StudyBoss » Literature » Burnham: The Devil In The White City Essay

Burnham: The Devil In The White City Essay

During the time period in which the story takes place, Chicago held the nickname “The Back City” due to its heavily polluted air and the dark crimes that occurred on its streets. Women went missing each day, disappearing into the smoke of the city, and credit fraud was common. In building The World’s Fair upon Chicago’s grounds, Burnham attempted to beautify Chicago’s reputation. He designed glorious buildings to transform the wasteland of Jackson Park into a stunning spectacle. To lighten up the air of Chicago, Burnham had the structures painted white. The fair brought hope and light to the city through its festivities and bright color.

The city was changed from dark and dreary to light and hopeful with the construction of the World’s Fair. Chicago was now, at least temporarily, “The White City”. Even amongst the triumph of the Chicago World’s Fair, evil roamed. Crime and pollution were just as common as before. One man H. H. Holmes set out on a murder spree at the very same time the Fair was under construction. He toyed with the emotions of young, newly freed women by offering them a welcoming home and relationship, only to eventually murder them. Holmes killed dozens. He was the devil roaming the streets of the white city.

Author: Erik Larson Genre: Non-fiction Point of view: Third Person Narrative Setting (time, place, mood, circumstances): The Devil in the White City takes place at the close of the 19th century. At this time, America was in the heart of the industrial revolution. Rapid technological advances changed the lives of citizens, and women began to be integrated into the working class. Society became structured around these new advancements, causing factory and construction jobs to become more common. These jobs were unsafe, as hundreds of dedicated workers died from work-related accidents.

In response to poor working conditions and low wages, unions formed. These unions, while they unified workers, helped spread unrest through the country. In addition, many banks and businesses were forced to close due to economic constraints. The majority of the plot occurs in Chicago, Illinois. At the time in which this story takes place, Chicago was a town with a dark reputation. It was most known for its high crime rate and polluted streets. Many people fled to the city in search of jobs, but there were too few jobs to satisfy the rising unemployment rates.

Many people, especially went missing; they disappeared into the smoke of the city, never to be seen or heard from again. Chicago was chosen as the location for the 1893 World’s Fair. Burnham’s story mainly takes place in Jackson Park, the construction site for the Chicago World’s Fair. The park was a desert of sand edged with a lake and lagoons. The park was Burnham and Root’s prefered area to build the fair. The mood of this location is rushed and stressed as workers struggled to construct the fair in time for opening day. Holmes’s story primarily occurs in his hand-designed, World’s Fair Hotel.

The hotel contains an array of questionable features, such as a sound proof vault, a kiln that is large enough for a human body, and numerous gas pipes that lead directly to visitors’ rooms. Although Holmes’s friendly demeanor causes visitors to feel welcome, the overall mood of the hotel is eerie and dark. Prior to the introduction of the Chicago Fair, the Paris Exposition occurred and set the standards high for any future world’s fairs. At the Paris Exposition, American architects did not live up to their expectations. Their display was disorganized and unimpressive, when compared to the marvelous architecture of the Eiffel Tower.

With the Chicago world’s fair the pressure was on America to showcase their abilities and make up for their unremarkable performance in Paris. Although Chicago began as a dark and dreary city, the Chicago Fair did improve its mood slightly. The people on the streets waited for opening day with anticipation, and were rewarded with an experience of a lifetime. Electric lights and tall, white buildings stunned the crowds. Even though the fair never became as popular as the Paris Exposition, it showed what the city had to offer. Chicago didn’t just hold crime and horror, it also held potential and hope.

Plot (summarize the work IN COMPLETE SENTENCES – please label the five components of plot): Exposition: The text begins with a preface of Burnham reflecting on the portion of his life that was consumed by the fair. He reflects on his partnership with Root, and the construction of the fair. After some thought, Burnham decides to reach out to an old friend named Frank Millet. Unfortunately, Burnham is informed that his message could not be sent due to an accident on the boat Frank Millet was aboard. The setting then switches to a time before the fair and describes Burnham’s life before he took on the role as head architect of the World’s Fair.

