Study Guide

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America Summary

Who Wants To Time Travel Back To 1893? (Answer: Nobody Who's Read This Book.)

Get ready to have all your daydreams about living in the late Victorian Era (the clop-clop of horse carriages! Snazzy mustaches! Adorable gramophone music!) dashed to absolute smithereens. Because this book is much less The Secret Garden and much more The Silence of the Lambs.

But before the creeptastic stuff starts happening, we get a little historical background.

We begin in 1912. Famous guy Daniel Hudson Burnham has just learned that a ship carrying his friend has struck an iceberg somewhere in the Atlantic. Burnham and his friend were brought together by the most spectacular event ever in the history of America: the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. Burnham's the guy who designed the fair buildings and his friend Francis Millet filled them with all sorts of cool exhibitions.

But, whoops—Millet booked passage on the Titanic (We're guessing you've heard of it.) Burnham will later learn that his friend drowns along with a thousand others.

Yet for now, Burnham's thinking back to that magical time on the eve of the Great Fair.

Intended to celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of Columbus' discovery of America, the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition sees twenty-seven million visitors during a time when the nation's population is only sixty-five million. Visitors experience things for the first time, from lightbulbs to Cracker Jacks, and whole villages are imported from exotic parts of the world.

Never before are so many famous people been gathered in one place: Buffalo Bill, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, Nikola Tesla, and Theodore Roosevelt—to name a few.

A Creepier Castle Than Dracula's

At the same time, a young, rich, and handsome doctor going by the name H. H. Holmes steps off a train in Chicago. A hit among the ladies, Holmes is suave and charming. He purchases a plot of land on Sixty-third and Wallace and creates a hotel, a massive three-story structure that the neighbors called Holmes' "castle."

But inside, it's the place of terrors. Pipes pump gas into rooms with no windows, a kiln large enough for a person sits down in the garage, and an airtight vault is installed in Holmes' private office. If that's not spooky enough, Holmes would later claim that he was born with the devil inside him.

And the events that occur over the six years that Holmes is in Chicago just about make that claim legit.

While wonderful things are happening at the fair, darkness looms outside. Holmes' hotel is an Airbnb for exposition visitors—oh, except some of his female guests begin to go missing. Holmes marries Myrta Belknap, though he's already married to a Miss Clara Lovering. He makes his new wife live somewhere else when she becomes jealous of the attention he receives from other women. Holmes seduces Julia Connor, who divorces her husband for the handsome doctor, but he soon kills Julia and her daughter Pearl.

His next victims are Emeline Cigrand, Minnie Williams, and her sister Anna. (This guy is seriously bad news.) Letters from worried family members begin to arrive, but not a single person suspects Holmes of foul play.

World's Fair One-Upmanship

Back at the fairgrounds, Burnham's quest to create the iconic White City is not an easy one. When Chicago wins the bid for the fair in 1890, the city faces the immense challenge of surpassing the wonders of the Paris Exposition of 1889, the same event that had produced the colossal Eiffel Tower.

Many of the nation's leading architects aren't convinced they want to devote so much time and effort to structures that are going to be demolished after their six-month use. The exposition committee takes forever to decide where they want to even put the fair, no engineer steps forward with any plans to out-Eiffel Eiffel's Tower, and Burnham is running out of time before Opening Day celebrations.

But Burnham and his dream-team of architects work tirelessly to transform vision into reality. When the White City finally rises, it's comprised of a hundred magnificent neo-classical buildings, a tribute to architects of ancient wonders. Trains with thousands of people and goods that will be on display at the fair zoom into Chicago, and among such cargo are German weapons, Buffalo Bill and his Wild West show, sphinxes, mummies, and ostriches.

Yup. Ostriches. They really pulled out all the stops.

A young engineer proposes his design to rival the Eiffel Tower: a spinning wheel that could carry two thousand passengers at a time. The man's name is George Washington Gale Ferris. Can you guess his creation?

The fair provides visitors with a vision of what a city could be: "[t]he Black City to the north lay steeped in smoke and garbage, but here in the White City of the fair visitors found clean public bathrooms, pure water, an ambulance service, electric streetlights" (3.4.1). Visitors take delight in the nighttime spectacle, where illuminations are some people's first encounter with electricity. One such visitor is the writer L. Frank Baum, and the sight would inspire his own magical city in Oz.

