Two handsome men, each unusually skilled at his chosen profession, embodied a part of the great dynamic that characterized America's rush into 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 importan... t structures, including New York's Flatiron Building and Washington, D.C.'s Union Station. The murderer was Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who built his "World's Fair Hotel" just west of the fairgrounds—a torture palace c
Burnham overcame adversity and tragedy as he brought together 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 allure of the great fair and his own satanic charms to lure a large number of young women to their deaths. The fact that Holmes actually lived, walking the grounds of that dream city by the lake, adds to the chilling nature of the story.
The Devil in the White City transports the reader to a time of majesty and magic, enhanced by a supporting cast of real-life figures such as Buffalo Bill, Theodore Dreiser, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and others. In this rich story about the master builder, the killer, and the great fair that obsessed them both, Erik Larson's gifts as a storyteller are magnificently displayed.
I find it all infinitely sad, but at the same time so entrancing, that I often feel as if it would be the part of wisdom to fly at once to the woods or mountains where one can always find peace. - Dora Root in a letter to Daniel Burnham
Place has always been important to me, and one thing today's Chicago exudes, as it did in 1893, is a sense of place. I fell in love with the city, the people I encountered, and above all the lake and its moods, which shift so readily from season to season, day to day, even hour to hour.
Holmes was charming and gracious, but something about him made Belknap uneasy. He could not have defined it. Indeed, for the next several decades alienists and their successors would find themselves hard-pressed to describe with any precision what it was about men like Holmes that could cause them to seem warm and ingratiating but also telegraph the vague sense that some important element of humanness was missing.
I will be on the look out for you, my dear girl," he wrote. "You must expect to give yourself up when you come." For this buttoned-up age, for Burnham, it was a letter that could have steamed itself open.