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

Liana Teixeira

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In this fascinating novel by Erik Larson, a magical yet terrifying tale is told, one that involves the bustling streets of Chicago, Illinois during the

The Devil in the White City explores the lives of the World Fair architects and supervisors responsible for making it the most impressive Fair the nation had ever hosted.

1893 World Fair. First held in London in 1851, the World Fair exemplified the elegance, stability, and greatness of a country; it was a true honor to hold such a grand exhibition. Inventors, technological advances, and industrialization were main themes that brought international tourism to the host cities. In the late 19th century, it was finally Chicago’s turn; the honor of their growing city rested on their shoulders, and they could not fail.

The Devil in the White City explores the lives of the World Fair architects and supervisors responsible for making it the most impressive Fair the nation had ever hosted. Head architect and main character Daniel Burnham rebuilt a previously abandoned portion of Chicago known as “The Black City” and transformed it into the glorious “White City.” Although under a serious time crunch and adverse weather conditions, Burnham succeeded in creating a magnificent World Fair which introduced some of the country’s classic products and structures: Juicy Fruit, the Ferris Wheel, and Cracker Jack. In fact, the fair was so mesmerizing that visitor L. Frank Baum, the future author of Wizard of Oz, based Oz on what he saw in Chicago. Indeed, the Chicago World Fair had its striking moments…as well as its dark ones.

Aside from being an overall cultural accomplishment for the United States, the Chicago World Fair also witnessed its share of violence. With thousands of daily visitors, it was unsurprising to see street fights, killings, or even kidnappings happening regularly. And with such a large number of citizens and tourists, the Chicago police soon became overwhelmed. This was the perfect place for serial killer Dr. H.H. Holmes to make his mark on history. Born Herman Webster Mudgett, Holmes was a charming fellow who participated in insurance fraud and possessed various identities. He soon became successful after moving to Chicago during the World Fair and opening a small pharmacy. But after purchasing more land to expand his business and build a home, Holmes took a dangerous turn. His home contained secret rooms and strange vaults throughout the building; it soon became known as the “castle” and was used as a hotel for World Fair visitors. A doomed fate awaited those who entered Holmes’ horror-filled “castle” and with the excitement and madness of the Fair, there was little anyone could do to stop him.

Two completely different stories surround the majestic White City, but they are connected at the heart. This chilling yet remarkable thriller depicts the defining events of history during Chicago World Fair and will keep you wanting to read more.

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