Two days before the fair's closure, Chicago's beloved Mayor Carter Harrison, a champion of the working class and labor unions, is assassinated by a crazed Patrick Prendergast. The Closing Ceremony is cancelled and the fair's final day becomes a large funeral procession. The fairgrounds are illuminated at night for one final time, and then the fair is over. Soon the first planned fires occur and destroy several structures, transforming the once vibrant fair into a landscape of "twisted and blackened steel" (3.22.3).

Sherlock-ing Holmes

Speaking of "twisted," let's get back to Holmes. It's not until much later in 1894 that people finally start to wonder what happened to the women who went to the fair but were never heard from again. Perhaps they found their way to Holmes' Castle? That's what one of Philadelphia's top detectives Frank Geyer sets out to discover.

Geyer's contacted by Carrie Pitezel, the wife of Holmes' most trusted associate, Benjamin Pitezel. She believes Holmes killed her husband for his life insurance money, and now three of her children, last seen in Holmes' care, have gone missing.

By this time, Holmes is in custody, arrested for insurance fraud. After a wild goose chase that leads Geyer all over the Midwest, the detective sadly produces the bodies of the three Pitezel children. Holmes is found guilty for the murder of Pitezel, and he's sentenced to death by hanging (ironically, the electric chair made its debut at the Chicago fair).

After Holmes is gone, some weird stuff happens that makes us wonder if Holmes really was the devil: Geyer becomes seriously ill, the jury foreman is electrocuted in a freak accident, and a fire destroys the district attorney's office burns to the ground—leaving only a photograph of Holmes unscathed.

Ugh, that's creepy.

But let's end on a positive note. The 1893 Chicago World's Fair had a powerful and lasting impact on the nation. Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom was a descendant—Walt's father Elias worked on the White City. And if it weren't for the fair, we wouldn't have cool inventions like Shredded Wheat cereal, Wrigley's chewing gum, and zippers. Even Washington D.C.'s Lincoln Memorial can trace its architectural heritage to the fair.

So although it was only here for a brief period of time, the dream the White City offered Americans was the fair's greatest impact of all.

  • Prologue

    Aboard the Olympic

    • It's April 14, 1912, and Daniel Hudson Burnham and his wife Margaret are sailing to Europe aboard the R.M.S. Olympic.
    • By this time, Burnham has become a household name. He's famous for being the architect who designed impressive buildings in major cities throughout the world.
    • But most importantly, he's the guy who designed perhaps the greatest event in history: the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.
    • He learns that the Olympic's twin ship sailing in the opposite direction has struck an iceberg. Aboard the ship is his friend Francis Millet.
    • Burnham reminisces how the two were brought together by the Chicago fair, known formally as World's Columbian Exposition (to commemorate the four hundredth anniversary of Columbus' discovery of America)—and informally known as the White City.
    • The 1893 fair had lasted only six months but recorded 27.5 million visits during a time when the country's total population was 65 million.
    • The fair takes over one square mile on the western border of the city and fills more than two hundred elaborately designed buildings.
    • Visitors experience things for the first time, from lightbulbs to Cracker Jacks, and whole villages are imported from exotic parts of the world.
    • "Everything about the fair was exotic and, above all, immense." (Prologue.8)
    • Never before have so many famous people been gathered in one place: Buffalo Bill, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, Nikola Tesla, and Theodore Roosevelt—to name a few.
    • But at the same time that good things are happening in the White City, some very bad things are happening outside.
    • Burnham would later learn of the murderer who had moved among the beautiful things he had created.
    • He would also learn of the letters describing daughters who had come to the city and then "fallen silent" (Prologue.9) and the man, who went by the alias Dr. H. H. Holmes and described himself as the Devil.
    • Fasten your seatbelts Shmoopers, it's going to be a creepy ride.
    • But for now, back on the ship, Burnham thinks about his friend Millet, one of the few builders of the fair still alive. The Olympic is at that moment speeding north to help out the sinking ship.
    • That night, Burnham cannot stop thinking about the fair.
  • Part I, Chapter 1

