’s Fair attendance on the day of July 4 is 283,273, a huge number. Burnham hopes that this means that the Fair might become financial profitable after all. But in... (full context)
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Burnham knows that giving control of the World’s Fair to bankers would mean that the Fair... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 15: Storm & Fire
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Burnham works hard to attract visitors to the World’s Fair. On July 9, visitors crowd into... (full context)
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An inquest is held to determine the cause and blame for the fire. Burnham testifies that he didn’t know about the previous fire at the building, and had no... (full context)
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On the same day that Burnham is charged with criminal negligence, the directors of the World’s Fair vote to form a... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 19: Toward Triumph
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Burnham eagerly prepare for the closing festivities on October 30. He is sure that they will... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 20: Departures
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...been entertaining and enjoyable in a way that his ordinary life has not. He tells Burnham that he can’t express his sadness in saying goodbye to him. (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 21: Nightfall
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A procession walks through the streets of Chicago. Burnham sits in a carriage, and thinks that the World’s Fair has begun and ended with... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 22: The Black City
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...burn buildings in Jackson Park, including Hunt’s dome and the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building. Burnham is pleased at this end for the World’s Fair — it’s better, he writes, for... (full context)
Epilogue, Chapter 1: The Fair
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Burnham was hired to design areas in Cleveland, San Francisco, and Manila, and was crucial in... (full context)
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...man, and bad at building relationships with clients. On several occasions he borrowed money from Burnham. (full context)
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Sullivan wrote a biography in 1924 in which he criticized Burnham and the World’s Fair for destroying architecture’s creativity and uniqueness. Frank Lloyd Wright, who Sullivan... (full context)
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Burnham became the greatest architect in America following the end of the World’s Fair, and eventually... (full context)
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Burnham’s health grew worse when he was in his fifties; he learned that he had diabetes.... (full context)
Epilogue, Chapter 2: Recessional
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...enjoyed the creative stimulation of being married to him. She writes a long letter to Burnham in which she explains that she is proud of her life, but still full of... (full context)
Epilogue, Chapter 4: Aboard the Olympic
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Burnham waits to hear more news about Frank Millet. He writes Millet a long letter encouraging... (full context)
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Frank Millet died on the Titanic, along with William Stead. Burnham, meanwhile, lives for only 47 more days before succumbing to a coma from his diabetes... (full context)
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Margaret and Daniel Burnham are buried together in Graceland, Chicago, near Sullivan, Root, and Mayor Harrison. (full context)