"The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America"
By Erik Larson. Vintage Books 395 pp.
A phoenix rising from the ashes is a bittersweet cycle that entails a tragic loss and a triumphant rebirth into the world. Like the tale of this mythical creature, Chicago has endured devastating losses and a victorious restorations namely through the events of the Great Fire of 1871 and the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. Erik Larson captures the essence of this era of advancement in his book, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America. From the ashes of the Great Fire of 1871, the tales that composed this story were born.
Combining comprehensive research with conjecture, the story tells the fascinating parallel tales of two remarkable men, each of whom pursued an extraordinary undertaking that was linked to the Chicago World's Fair of 1893.
Larson's framing narrative is the story of Daniel Burnham, the main architect, lead organizer, and day-to-day manager of the massive event. It was Burnham who brought together and directed an enormous array of architects, engineers, businessmen, laborers, and exhibitors, secured millions in congressional funding, and who, in a scant eighteen months, transformed a bleak wasteland on the shores of Lake Michigan into the monumental "White City." Larson's account of Burnham's desperate race against time and deft negotiation of economic, logistical and bureaucratic hurdles is alternated with an equally suspenseful tale of ingenious ambition. A few blocks from the fair's grounds lived and worked Henry H. Holmes, a charming young man and amateur architect. In his eerie but cleverly practical World's Fair Hotel, Holmes constructed a secret lair, complete with built-in crematorium and custom-designed gas vents, in which he...