    The Black City

    • Part I is called "Frozen Music," which is eerie.
    • Even eerier? The beginning of this chapter informs us that it's the 1890's, and Chicago is filled with death. Great.
    • In fact, the first six months of 1892 see nearly eight hundred violent deaths. "Four a day. Most were prosaic, arising from robbery, argument, or sexual jealousy" (1.1.3).
    • Jack the Ripper over in London had captivated the nation's attention, but Americans don't believe such a thing could happen here.
    • Enter: Dr. H. H. Holmes, a young and handsome doctor. And a real ladies' man.
    • Upon arriving in Chicago, he immediately likes the smell of butchered cattle and pigs. Yeah, that's normal.
  • Part I, Chapter 2

    "The Trouble Is Just Begun"

    • On the morning of February 24, 1890, Chicago is full of pride. Why? The city is waiting to learn if it has won the bid to host a global exposition.
    • By this time, Chicago's population is over one million, making it the second most populated American city after New York.
    • Winning the bid means Chicago can shake off the perception that it's nothing but a "greedy, hog-slaughtering backwater" (1.2.2). However, failure to get the bid means national humiliation.
    • All of Chicago's leading men talk such big talk about winning the bid for the fair. In fact, it's this big talk, and not the actual wind, that prompts New York editor Charles Anderson Dana to nickname Chicago "the Windy City" (1.2.2).
    • The city has such immense confidence in itself that the nation soon begins to ask, why not Chicago?
    • A committee comprised of over two hundred of Chicago's most prominent men report, "The men who have helped build Chicago want the fair, and having a just and well-sustained claim, they intend to have it" (1.2.12).
    • In case you're wondering, Chicago wins the fair. Yay, Chicago.
    • But the New York competitors who wanted the fair offer a warning: Chicago has no idea of the challenges that lie ahead.
    • One New Yorker told the Chicago Tribune: "Whatever you do is to be compared with [Paris]. If you equal it you have made a success. If you surpass it you will have had a triumph. If you fall below it you will be held responsible by the whole American people for having assumed what you are not equal to" (1.2.68).
    • The 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris had stunned the world, most notably for its grand entrance. You may have heard of it: the Eiffel Tower.
    • Chicago establishes the World's Columbian Exposition Company to finance and build the fair.
    • Daniel Burnham, famous by this time for creating some of Chicago's first skyscrapers teams up with his partner John Root. Together, they will be the lead designers. And together, they brace for what's about to happen.
    • "At this moment [he] saw the challenge in its two most fundamental dimensions, time and money, and these were stark enough" (1.2.72).
  • Part I, Chapter 3

    The Necessary Supply

    • Herman Webster Mudgett arrives in a South Chicago town called Englewood. He goes by the name H. H. Holmes.
    • Not going to lie, he's a pretty hot dude. "As he moved through the station, the glances of young women fell around him like wind-blown petals" (1.3.3).
    • Holmes dresses well and gives off the impression of being successful and rich. And he has stunning blue eyes.
    • Holmes enters a drugstore called Holton Drugs and speaks to an elderly Mrs. Holton.
    • He says he's a doctor and a licensed pharmacist and asks if she needs help in the store.
    • As it turns out, she confesses her husband in the apartment upstairs is dying of cancer. Managing him and the store has become a burden. So yeah, guess she could use the help.
    • Dr. Holton soon dies, and Holmes makes his widow a sweet offer: Holmes will buy the drugstore and she can continue living upstairs. Deal.
    • Word spreads that a young, handsome, and single doctor now stands behind the counter at the newly named H. H. Holmes Pharmacy. Women in their twenties begin to flock to the store in hordes.
    • But something odd also happens: Mrs. Holton hasn't been seen around town for quite some time.
    • Holmes explains she decided to visit family in California. As time goes on, Holmes modifies the story to say that she liked California so much, she decided to stay.
    • Hmm…
  • Part I, Chapter 4


