The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America

by Erik Larson | History |
ISBN: 0375725601 Global Overview for this book
Registered by wingGoryDetailswing of Nashua, New Hampshire USA on 11/20/2017
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1 journaler for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by wingGoryDetailswing from Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Monday, November 20, 2017
I got this slightly-battered softcover from the charity-sale shelves at Hannaford's, for another release copy. (I've read other works about H. H. Holmes, a con-artist and serial-killer with a mind-bending resume - Rick Geary's The Beast of Chicago is just one of many books that have mentioned him.)

Really good book here, making use of the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction juxtaposition of a great cultural exposition and a terrifying serial killer to present a snapshot of life in the US at the end of the 1800s. (I knew more about the career of Mudgett, aka Holmes, than I did about the fair, but I enjoyed reading about both!) And the author adds an ominous note by bracketing the story with the sinking of the Titanic, as Burnham, architect of the fair, was on board the Olympic on that fateful night, while Francis Millet, artistic director of the fair, was on the Titanic...

For some reason, everything I recall about the 1893 World's Fair had to do with its marvels; this book reveals how much effort it took to bring it about in the first place - an even more impressive effort given the difficulties of travel and communication. [Not to mention personalities and politics!]

The descriptions of the fair itself are mouth-watering even now, and must have been beyond belief for most of the people who attended; despite the problems with delays and weather, the comments of the visitors make it sound unimaginably wonderful. The first Ferris wheel, among other things, was built for the fair - as a way to one-up the Eiffel Tower, something that would never have occurred to me. Guess I think of the things as nothing special now, but that first one - huge, and fragile-looking, yet able to stand up to Chicago winds and the weight of the eager crowds - must have been a marvel indeed.

Interspersed with all the preparations for the fair are snippets about one Holmes, who had parlayed a flirtation with a chemist-shop owner's widow into control of that shop and, later, the construction of a block-sized building that included shops, rooms to rent - and a secret maze of death-chambers that would only come to light years later.

The story shifts between dark and light, serious and humorous, with notes about Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, exotic dancers, speeches, pickpockets - and, yes, disappearances. Oh, and a disappointed office-seeker whose increasingly bizarre behavior attracts attention - but not enough to prevent a tragedy. Mark Twain came to the city to see the fair, but got sick and spent the entire time in his hotel room, poor fellow!

There are heartwarming moments: the inventor of a Braille typewriter meeting Helen Keller; Buffalo Bill bowing to Susan B. Anthony (!).

And, after the fair ended, there are melancholy notes about the fate of most of the buildings - not to mention many of the people. The case against Holmes and the search for his victims takes up much of the latter part of the book, a riveting real-life mystery in itself. The fates of many of the key players are revealed as well, some of them dramatic, others bittersweet or downright tragic. There's a tone of melancholy in the passing of the White City and those who created and enjoyed it, even though it was never meant to stand forever...

Released 2 yrs ago (11/24/2017 UTC) at Maplewood Commerce Center (see text for details) in Nashua, New Hampshire USA

WILD RELEASE NOTES:

I plan to leave this book, bagged against the elements, on the information sign at the Nashua River Rail Trail entrance on Buckmeadow St., just down the road from the Maplewood Commerce center. Hope the finder enjoys the book!

[See other recent releases in NH here.]

*** Released for the 2017 The The release challenge. ***

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