The Devil in the White City
Reason for reading: I’d read very good reviews of it, many saying that it read like a novel. The subject also sounded very interesting, especially the serial killer. Also, I read this with my wife for our family book club.
Quote: (yet to come)
In 1893, the World’s Columbian Exposition opened in Chicago to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World. Chicago had been chosen over New York, Washington D.C. and other U.S. cities to host the world’s fair. It was an amazing accomplishment for its architectural marvels and the incredibly short time in which it was constructed. The fairgrounds were called the White City because of the whitewashing every building received and because of its many electrical lights which lit the grounds each night. During this period there was also an intense evil present in Chicago, a man who would murder unknown numbers becoming America’s first serial killer. He was Dr. H.H. Holmes, the devil in the White City.
Erik Larson did a masterful job writing the story of the White City and Dr. Holmes. He has done an excellent job of giving the reader a feeling of just what an incredible accomplishment it was to have the fair open on time. The several set backs and immense scale of the project lead many to believe it an impossible task. The exposition went on to become the most well attended World’s Fair to that point in history. Unfortunately many people who visited Chicago, particularly young women, were never heard of again. Some of these fell pray to Holmes.
Holmes had a way of putting anyone at ease. He used this ability to lure in young attractive women and make them disappear. Larson once again did an excellent job at giving the reader an idea of the pure evil inside this man. The sections of the book relating the story of Dr. Holmes are fascinating, particularly the last section of the book which follows that story arc to its conclusion.
Though both the story of the fair and the murderer are interesting, it is the tale of the devil that particularly pulled me in. There is something about evil that fascinates people. We are left to wonder how someone can be so full of malice, so heartless and beyond feeling. As the book wound up the story of Dr. Holmes I was unable to put it down.
This is a wonderfully written book about a period in American history that is not much discussed today but which had a tremendous impact on the nation. It is highly recommended, particularly to anyone interested in American history. I have a new found desire to visit Chicago to see the place where this occurred.