    • Six months have passed since Chicago got the bid. And yet, the forty-five men on the exposition's board of directors still cannot seem to decide where to build the fair.
    • It's July 1890, and Opening day is scheduled for May 1, 1893. Time's a-ticking.
    • Enter: Frederick Law Olmsted, the "wizard of Central Park" (1.4.3).
    • One of the exposition board's directors, James Ellsworth persuades a very hesitant Olmsted to join the project.
    • "Ellsworth insisted that what Chicago had in mind was something far grander than even the Paris exposition. He described for Olmsted a vision of a dream city designed by America's greatest architects and covering an expanse at least one-third larger than the Paris fair" (1.4.7).
    • Ellsworth assures Olmsted that he'd be adding his name to one of the greatest artistic undertakings of the century, should he choose to help.
    • Sold. Olmsted agrees to join the venture.
    • Olmsted and his architect Henry Codman like Burnham instantly. Together they scour every square inch of Chicago to find the best place to put the fair.
    • Burnham is appointed chief of construction. He names his partner Root the fair's supervising architect and Olmsted the supervising landscape artist.
    • Burnham is all ready to begin building the fair.
    • But there's still no place to put it.
  • Part I, Chapter 5

    "Don't Be Afraid"

    • Holmes' Englewood pharmacy is a success. Especially among the ladies.
    • Holmes writes letters to a Myrta Belknap, whom he had met in Minneapolis one year earlier.
    • He asks Myrta to marry him and she moves to Chicago with Holmes.
    • They settle in the apartment above the pharmacy, the same one previously occupied by Mrs. Holton. Creepy.
    • Myrta helps run the drugstore, but she quickly becomes uncomfortable by the endless train of young women piling into the store.
    • Pregnant, she grows possessive of Holmes, which makes him only see her as an obstacle. He makes her stay upstairs to manage the store's books so she's out of the way. Aww, that's true love.
    • Meanwhile, Holmes sees an opportunity across the street at the intersection of 63rd and Wallace. He purchases the undeveloped land. He uses the name H. S. Campbell.
    • "The building's broad design and its function had come to him all at once, like a blueprint pulled from a drawer" (1.5.16).
    • Holmes wants retail shops on the first floor and apartments on the second and third floors. "It was the details of the building that gave him the most pleasure" (1.5.17).
    • Holmes begins construction immediately, employing different contractors to work on each room to allay any suspicions.
    • Not going to lie: Holmes is kind of mean and demanding to the contractors.
    • And he really doesn't trust anyone except Charles Chappell, Patrick Quinlan, and Benjamin Pitezel, whose name America would come to learn of six years later.
    • Meanwhile, back at the fair, the World's Columbian Exposition has (finally) found a place to put the fair.
    • To Holmes' delight, the site is Jackson Park, due east of his building.
    • Suddenly, he finds that he has a new idea to satisfy his needs. (Dun dun dunnnn.)
  • Part I, Chapter 6


    • Now that Burnham has a place to put the fair, the fair's hundreds of buildings can finally go up.
    • Burnham and Root need to quickly hire architects, but they find that nobody wants the job. Who wants to work on buildings that are only temporary?
    • Root is especially perplexed because "he [feels] that this was the greatest opportunity ever offered to his profession in this country" (1.6.38).
    • Burnham ultimately selects ten prominent architects to design the fair's major buildings, among them Louis Sullivan…who would later hire and then fire famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
    • Burnham assures the architects under his guise that "Chicago's fair, unlike any other before it, would be primarily a monument to architecture. It would awaken the nation to the power of architecture to conjure beauty from stone and steel" (1.6.21).
    • All ten architects Burnham hires are offered a formal commission of $10,000 each, or $300,000 in today's fun coupons.
  • Part I, Chapter 7

