Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Devil in the White City

In “The White City,” Alan Trachtenberg highlights the idealism that inspired the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. He notes the desire of the designers and architects of the fair to capture an American spirit of beauty and unity. At the same time, Trachtenberg stresses the contradictions that lay at the heart of the Fair as social, economic, and political problems plagued the world outside of the spectacular gates of the Fair.

This idea of inside vs. outside reminds me of a book called The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. He documents the construction and experience of the World’s Fair coupled with the rise of a serial killer living nearby. The detailed account of the difficult and dramatic preparations undergone by Daniel Burnham and John Wellborn Root to construct the Fair sets the background for the exciting and overwhelming events, inventions, and sites presented at the Fair for the world’s consumption. This glorious and beautiful image of the Fair is contrasted with the heinous activities of Dr. H. H. Holmes who maintained a home in Chicago designed to help him execute and hide murder. I can’t remember how many people he killed but he preyed on young women who came to the city from the country in search for jobs and love in the craze surrounding the Fair. With these two opposing story lines, Larson reinforces Trachtenberg’s concept of the dual nature of the Fair’s presence in Chicago.

About the book:

No comments:

Post a Comment