Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Devil in the White City

I was doing some research for my Savage Worlds Rippers Horror RPG and through a friend from the KFG (Kentucky Fried Gamers), I was refered to this book by Erik Larson. The unique feature of this one is that it tells two stories taking place in Chicago in the late 19th century - one regarding the Architects of the 1893 Chicago World Colombian Exposition; the other regarding one of the country's first serial killers - Dr. H. H. Holmes, aka Herman Webster Mudgett.

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

The book is organized where every chapter switches between the events of the the chief architect of the Exposition, Daniel Burnham, and the exploits of the grifter and serial killer Mudgett. At first, I was anticipating that I would have to labor through the boring architectural anecdotes of the Exposition, but I was wrong. While I definitely looked forward to the next Mudgett entry, the organization and work behind the 1893 Exposition was equally interesting.

How do these two individuals connect? While the city of Chicago, still recovering from the recent fire of 1871, was planning the Exposition that needed to exceed the expectations of the 1889 Paris World's Fair, a mad man named Mudgett began a killing spree that still cannot be totally accounted for in body count. Mudgett built a "Murder Castle" that he used as a store front for his pharmacy business, and during the Exposition, as a hotel. This hotel was complete with air tight rooms used for gassing victims, a vault that was used for incinerating victims, and body chutes leading to the basement. Being a former medical student, Mudgett made alot of money in the underground business of selling dead bodies (skeletons for anatomy study) to medical universities.

You will also learn about many interesting facts from the 1893 Exposition including the story behind the Ferris Wheel, Dr Pepper, Shredded Wheat, and how the current Museum of Science and Industry resides in one of the only buildings from the Fair that is still standing today.

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