    A Hotel for the Fair

    • Holmes' wants to turn his building into a hotel for visitors to the fair. In other words, he plans to open the nation's first Airbnb.
    • He envisions his hotel being "just comfortable enough and cheap enough to lure a certain kind of clientele and convincing enough to justify a large fire insurance policy" (1.7.1).
    • Wait—why fire insurance? Well, he reveals that after the fair he intends to burn the building to the ground and collect the insurance. Plus, a fire will destroy any material left over from the building's hidden storage chambers (let's face it: he wants no evidence that could possibly incriminate him).
    • In the middle of all this crazy hotel planning, Myrta's rich great-uncle Jonathan Belknap decides to visit. Holmes convinces him to sign a check for $2,500 (well that was easy).
    • Belknap thinks Holmes is charming and gracious, but he also finds there's something about the dude just doesn't sit right with him.
    • Holmes asks Belknap to sign a second check, but this time he says no.
    • Holmes invites Belknap to visit his hotel so he can show him the roof. Belknap politely declines this tempting offer (he's pretty convinced Holmes has other plans for him).
    • Belknap sleeps in the hotel, and some pretty weird stuff happens to him in the middle of the night, including someone slipping a key into the door lock.
    • Soon afterwards, he discovers that Holmes has forged his signature on a second check for $2,500. Yup, Holmes definitely didn't plan to take Belknap to the roof to show him the views.
    • Soon after, Holmes has a kiln installed in the basement, a cellar with "the look of a mine, the smell of a surgeon's suite" (1.7.33).
    • Brr. That's creepy.
  • Part I, Chapter 8

    The Landscape of Regret

    • Burnham and Root arrive on the scene at Jackson Park. The shocked gazes of the architects say everything.
    • Jackson Park is one square mile of treeless desolation. There's definitely not much to look at, and soil conditions are terrible.
    • The men have twenty-seven months to perfect the landscape and install exhibits.
    • Deep breaths, guys: you can do this.
  • Part I, Chapter 9

    Vanishing Point

    • Icilius "Ned" Conner, his wife Julia, and their daughter Pearl move into Holmes' apartment.
    • Ned works at the jewelry counter in Holmes' drugstore and he admires his employer for his "Chicago spirit" (1.9.2). But things soon change.
    • Holmes offers to employ Julia and Ned's eighteen-year-old sister Gertrude.
    • Yeah, Ned doesn't really like how Holmes is so into Julia and Gertrude.
    • Women drawn to the drugstore come to flirt with Holmes, and they seem to ignore Ned. Poor Ned.
  • Part I, Chapter 10


    • Burnham and the architects choose a style: neoclassical. This means that the buildings will have "columns and pediments and evoke the glories of ancient Rome" (1.10.13).
    • During this time, however, Root becomes ill and is diagnosed with pneumonia.
    • The architects continue to work on the fair but Burnham takes leave to stay with Root.
    • At Root's bedside, Burnham finds that his partner is experiencing strange dreams about flying through the air.
    • Burnham steps out to check on Root's wife, and Root passes away moments later.
    • Root's death shocks Burnham and all of Chicago, for the two had been friends and partners for eighteen years and were responsible for over twenty buildings on Chicago's Loop.
    • Does Root's death also mean the death of the exposition?
    • Burnham does consider quitting the fair for a quick second. After all, the challenges ahead seem more daunting than ever without Root.
    • There's labor and union unrest, as well as constant threats of fire, weather, and disease.
    • But Burnham remembers that he had propelled his firm to greater and greater achievement and he is the engine driving the fair.
    • He'll complete the fair, and it'll be unlike anything the world has ever seen before.
  • Part II, Chapter 1


    • Part II is called "An Awful Fight," just to give you a sense of how things will be going in this second chunk. (Hint: not great.)
    • Burnham and the other architects meet with the Grounds and Buildings Committee to present drawings of the fair's main structures.
    • The Administration Building is meant to be the most important, serving as a portal where visitors will enter a whole new world.
    • The Liberal Arts Building will be the largest building, with enough steel to complete two Brooklyn Bridges.
    • Other structures include the fair's Grand Court, Transportation Building, and Music Hall.
    • Olmsted walks away from the meeting feeling like the vision of the fair had become too "sober and monumental" (2.1.14). He wants it to be fun and suggests ways to enliven the grounds.
    • He conceives the fair's Wooden Island, a plot of land on the central lagoon that will serve as the fair's centerpiece.
    • Meanwhile, beyond the fairgrounds, Chicago is swept up in its own turmoil: an impending financial crisis, threats of union uprisings, and murderous killing sprees.
  • Part II, Chapter 2


