Devil in the White City

Topics: Daniel Burnham, The Devil in the White City, World's Columbian Exposition Pages: 6 (2662 words) Published: February 17, 2011
Devil in the White City written by Erik Larson is a true story based on the building of the most important fair in the United States of America, the 1893 Columbian Exposition World’s Fair in Chicago. Erik Larson also told the story of the psychopathic murderer; H.H. Holmes used his World’s Fair Hotel as an evil castle to lure in young women who came to see the fair. The story starts off with Larson describing that Chicago won the Congressional vote to host the World’s Fair and beat out its competition New York City. In only two short years, the White City was built. The fair brought in an estimated 40 million visitors in the only six months it was open. Daniel Burnham was the chief architect of the World’s Fair. Burnham had the staggering task of hiring the best of the best engineers, architects and designers in the country. No one thought the task of building the World’s Fair in the Black City of Chicago would be accomplished given the amount of time of two years they had to build it. The successful result of the White City, the World’s Fair, changed people’s perceptions of their own cities, architects, and designers. Erik Larson and many newspaper businesses referred to Chicago as the Black City. Chicago was known as the city where many people, mostly young women, disappeared. With the reputation of being a city as “a gigantic peepshow of utter horror, but extraordinarily to the point,” (Larson 2003, 28), many citizens did not think highly of the city. Chicago was shown as a city that was affected by many different “devils.” With a murderer on the loose during the time of the World’s Fair, unemployment rates rising, filth in the form of rats and dirt on the streets, these “devils” transformed Chicago as a city going toward the darkness. Many people visited the city of Chicago. The perception most citizens took from their experiences either awed them or terrified them, but it did not change their views that “…Chicago was a secondary city that preferred butchered hogs to Beethoven,” (Larson 2003, 16). People were killed in railroad crossings, trampled by horses in massive crowds, killed in fires and died of diseases like influenza, typhus, diphtheria and cholera. Once immigrants started to arrive in the city, Chicago started to grow upwards. “It got bigger, taller, and richer; but it also grew dirtier, darker, and more dangerous,” (Larson 2003, 27). Chicago had everything to gain by hosting the most important fair in the United States. At the end of the book in Erik Larson’s notes, he explained that “the thing that entranced me about Chicago in the Gilded Age was the city’s willingness to take on the impossible in the name of civic honor,” (Larson 2003, 393). Civic Honor was the most powerful force found throughout Chicago. Having the World’s Fair in Chicago was a way for Chicago to create a new identity for itself that was not given to them by the eastern states and cities. If Chicago could finish the fair successfully, it “would dispel at last the eastern perception that Chicago was nothing more than a greedy, hog-slaughtering backwater,” (Larson 2003, 13). If Chicago failed to create the World’s Fair, in time “failure would bring humiliation from which the city would not soon recover, given how heartily its leading men had boasted that Chicago would prevail,” (Larson 2003, 14). The most memorable recovery in the United States was when Chicago was able to rebuild the city from nothing after the Great Fire of 1871. Chicago was able to transform itself into one of the nation’s leaders in manufacturing, architecture, and commerce. Burnham had the overwhelming task to rebuild the “Black City” of Chicago into the beautiful “White City” of the World’s Fair in Chicago. If Chicago could beat France’s Eiffel Tower and their Exposition Universelle, it would prove to the whole world that the United States was a force to be reckoned with. Daniel Burnham was made the Chief of Construction for the World’s Fair by the Exposition board...
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