In the spring of 1893, Chicago seems to be in a better economic position than the other American cities of the time, due to the World’s Fair and the jobs it creates, along with the promise of tourism. Exhibits begin to pile up in Jackson Park: suits of armor, battleships, weapons, animals, etc. Buffalo Bill brings his show to Chicago, including the famous sharpshooter Annie Oakley, and sets up nearby the World’s Fair. Many of the exhibits are of humans: cannibals, residents of Cairo, transplanted to America, dancers, and Sol Bloom’s Algerians. Bloom brings “Belly Dancing” to America, and displays his dancers before the official opening day of the World’s Fair. He writes the famous “Middle Eastern” melody that shows up in thousands of films. He regrets failing to copyright the tune. Colonel Schufeldt dies in Zanzibar, meaning that there will be no pygmies at the World’s Fair.
For all the conflict that the WF creates, it also stimulates the economy. The “human” exhibits indicate the racism and voyeurism that was prevalent in America at the end of the 19th century, and arguably hasn’t gone away. Bloom has an intuitive understanding of what people want to see — exotic people and sexual behavior, hence the success of belly dancing. The fact that he almost accidentally writes one of the most recognizable themes of all time suggests how accidental fame can be.
Ward McAllister, a friend of the Astor family, publishes an article in the New York World about the need to improve the quality of food at the World’s Fair. Chicago is amused and outraged at McAllister’s condescension. Yet beneath the 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 most.
Chicago, and Burnham himself, hosts the WF to prove itself to the rest of the country, as well as the world. Burnham is, in this sense, a product of his environment, which explains why he devotes himself to the WF to the degree that he does — he knows that his reputation and his legacy depend on his success.
Authors write advice for running the Fair. Jacob Riis and Jane Addams speak about the urban decay in Chicago. At this time, Chicagoans are making an effort to clean the city by 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 took place during the World’s Fair, most of it from tourists visiting the city.
The WF is both the cause of new levels of chaos — crime, murder, disappearances — and new levels of cleanliness — the Pasteurized water. It’s overly simplistic, then, to say that the WF has caused dirtiness, as the newspapers allege. Nevertheless, it’s clear that the WF encourages new kinds of immoral behavior, much of it of a sexual nature, directed at women by men. Holmes’s actions are in this sense a product of the WF, or at least heavily encouraged by it.
Carter Henry Harrison, the four-time mayor of Chicago, loses his bid for a fifth term in 1891, and afterwards begins to run a newspaper, the Chicago Times. He runs for mayor in 1893, and quickly becomes one of the two most popular Democratic candidates, along with Washington Hesing, the owner of a German newspaper. Despite his popularity, newspapers oppose Harrison, arguing that Chicago is undergoing rapid change and needs new leaders, not Harrison again. Harrison is charismatic and beloved by the working classes, though, despite the fact that he is an educated and wealthy man. Even at 68, he is handsome, with blue eyes and a youthful face. He wins the nomination for the Democratic Party, and faces off against Samuel W. Allerton, a packer. Newspapers overwhelmingly support Allerton.
Harrison, like many of the other characters in the book, is a master of appearances — he can appeal to the “common man,” even though he has never been a common man. In this sense, he seems disturbingly close to Holmes himself — both men have blue eyes, a quality that, Larson notes, is often found in successful men. While Harrison has already held four terms, his apparent loyalty to the workers actually makes him more modern and forward-thinking than his opponents — he is responding to the demographic changes in his city at the time, not burying himself in the past.
Patrick Prendergast is excited to learn that Harrison is running for another term, since he is sure that Harrison will win the election and reward him for his support. Prendergast, who wants to be a corporation counsel, writes letters to dozens of city officials, treating them as if they’re his friends. Trude, the attorney, receives a letter from Prendergast, and once again keeps it. Harrison wins his fifth term as mayor in April 1893.
Trude senses that Prendergast could be dangerous. Harrison succeeds in convincing the workers of the city to vote for him — how loyal he really is to them isn’t explained. What is clear is that Harrison is good at appearing to care about workers — in politics, perception is reality.