Humanities Summer Essay
Erik Larson states, “The juxtaposition of pride and unfathomed evil struck [him] as offering powerful insights into the nature of men and their ambitions.” This quote relates to the premise of his book The Devil in the White City, which tells two different stories based around a central theme of the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. One tells of the adventures and horrors that came with being the important figures behind the production of something as great as the exposition. The story focuses mainly on the architects, and even closer on the man who became the official leader of it all, Daniel Burnham. Intricately woven into the tale of the building of the fair is a story that is powerfully more horrifying. A man named Herman Webster Mudgett, more commonly known as H. H. Holmes, manages to stay out of the eyes of law enforcement for some time while committing many crimes, including the murder of an estimated 27 people. He became known as America’s first serial killer and was active soon after Jack the Ripper committed his last homicide. At a first glance, the difference between the two stories is extreme. One exhibits the greatest achievements of mankind, while the other exhibits the deepest evils. Although this is partially true, the reality of it all, as the reader discovers, is that they are not all that diverse. The nature of people in the story comes from a mix of ambition, pride, and evil. Accordingly, their ideas and reasons for their actions are based on these same three elements. The similarities between Daniel Burnham and H. H. Holmes and their plans are proven to be extremely similar by assessing the damage, execution and performance of the men, and the psychological toll on society. The affects of both men include financial damage and multiple lost lives. The cost of the fair began to take its toll on the country from the very beginning. After the 500,000 people that had attended opening day were replaced with a mere 10,000 24 hours later, “the forces that had been battering the nation’s economy erupted in a panic on Wall Street that called stock prices to plummet.” Dozens of banks across the nation began to fail as well, including two national banks which during a meeting between the two leaders “one president calmly excused himself, entered his private office, and shot himself through the head.” Before the fair was even over, bankers who had invested in the fair, as well as the federal funds of Chicago, were worried since “Burnham’s department [has] spent over $22 million to build the fair… more than twice the amount originally planned.” Even after it was over, “thousands more workers joined the swelling army of the unemployed, and homeless men took up residence among the great abandoned palaces of the fair.” These circumstances intensified the reasoning for the nickname “the black city” and even further brightened the contrast in not only the symbolic name but in the physical appearance as well with “the white city,” the clever name given the worlds fair. On a much smaller scale, Dr. Holmes created a financial scandal of his own. When he opened his hotel, he bought everything on credit. “He had no intention of paying his debts and was confident he could evade prosecution through guilt and charm.” Surprisingly, he managed to keep many possessions without spending any real money and didn’t have to face any furniture dealers or anyone “whom Holmes had cheated over the previous five years” for a long time. What ended up happening was that he had to face them all at once. In the fall of 1893 he attended a meeting that had an unexpected “two dozen creditors and their attorneys” to collect the $50,000 that he owed. The issues that were created with these mishandlings of money left a hole in the economy, and both projects contributed to it. Another large area of damage caused by these events is the death toll. Though the deaths caused by Holmes were intentional and the...
Cited: Entry should be formatted:
Larson, Erik. The Devil in the White City. City Published: Publisher, copyright year. Print.
Also, after every quote, in parenthesis, put the page number of the quote
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