The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America
by Erik Larson (audiobook)
About the Book
“Two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his chosen work, embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized America’s rush toward the twentieth century. The architect was Daniel Hudson Burnham, the fair’s brilliant director of works and the builder of many of the country’s most important structures, including the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C. The murderer was Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who, in a malign parody of the White City, built his “World’s Fair Hotel” just west of the fairgrounds—a torture palace complete with dissection table, gas chamber, and 3,000-degree crematorium. Burnham overcame tremendous obstacles and tragedies as he organized the talents of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles McKim, Louis Sullivan, and others to transform swampy Jackson Park into the White City, while Holmes used the attraction of the great fair and his own satanic charms to lure scores of young women to their deaths. What makes the story all the more chilling is that Holmes really lived, walking the grounds of that dream city by the lake.”
A coworker told me she was reading this book and couldn’t put it down. The juxtaposition of the real life murderous plot of Holmes against the scene of the Chicago World’s Fair was nothing short of enthralling.
As someone who has spent some time in Chicago, I found the story of the conception and implementation of the fair to be quite interesting. Hearing the background has brought life to the many names and places that I see on my trips into the city. What’s more amazing is that they actually pulled it off!
The innovation is astounding, that they could construct so many buildings and create a landscape in what was basically swamp in so short a time. Having honeymooned at Shelburne Farms, I have an appreciation of the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted and his attention to the principles of landscape architecture including his idea of changing vistas.
Throughout the story, I was left asking “why?” Why would Holmes kill the people he did? Why did he have to kill those people? What did they ever do to deserve it? But I guess the nature of a serial killer can never be explained.
As a side note, Burham died of complications of diabetes at a ripe, old age after a long, full life. Though I haven’t found out for sure, I assume he had type 2 diabetes because his life and death occurred before the discovery of insulin.
I’ve heard this is being made into a movie.
Purchase The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson from my affiliate Amazon. I highly recommend the audiobook!
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