For the month of September we will be discussing The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, which reveals that behind the amazing success and grandeur of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (World’s Columbian Exposition) is a story of an almost insurmountable struggle to get the fair resurrected in time and leave a lasting impression upon the world. Unfortunately, success sometimes comes with a price. In this case, the attraction of the Chicago World’s Fair served as a supplier of victims and a diversion for the first documented American serial killer.
A quote from Publishers Weekly reads:
“Not long after Jack the Ripper haunted the ill-lit streets of 1888 London, H.H. Holmes (born Herman Webster Mudgett) dispatched somewhere between 27 and 200 people, mostly single young women, in the churning new metropolis of Chicago; many of the murders occurred during (and exploited) the city's finest moment, the World's Fair of 1893. Larson's breathtaking new history is a novelistic yet wholly factual account of the fair and the mass murderer who lurked within it.”
The Devil in the White City follows two intersecting story lines throughout the book: the story of the how the Chicago World’s Fair was accomplished by Daniel Burnham and the other architects who made it happen and an account of the serial killer Herman Webster Mudgett.
- Do you feel that these alternating storylines detract from the book’s appeal or make it more interesting?
- Did you find the story behind the resurrection of the Chicago World’s Fair or the account of Herman Webster Mudgett to be the more interesting storyline and why?
The Chicago World’s Fair inspired many important and influential individuals, inventions, and the acceptance of new ideas.
- Who are some of the individuals influenced and ideas or inventions that came about as a result of the fair? Do you feel that if Chicago wins the bid and sponsors the 2016 Olympics it will have the same sort of impact on the area as the World’s Fair did over a century ago?