By the end of June, more and more tourists begin coming to the World’s Fair, attracted by the promise of the finished Ferris Wheel. This is impressive, since the recession is still strong and the trains have not reduced their fare, meaning that coming to Chicago is as much of a financial burden as it was before. Still, the number of daily visitors is well below 200,000, the number Burnham wanted.
The boosted attendance following the opening of the Ferris Wheel is a testament to the strength of American patriotism. Visitors come to play their part in supporting the wheel and, implicitly, in challenging the Eiffel Tower. That they continue to do so throughout a crippling recession is almost inconceivable today.
As the number of visitors to 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 to dazzle visitors. Olmsted is mostly proud of the Fair, and praises Burnham, though he also notes that the large number of concession buildings is distracting and detracts from the beauty of the grounds.
Burnham’s exposition is getting out of hand, with new problems constantly popping up. In a sense, the problem in garbage is a good problem to have, since it means that people are attending the Fair, and it’s going to be economically profitable.
Visitors to the World’s Fair behave well, as if they are attending Sunday church services. The most common crimes are pickpocketing and taking photographs without paying, but there aren’t an enormous number of criminal incidents, as officials had predicted. More common are medical incidents, for which Burnham has designed a separate hospital.
The World’s Fair attracts many famous visitors, from Charles Dickens to the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Russia, who enjoys roaming Chicago unidentified. Woodrow Wilson, Houdini, Tesla, Edison, Susan B. Anthony, Teddy Roosevelt, and Clarence Darrow. Frank Haven Hall, the inventor of a Braille printer, meets Helen Keller, who weeps when she learns that Hall is the man who invented the device that allowed her to read.
The anonymity of Chicago extends to the WF itself — famous people go to the exposition, seemingly without anyone noticing them, and some, like Archduke Ferdinand (whose assassination two decades later will start World War 1), seem to enjoy the anonymity for its own sake. The enormous attendance at the WF is sinister, since it makes it easy for people like Holmes to get away with murder, but it also creates some heartwarming moments, like the encounter between Keller and Hall.
The Board of Lady Managers holds a meeting in which a religious board member asks Susan B. Anthony if she’d rather her son go to church or Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. Anthony replies that she’d prefer her child go to see Buffalo Bill, since he’d learn more. Bill is so amused by this story that he invites Anthony to see his show for free. At the show, he salutes Anthony, and Anthony waves her handkerchief at him — one of the heroes of America’s past salutes a hero of America’s future. Frederick Jackson Turner makes a famous speech about the end of the frontier, yet at Bill’s Wild West show it seems alive and well.
The symbolism of Anthony’s attendance at Bill’s show is lost on no one. Buffalo Bill is a master showman, and he knows that the sight of him saluting Anthony is a good spectacle. The fact that the Wild West seems alive to the tourists at Bill’s show suggests that there’s something fictional about the “Wild West” itself — in other words, Americans are taught about the frontier and their own history via entertainment like Bill’s show.
On June 22, 1893, the H.M.S. Victoria is struck by another ship off the shore of Tripoli, and more than four hundred people are killed. At the World’s Fair, the British scale model of Tripoli is covered in black bunting.
The WF is a showcase for the wonders of the world, but this means that it’s also a record of the world’s tragedies.
The Ferris Wheel sells huge numbers of tickets and makes a large profit. Newspapers write stories about people committing suicide or dying in the wheel, but the Ferris Company insists that these are fictions. A man named Wherritt rides the wheel and feels afraid of the heights. Panicked, he breaks the glass of his box. A woman throws her skirt over Wherritt’s head, and he becomes instantly subdued.
The ubiquity of technological marvels like the Ferris Wheel at the WF is both exciting and frightening. Strange incidents like the one that Larson describes are a byproduct of people encountering these new technologies.
The World’s Fair is a source of pride for Chicago, and it also gives the city a source of revenue while national banks and businesses continue to go bankrupt. Across the country, meanwhile, bankrupt businessmen commit suicide. Henry Adams writes that the entire country is in a state of terror.
The contrast between the WF and the rest of the country grows clearer — while America goes through a recession, Chicago uses the WF to fight the effects of this recession. The entertainment that the WF provides becomes particularly attractive in light of the country’s economic problems – when people are unhappy, they turn to entertainment to forget about their problems.
As the World’s Fair draws to a close, people begin to grow nostalgic for it. A woman from North Carolina thinks that everything in life will seem insignificant by comparison. The Fair offers joy to its visitors, as if nothing bad will happen to them.
The WF offers its visitors an escape from reality — in particular, the harsh economic realities of the global recession of 1893. That this “escape” is a lie — constructed by Burnham and his colleagues to make money — doesn’t dissuade millions of tourists from coming to enjoy the Fair.