    • Back at the Holmes "castle"—as it's become known in the neighborhood—Ned's eighteen-year-old sister Gertrude cries and announces that she can't stay in the hotel anymore.
    • Ned also notices she can't even look at Holmes.
    • Gertrude leaves for Iowa, becomes ill, and passes away shortly after. Weird.
    • Anyway, with Gertrude gone, tension between Ned and Julia increases. It's now pretty obvious that Julia's really into Holmes.
    • To allay suspicions, Holmes offers to sell Ned the entire pharmacy. Ned thinks he's getting a generous offer, but it's really Holmes who profits from the deal.
    • Creditors frequent the pharmacy and Ned learns that Holmes has not paid it off.
    • With the paperwork signed, it's Ned who must assume the accumulated debt. Nice going, Holmes.
    • Ned is pretty fed up at this point and tells Holmes he can keep the pharmacy because he's leaving.
    • Julia and Pearl stay with Holmes.
    • Julia's divorce from Ned becomes final, but then Holmes quickly loses interest in her.
    • He says they'll marry, but he's secretly disgusted with the idea.
  • Part II, Chapter 3


    • Back at Jackson Park, Burnham and the architects only have seven months left (roughly the amount of time it takes today to build a new garage in a home).
    • Outside of the park, people are becoming excited.
    • Sol Bloom, a twenty-one-year-old entrepreneur from San Francisco, sees the fair as an opportunity to display a village he bought at the Paris Exposition two years earlier. Yes folks, the dude bought a village.
    • Burnham makes plans to increase the size of the police force, and creates the Columbian Guard to protect against any conceivable threats to the fair. He also creates a special fire department to be on the fair grounds at all times.
    • A few deaths occur during construction, but the biggest threat is the delay in construction.
    • The fair is way behind schedule, and a few parts of the plans are still undetermined.
  • Part II, Chapter 4

    Remains of the Day

    • Julia tells Holmes she's pregnant.
    • Holmes convinces her marriage comes first, then children. He persuades her to have an abortion and says he'll perform the operation himself.
    • On Christmas Eve, Julia tucks Pearl into bed. The neighbor Mrs. Crowe takes notes of how excited Pearl is for Christmas Day to arrive tomorrow.
    • Holmes smothers Julia with chloroform and does the same to Pearl.
    • The Crowes become suspicious when Julia and Pearl are not at Christmas the next day, and Holmes tells them they decided to visit friends. You know, spur-of-the-moment trip.
    • Holmes pays his associate Charles Chappell to deliver Julia and Pearl's bodies to science, as cadavers were in high demand and Holmes knows he can profit financially from such business.
  • Part II, Chapter 5

    A Gauntlet Dropped

    • The Eiffel Tower was a smashing success back at the Paris Exposition, and Burnham is frustrated by the absence of an Eiffel challenger.
    • Meanwhile, the fair's Midway Plaisance begins to take shape. This is the place where people would come to learn about foreign cultures.
    • It's designed to be a fun "great pleasure garden" (2.5.31), meant to thrill and shock with its exotic sights and sounds.
  • Part II, Chapter 6

    The Angel from Dwight

    • Holmes' assistant Benjamin Pitezel travels to Dwight, Illinois to seek the famous Keeley cure for alcoholism.
    • There he meets Emeline Cigrand, a beautiful young woman who works as a stenographer in Dr. Keeley's office.
    • Holmes writes to Cigrand and offers her a job as his personal secretary, doubling her salary.
    • She leaves Keeley immediately, and immediately Holmes "deployed his tools of seduction, his soothing voice and touch and frank blue gaze" (2.6.6).
    • Emeline becomes infatuated with Holmes, who claims he is the son of an English lord.
    • He asks to marry her and says that for their honeymoon they'll visit his father, the lord, in England.
  • Part II, Chapter 7

    Dedication Day

    • The first major deadline for Burnham is Dedication Day, scheduled for October 21, 1892.
    • Major figures all want a piece of Olmsted's island, including Theodore Roosevelt, then head of the U.S. Civil Service Commission. He wants the island to exhibit his hunting camp, but others want it for exotic villages.
    • The fair's official director of color, William Pretyman, is unable to attend the meeting where Burnham decides to paint all the buildings white. Pretyman is pretty upset, but Burnham reassures him, "The decision is mine" (2.7.35).
    • The executive committee names Burnham director of works, or basically chief of everything.
    • Burnham is just about ready to give up on surpassing Eiffel's tower when a young steel engineer figures he can rise to the challenge.
    • The Ways and Means Committee at first says yes to his proposal, but then quickly changes their minds. Too risky.
    • Dedication Day comes and goes, complete with a parade and endless speeches.
    • Unfortunately for Burnham, many of the buildings are still incomplete.
  • Part II, Chapter 8


