by Eric Larson
Sometimes when I've closed the covers of a book for the last time, a sense of nostalgia sweeps over me, followed by a sense of lost. I was in Chicago for a time, walking through the White City and visiting the beautiful grounds and exhibits of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, and then I finished the last page of "The Devil in the White City" by Eric Larson.
The Black City was Chicago itself with its stockyards and crime, noise and black smoke. It was the 19th Century, the Industrial Revolution, coal burning trains and factories, garbage-strewn alley ways, and horse-drawn wagons which produced waste of another sort. The World's Columbian Exposition, rose on the shore of Lake Michigan in Jackson Park on the south side of Chicago and was quickly dubbed the White City because most of the buildings were white and at night were illuminated with electricity. It was a beautiful contrast to the Black City and the dusty farms and small towns of the middle west.
The hero of the White City, Daniel Burnham, the Chicago architect in charge of making the dream of the World's Fair a reality, created a miracle from drawing board to opening day in less than three years. He had plenty of help as the best and the brightest in Chicago pulled together to overcome the innumerable obstacles in their way. Their story is one of hope, pride, courage, creativity, and hard work.
The devil of a parallel story was Dr. H.H. Holmes, born Herman Webster Mudgett, who built a hotel several blocks from the where the buildings of the fair were being erected. Holmes' "World's Fair Hotel," later dubbed the murder castle by the press, was meant to attract young women who flocked to Chicago because of the fair. His story is so depraved there are insufficient adjectives to describe it.
Eric Larson recreates Chicago as it was at the time of the World's Columbian Exposition. His research is so thorough as to set his readers in the middle of the city, the fair, and the murder castle in the waning days of the Nineteenth Century.