Two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his chosen work, embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized America’s rush toward the twentieth century. The architect was Daniel Hudson Burnham, the fair’s brilliant director of works and the builder of many of the country’s most important structures, including the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C. The murderer was Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who, in a malign parody of the White City, built his “World’s Fair Hotel” just west of the fairgrounds—a torture palace complete with dissection table, gas chamber, and 3,000-degree crematorium. Burnham overcame tremendous obstacles and tragedies as he organized the talents of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles McKim, Louis Sullivan, and others to transform swampy Jackson Park into the White City, while Holmes used the attraction of the great fair and his own satanic charms to lure scores of young women to their deaths. What makes the story all the more chilling is that Holmes really lived, walking the grounds of that dream city by the lake.
I have to admit, the premise of this non-fiction story did not immediately sound exciting to me. A book about the Chicago World’s Fair? Ho-hum… But then I discovered there was another story within this book. The story of a serial killer. Now you’re talking this Book Crook’s language!
What I found inside the covers of this book however, surprised me. What I found was a very titillating period in America’s history. The Chicago World’s Fair was more than a rather large carnival, this fair had such a profound impact on American culture we are still feeling it’s effects today.
I love history and Americana and the tidbits I found in this book made me tingle. The months of planning, the boxcars full of supplies, the scale of the buildings, the “new technology” used, the important Americans that were all part of this process were unbelievable. Shredded Wheat (predicted to bomb), Cracker Jacks, and Juicy Fruit were all introduced, as well as a sculpture- a large, moving metal structure-built to outdo the size and beauty of the Eiffel Tower…the Ferris Wheel.
To me, the serial killer side story that initially drew me in, was just that, a side story. Not near as exciting as the building of the fair itself. In Googling to find out a little more about the fair I found that this book is being made into a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and should be out early next year. I am anxious to find out if what I felt was the side story in the book becomes the main story line in the movie.
A big thanks to my optometrist, who praised this book up during my eye exam, for leading me to this book. Without his recommendation I can guarantee this is a book I would not have tried. Now, it’s a book I am gushing about to others and an author I will most assuredly try again! 4.5/5 stars