    • Carter Harrison, champion of the working class and labor unions, loses his fifth term in the 1891 mayoral election.
    • Joseph Prendergast, Irish immigrant and avid mayor Harrison supporter, writes hundreds of postcards to important Chicago city figures.
    • He's a bit of a loony and thinks people are actually going to listen to his crazed rants.
    • One such recipient of Predergast's postcards is Alfred S. Trude, the city's best criminal defense attorneys.
    • For whatever reason, Trude keeps the postcard.
  • Part II, Chapter 9

    "I Want You at Once"

    • The young engineer whose proposal was declined by the Ways and Means Committee tries once again.
    • This time, he succeeds.
    • His structure will be a great wheel, able to propel over two thousand people through the air at one time. It'll also be taller than the then six-year-old Statue of Liberty.
    • The man's name is George Washington Gale Ferris. Can you guess what his idea is?
  • Part II, Chapter 10

    Chappell Redux

    • Back at the Holmes castle, Emeline becomes disenchanted. She no longer sees the place as one of architectural nobility. In fact, she sees it as drab and worn.
    • She announces to her apartment neighbors that she'll be leaving to spend Christmas with her family in Indiana. She hints that something has changed between her and Holmes.
    • When neighbors don't see Emeline for a while, they confront Holmes. He claims that she had a secret wedding while she was back home and decided to stay. He even shows a false wedding invitation to prove it.
    • The neighbors remain suspicious, as do Emeline's family members, who stop hearing from her.
    • Years later, a footprint etched into the enamel of Holmes' vault door will be found. It'll reveal that a woman, Emeline, suffocated in the airtight room. Yikes.
  • Part II, Chapter 11

    "The Cold-Blooded Fact"

    • Four months to go until the fair's Opening Day, and the extreme Chicago cold increases risk of fire.
    • Ferris begins construction of his wheel on the frozen ground.
    • Harry Codman, Olmsted's protégé, dies of appendicitis.
    • Olmsted asks a former assistant, Charles Eliot, to help. Together, they create the newly renamed firm Olmsted, Olmsted & Eliot.
    • Olmsted is especially worried that the exposition might turn out to be a complete failure. Time is short and the blizzardy weather is terrible.
  • Part II, Chapter 12

    Acquiring Minnie

    • With Emeline gone and "neatly disposed of" (2.12.1), Holmes focuses on his multiple business ventures.
    • He owns a company that duplicates documents, sells mail-order ointments, and collects rent from his properties. Oh, and he murders people.
    • Holmes prepares to receive his first world's fair guests.
    • Letters from parents of missing daughters arrive and private detectives also begin showing up at his door. However, not a single person believes Holmes has anything to do with these disappearances.
    • In March 1893, Holmes decides he needs a new secretary.
    • Enter: Minnie R. Williams.
    • Holmes had met Minnie years prior in Boston under the alias Henry Gordon. The two have kept in touch since.
    • Minnie announces she's moving to Chicago, and smug Holmes thinks it's because of him.
    • Holmes suggests she come work for him. He also pops the question, and Minnie's sister Anna says, basically, wait a minute. This is moving too fast.
    • Holmes has an agenda. He persuades Minnie to transfer the deed of her dead uncle's Texas property to a man named Alexander Bond, an alias for Holmes himself.
    • Minnie also doesn't know that Holmes is legally married to two other women, Clara Lovering and Myrta Belknap. And he has two children.
    • Holmes and Minnie wed secretly, but there's no record of their marriage in the registry of Cook County, Illinois.
    • Here we go again.
  • Part II, Chapter 13

