Study Guide

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness in the Fair That Changed America Summary & Study Guide

Erik Larson
This Study Guide consists of approximately 53 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Devil in the White City.
This section contains 720 words
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The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness in the Fair That Changed America Summary & Study Guide Description

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness in the Fair That Changed America Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness in the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson.

Devil in the White City takes two actual stories that occur in Chicago in the late 1880s and the early 1890s and meshes them together. The story of the White City enhances the story of the Devil that found contentment within its walls.

Daniel Burnham and John Root created the White City with the help of many architects from New York, Boston, St. Louis and Chicago. Throughout challenges, disasters and tragedy, Burnham moved the planning and building of the White City forward. He focused on his own career and the fact that all of America was counting on him to earn the world's respect.

The White City is the name given to the 1893 World's Exposition celebrating Columbus' discovery of America. Chicago was given the honor of hosting the elaborate affair. Many people were afraid the Exposition would be no better than a county fair, because they believed that Chicago was an uncultured, meatpacking city. When the news came that Chicago would be the host, the people of Chicago were ecstatic. They could finally show everyone they were as cultured and civilized as New York.

The firm of Burnham and Root was given the task of creating the Exposition grounds. The task had to be completed in approximately three years, to be ready for the Dedication Ceremony and Opening Day. They had many challenges, but two of the major problems were the location of the Exposition and the planning and design of the Exposition. It took almost six months to decide on a location, and that left only two and one half years to design the building and landscape and then build the final product. It seemed to be an impossible task.

As soon as one challenge was met, three more would arise. One of the most prominent challenges was to create something that was comparable or preferably better than the Eiffel Tower that had been built for the Paris Exposition. Other issues included the continued possibility of strikes from the workers, fighting committees for the approval of everything, deciding who would design the buildings and landscape, the economy, which was on the verge of collapse during the entire time, and the power struggle between the National Committee for the Exposition and the Exposition Company.

Everything was always behind schedule. The architects from New York, Boston, Chicago and St Louis and the landscape architect from New York stepped up to the challenge. The workers, even with impending strikes, felt the patriotic spirit and worked harder and faster to complete the job. Burnham and his crew got the exposition grounds presentable for the Dedication Ceremony, which was about one month before opening day. Things still needed to be completed, but it was closer to being completed than anyone had expected.

On Opening Day, the team still had a few tasks left to accomplish, but for the most part the fair had been completed. The Ferris wheel, America's response to the Eiffel Tower, opened 51 days late, but from the day of its first rotation, people were enamored with the wheel. The landscape was not quite done but that was completed within the first couple of weeks. Maintenance continued for the full six months that the fair was open. With many people out of work, this provided relief for many poor families, at least for a while.

At the end of the Exposition Grounds, on the corner of Wallace and 63rd Streets, H. H. Holmes started making his plans. He had started his criminal life with insurance fraud, but found killing to be even more enjoyable. He built his "castle" to feed his obsession, and when he discovered the Exposition was coming to Chicago, it made the castle all the more important. The people would come to him, and he could perform his evil at his leisure at his World's Fair Hotel.

Before the Exposition opened, Holmes began his killing. He would seduce the women before he killed them and their children. He continued this hobby until just before the close of the Exposition. It was said that he killed approximately 200 men, women and children; however, the courts could only prove nine actual killings. Holmes had been incarcerated on insurance fraud charges when the Pinkerton Detective Agency started probing into the disappearance of three children and linked their deaths to him.

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