It is January 1893, and there are only four months until opening day of the World’s Fair. Codman, Olmsted’s stand-in while he is abroad, has appendicitis, leaving the Fair’s progress in jeopardy. The cold makes building difficult and increases the chance of a fire, since the workers are constantly lighting fires to keep warm.
The WF is limited by the energy of its organizers, many of whom are old and in poor health. It’s also at the mercy of the weather — the cold greatly interferes with building.
George Ferris is building his wheel, understanding full well that he must be extremely precise. The axle by itself will weigh more than 14,000 pounds, making it the heaviest object ever lifted.
Ferris is a bold planner, one of many at the WF. His idea to lift this heavy object is something of a metaphor for the Fair itself — a big, seemingly impossible task run by people who are willing to risk a great deal for fame.
Olmsted receives the news that his beloved protégé, Henry Codman, has died, and realizes that he will have to return to Chicago to run the Fair’s landscape architecture. He hires Charles Eliot, a prominent Boston architect, to help him. When he arrives in Chicago in February, he becomes overwhelmed with the task of catching up with Codman’s work, and falls ill. He makes Eliot his partner, but leaves Chicago for his health, running the World’s Fair from a distance.
Olmsted is a sentimental man who loves Codman, but he is also too practical to let Codman’s death interfere greatly with his job as a landscaper. Much like Burnham after Root’s death, he finds a new partner, and learns to work with him. At the same time, he has to think of his health, so he leaves Chicago even though he’s in the midst of designing the Fair.
In a letter to his superintendent, Rudolf Ulrich, Olmsted worries that the white paint that will cover most of the buildings at the World’s Fair will be overpowering, distracting from the delicate beauty of the flowers and trees. He warns that it is safer to under-decorate than to over-decorate, and expresses his desire to make the World’s Fair appear plain and elegant.
Olmsted is more concerned about balance and delicacy than creating an intimidating set of monuments to Columbus. In many ways his tastes are more contemporary than Burnham’s — the neoclassical style was waning, but Olmsted’s interest and simplicity and elegance anticipates the Minimalist style that’s still popular today.
Snow falls on the roof of the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building, at the time the largest building in the world by volume, and the roof collapses. Only the Woman’s Building is near completion, and reporters visiting the Fair doubt that it will be ready for the opening in two months.
The weather continues to foil plans for the WF’s completion. The very size of the Liberal Art’s Building is a testament to the ambition of the event, and thus its collapse symbolizes the hubris and even the arrogance of the men who built it.