I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Devil In the White City by Erik Larson

When Paris held their exhibition in 1889, which is when they unveiled the Eiffel Tower, they had a lot of people come to their fair city and received a great number of accolades. The United States was not going to be outdone, so when the 400th anniversary of Columbus's discovery of America was coming up in 1892, they decided to hold an even better exhibition. The question was where. Various cities sent representatives to argue for their city and eventually, to New York City's surprise, Chicago was chosen as the site. It would open in May of 1893 to the public and run through October. The natural choice for which architect to run it was pretty easy. It would be Daniel Burnham and his business partner John Root. Burnham would have a very difficult time getting architects to agree to work on it. Burnham himself was quite famous for being the one who would build the flatiron building in New York City and who had built the very first skyscraper. Root would become sick early in the planning stages and Burnham would be left on his own to handle the running of the exhibition on the board who could be difficult.  Burnham got some famous people to work on this project including Fredrick Law Olmsted, a landscape artist who designed Central Park and who was designing Biltmore House while working on this project. He also had the painter Francis Millet to handle the painting of the buildings and he invented the spray paint method by altering equipment. They chose to paint the buildings white. They had Tesla and Westinghouse install the lighting because they were cheaper than Edison. The fact was that AC was cheaper to run than DC. They wanted the whole place to be lit up with lights.  The place would be a shining city of white.

But that was only part of what was going on in Chicago at that time. There was a man who was taking advantage of the exhibition to satisfy his desire to kill. That man went by the name of Dr. H. H. Holmes. He first went to work in a drug store where an older woman was running it because her husband was too sick. He quickly took care of both of them and took over the store as his own. Then he got the idea to open up a hotel with stores on the lower floor. He kept firing the workers working on it so no one knew what was being built. He had a crematorium put in in the basement and a walk in soundproof vault put in the office.  He would marry a few times in order to get money from the women. And he avoided paying the bills he owed by denying any knowledge of the landlord they were looking for.  He was charming and likable and people left forgetting why they had come there in the first place. Holmes would be classified as a psychopath.   When the fair started up his hotel filled up with single women who didn't stay long, if you know what I mean. Holmes is the most prolific serial killer in American history. He is believed to have killed somewhere between 100 and 200 people. No one is really sure and he kept giving different numbers and he burned the bodies.

This book goes back and forth between the hardships of trying to throw together the greatest exhibition ever in a very short time and the serial killer who stalked the streets of that city using it as his own hunting ground. One of the biggest problems is what to put in the exhibition that will out Eiffel Eiffel. Time keeps passing and none of the engineers can come up with a structure that is better than the Eiffel Tower.  What someone does come up with will be truly amazing, but won't be up by the time the exhibition opens. Burnham is a man ahead of his time. He has the men work an eight hour work day and get Sundays and holidays extra pay.  He sets them up in a bunk house and feeds them well. He listens to their complaints and their union and makes concessions. The concessions that he makes will be the blueprint of what unions will be asking for in future endeavors across the nation.

People from countries all over the world showed up to set up stalls in the Midway and Americans were exposed to new cultures. And a famous dancer was born from Algeria who would captivate the people as would the Egyptian dancers. Millet came up with various special days when there would be discounts for certain people in order to get more people there. They had a difficult time getting people to show up at first and it looked like they would lose money on this project. They had gone way over budget and over time in the building of the White City as it came to be called. And to make matters worse, Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show was going on in the lot next to them. But in the end it will be an amazing sight to see. The book has a couple of pictures, but you can go online and see lots more. I do recommend that you do that.

Link to Pictures: https://www.chicagohs.org/history/expo/photos.html

*Some of the things invented just for the Exhibition that is still in use today: Shredded Wheat, Cracker Jack, and the Pledge of Allegiance [A man came up with the idea that school children across America should recite something at the same time the opening ceremony was taking place.]

Starrett recalled being moved by [Daniel] Burnham’s frequent admonition: “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.”
-Erik Larson (The Devil in the White City p 26)Chicago awed visitors and terrified them. French editor Octave Uzanne called it “that Gordian city, so excessive, so satanic.” Paul Lindau, an author and publisher, described it as “a gigantic peepshow of utter horror, but extraordinary to the point.”
-Erik Larson (The Devil in the White City p 28)
“The eyes are very big and wide open,” a physician named John L. Capen later observed. “They are blue. Great murderers, like great men in other walks of activity, have blue eyes.”
-Erik Larson (The Devil in the White City p 35) 
Shortly before ten A.M. on May 7, 1896, after a breakfast of boiled eggs, dry toast, and coffee, Holmes was escorted to the gallows at Moyamensing Prison. This was a difficult moment for his guards. They liked Holmes. They knew he was a killer, but he was a charming killer.
-Erik Larson (The Devil in the White City p 386)
Link to Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/Devil-White-City-Madness-Changed/dp/0375725601/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1482162367&sr=1-1&keywords=devil+in+the+white+city

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