Burnham was a below average student, who found his passion in sketching designs. Through a job he was appointed to by his father, Burnham meet John Root, a creative genius. The duo went on to run their own firm, with Burnham managing the business aspects and Root handling the creativity. In a separate storyline, Henry Howard Holmes is introduced. When Holmes was a young boy he claimed to have been forced to look at doctor office skeletons. This event sparked his interest in the human body and its inhuman uses.

As he grew older, people he would interact with would just disappear, such as a boy of whom Holmes claimed went back to their home in Massachusetts. Holmes also began to participate in insurance fraud. He eventually ended up settling in Chicago, due to the excitement the mysterious city brought him. Rising Actions: Inspired by the Paris Exposition, America decided to host its own World’s Fair. Many different location were considered for the fair, but ultimately Chicago, Illinois won the title. The city erupted with joy, as they would be able to prove their abilities not only to America, but the rest of the world.

Burnham and Root were assigned the daunting role as head architects of the 1983 World’s Fair. The duo work together to pick out a location within the city, contractors, designers, and architects. Many potential contributors are unsure of how the fair will play out and whether or not it is worth their time. With enough persuasion, Burnham and Root appoint the country’s finest to take on leading roles in the construction of the Fair. Unfortunately, Root falls sick with pneumonia, and the disease eventually takes his life. Now forced to do the job of both himself and Root, Burnham has large shoes to fill.

During construction, Burnham and his crew are faced with approaching deadlines, the harsh weather of Chicago, and accident-related deaths. Storms tore apart buildings and trashed the cleared land. Due to financial constraints, Burnham had to lay off a good portion of his workers, forcing his other workers to work twice as hard. Burnham was extremely stressed and ensured that the entire operation progressed as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, Holmes deceived an old woman, named Mrs. Holton into believing he would buy her pharmacy to help relieve her stresses. Mrs. Holton’s husband was near death.

After she sold the store and her husband died, she mysteriously went missing. Holmes claimed that the grieving women went to California to visit family. He later changed the story to add that Mrs. Holton decided to permanently stay in California. Holmes later began construction on a nearby building. He designed the building by hand, equipping it with numerous murder devices such as gas pipes and sound proof vaults. Holmes decided to turn the building into a hotel. He named it The World’s Fair Hotel in order to attract fair attendees. Holmes lures young women into the hotel and ends their lives through various methods of cruelty.

Climax: Immediately after opening day, the fair’s attendance was meager. Individuals were unimpressed by the incompleteness of the construction, and the lack of a structure comparable to the Eiffel Tower. However, after the most essential element, the ferris wheel, was completed, the entire country became consumed by the fair and its activities. Burnham is able to prove his significance to the world, despite his lack of a formal degree. All of his work and effort payed off. Holmes used the fair to attract his two newest victims, Minnie and Annie Williams.

He bribes the sisters with a trip to Europe, however he kills them before they set foot out of the country. Holmes gains Minnie’s inheritance. Falling Actions: About a week before the close of the Fair, the town’s beloved mayor Harrison is murdered. Instead of previously planned festivities, the Fair’s closing ceremonies consisted of a tribute and funeral for mayor Harrison. Following the grieving, Burnham was forced to decide the fate of the fairgrounds. Much of the buildings were burned to the ground. Holmes, committed perhaps his largest fraud by tricking one of his most trusted business partners, Benjamin Pitezel.

He had Pitezel sign a life insurance contract and fake his death. Holmes then actually murders Pitezel and tried to stage it as an accident. Holmes continued his legacy by taking Pitezel’s three children on a roadtrip across the country. Eventually, Holmes’s crimes caught up to him. He was captured, thrown in jail, and refused to release any information on the location of the Pitezel children. Denouement: After reading a news story of Dr. H. H. Holmes, detective Geyers began to investigate the case of the missing Pitezel children.

By following the letters the children wrote to their mother, Geyers was able to trace the odd path, Holmes lead them on. His investigation lead him to the shocking discovery that the children had been murdered. This revelation on Holmes’s character lead to his conviction of many other murders. Burnham’s scene returns to him on the boat many years later. Burnham is informed that Francis Millet had died due to the sinking of the ship he was on. Millet had been aboard the Titanic. This information causes Burnham to feel inclined to write in his diary and reflect on the impact the Fair had on his and Millet’s lives.

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.