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

by

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

 

 

Excerpt

The Black City

How easy it was to disappear:

A thousand trains a day entered or left Chicago. Many of these trains brought single young women who had never even seen a city but now hoped to make one of the biggest and toughest their home. Jane Addams, the urban reformer who founded Chicago's Hull House, wrote, "Never before in civilization have such numbers of young girls been suddenly released from the protection of the home and permitted to walk unattended upon the city streets and to work under alien roofs." The women sought work as typewriters, stenographers, seamstresses, and weavers. The men who hired them were for the most part moral citizens intent on efficiency and profit. But not always. On March 30, 1890, an officer of the First National Bank placed a warning in the help-wanted section of the Chicago Tribune, to inform female stenographers of "our growing conviction that no thoroughly honorable business-man who is this side of dotage ever advertises for a lady stenographer who is a blonde, is good-looking, is quite alone in the city, or will transmit her photograph. All such advertisements upon their face bear the marks of vulgarity, nor do we regard it safe for any lady to answer such unseemly utterances."

The women walked to work on streets that angled past bars, gambling houses, and bordellos. Vice thrived, with official indulgence. "The parlors and bedrooms in which honest folk lived were (as now) rather dull places," wrote Ben Hecht, late in his life, trying to explain this persistent trait of old Chicago. "It was pleasant, in a way, to know that outside their windows, the devil was still capering in a flare of brimstone." In an analogy that would prove all too apt, Max Weber likened the city to "a human being with his skin removed."

Anonymous death came early and often. Each of the thousand trains that entered and left the city did so at grade level. You could step from a curb and be killed by the Chicago Limited. Every day on average two people were destroyed at the city's rail crossings. Their injuries were grotesque. Pedestrians retrieved severed heads. There were other hazards. Streetcars fell from drawbridges. Horses bolted and dragged carriages into crowds. Fires took a dozen lives a day. In describing the fire dead, the term the newspapers most liked to use was "roasted." There was diphtheria, typhus, cholera, influenza. And there was murder. In the time of the fair the rate at which men and women killed each other rose sharply throughout the nation but especially in Chicago, where police found themselves without the manpower or expertise to manage the volume. In the first six months of 1892 the city experienced nearly eight hundred homicides. Four a day. Most were prosaic, arising from robbery, argument, or sexual jealousy. Men shot women, women shot men, and children shot each other by accident. But all this could be understood. Nothing like the Whitechapel killings had occurred. Jack the Ripper's five-murder spree in 1888 had defied explanation and captivated readers throughout America, who believed such a thing could not happen in their own hometowns.

But things were changing. Everywhere one looked the boundary between the moral and the wicked seemed to be degrading. Elizabeth Cady Stanton argued in favor of divorce. Clarence Darrow advocated free love. A young woman named Borden killed her parents.

And in Chicago a young handsome doctor stepped from a train, his surgical valise in hand. He entered a world of clamor, smoke, and steam, refulgent with the scents of murdered cattle and pigs. He found it to his liking.

The letters came later, from the Cigrands, Williamses, Smythes, and untold others, addressed to that strange gloomy castle at Sixty-third and Wallace, pleading for the whereabouts of daughters and daughters' children.

It was so easy to disappear, so easy to deny knowledge, so very easy in the smoke and din to mask that something dark had taken root.

This was Chicago, on the eve of the greatest fair in history.

From the Hardcover edition.Copyright © 2003 by Erik Larson

Product Details

ISBN:
9781400076314
Subtitle:
Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America
Publisher:
Vintage Books
Author:
Larson, Erik
Author:
Erik Larson
Subject:
United States - 19th Century/Turn of the Century
Subject:
United States - State & Local - Midwest
Subject:
Murder - Serial Killers
Subject:
True Crime-Murder - Serial Killers
Subject:
History-United States - 19th Century/Turn of the Century
Subject:
History-United States - State & Local - Midwest
Subject:
History : United States - 19th Century/Turn of the Century
Subject:
True Crime : Murder - Serial Killers
Subject:
History : United States - State & Local - Midwest
Subject:
History : United States - 19th Century
Subject:
History : United States - 20th Century
Subject:
United States - 20th Century
Subject:
Serial murderers
Subject:
Serial murders
Subject:
Americana-Midwest
Subject:
Audio Books-Nonfiction
Subject:
Audio Books-US History
Subject:
Audio Books-World History
Subject:
Crime-General
Subject:
Crime - True Crime
Subject:
US History-1800 to 1945
Subject:
US History-19th Century
Subject:
World History-General
Subject:
main_subject
Subject:
all_subjects
Publication Date:
20040210
Binding:
ELECTRONIC
Language:
English
Pages:
447

Related Subjects

Arts and Entertainment » Architecture » Architects
History and Social Science » Americana » General
History and Social Science » Crime » True Crime
History and Social Science » US History » 19th Century
History and Social Science » US History » 20th Century » General
History and Social Science » US History » General
History and Social Science » World History » General

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America
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$ In Stock
Product details 447 pages Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group - English 9781400076314 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , A compelling account of the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 brings together the divergent stories of two very different men who played a key role in shaping the history of the event--visionary architect Daniel H. Burnham, who coordinated its construction, and Dr. Henry H. Holmes, an insatiable and charming serial killer who lured women to their deaths. Reader's Guide available. Reprint. 250,000 first printing.
"Synopsis" by , Bringing Chicago circa 1893 to vivid life, Erik Larson's spellbinding bestseller intertwines the true tale of two men--the brilliant architect behind the legendary 1893 World's Fair, striving to secure America’s place in the world; and the cunning serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death. Combining meticulous research with nail-biting storytelling, Erik Larson has crafted a narrative with all the wonder of newly discovered history and the thrills of the best fiction.
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