    Dreadful Things Done by Girls

    • Trains with people and goods that will be on display at the fair zoom into Chicago.
    • Among such cargo are German weapons, Buffalo Bill and his Wild West show, sphinxes, mummies, and ostriches.
    • There's even a Moorish palace, an entire Algerian village, and the exotic Egyptian dancer Farida Mazhar.
    • Former mayor Carter Harrison kicks off his campaign for mayor and seems to be in the lead.
    • Prendergast continues writing his postcards with a simple understanding: if he helps Harrison win, he'll be rewarded with an appointment to corporation counsel.
    • Of course, Harrison doesn't even know Prendergast exists.
    • Harrison is elected mayor in April 1893.
  • Part II, Chapter 14

    The Invitation

    • Holmes invites Minnie's sister Anna to his home to allay suspicions that he's swindled Minnie out of her inheritance.
    • He suggests they all go to the world's fair, at his expense.
    • The offer is too great for Anna to refuse.
  • Part II, Chapter 15

    Final Preparations

    • In April 1893, the weather finally clears up, but other problems loom.
    • The Ferris Wheel is nowhere near complete and painters work hastily to finish coating the city in white. These guys become known as the "Whitewash Gang" (2.15.1).
    • Despite the work that remains in the final months, Burnham is optimistic.
    • He negotiates union contracts to prevent labor strikes, a breakthrough for organized labor at the time.
    • Olmsted, by contrast, is worried. There is far too much work to complete before the May 1st Opening Day. And the rains that plague the grounds three days before the grand opening make him uneasy.
    • The night before the big celebration, a British reporter named F. Herbert Stead visits the fairgrounds. There he finds "gross incompleteness" (2.15.47), litter and debris clotting the grounds.
    • That same night, editors of newspapers prepare headlines. This will be the most covered event in the city since the Chicago Fire of 1871.
  • Part III, Chapter 1

    Opening Day

    • Part III is called "In The White City." Let the fair commence!
    • Two hundred thousand Chicagoans line the procession along Michigan Avenue towards Jackson Park.
    • The parade passes the villages at the Midway and the "woefully incomplete" (3.1.2) Ferris Wheel.
    • The frozen grounds seem to have melted overnight, and the debris that Stead noted twelve hours prior has been cleared away.
    • "When the Fair opened," one of Burnham's men later states, "Olmsted's lawns were the first amazement" (3.1.5).
    • President Grover Cleveland delivers a short speech, people sing My Country ’Tis of Thee, and a woman in the crowd realizes her purse is gone.
    • And thus, "the great fair had begun" (3.1.13).
    • While much work lay ahead for Burnham and his architects, including finishing the wheel, success of the exposition seems secured. Finally.
    • A friend tells Burnham, "The scene burst on me with the beauty of a full-blown rose" (3.1.14).
    • An estimated 500,000 people attend the Park on Opening Day.
    • But the optimism only lasts a day.
    • The following day, only 10,000 people come to Jackson Park.
    • The fair's committee predicts that if this attendance rate continues, the fair will be a financial failure.
    • Meanwhile, the nation's economic failure is imminent. Banks are failing, and people who otherwise may have traveled to the fair now stay at home.
    • "The terrifying economy was discouraging enough, but so too were reports of the unfinished character of the fair" (3.1.17).
    • People really want to see this Ferris Wheel, so as long as it remains incomplete, people aren't budging.
  • Part III, Chapter 2

    The World’s Fair Hotel

    • Guests begin arriving at Holmes' World's Fair Hotel. Most are young women, "apparently unused to living alone" (3.2.1). Holmes finds them intoxicating.
    • Minnie Williams becomes jealous, and Holmes finds her inconvenient. "Minnie was an asset now, an acquisition to be warehoused until needed, like cocooned prey" (3.2.1).
    • Holmes buys Minnie a flat far enough away from his hotel that he can keep her away, but also close enough so she doesn't feel like he's getting rid of her. Which he totally is.
    • The idea of a large, sunny flat appeals to Minnie, so she goes. Holmes feels he can finally enjoy his World's Fair Hotel.
    • The women in the hotel find the place bleak and dreary, especially at night. But Holmes' presence seems to always soothe their fears.
  • Part III, Chapter 3


    • After the election of Mayor Harrison to a fifth term, Prendergast believes his appointment as corporation counsel will be happening soon.
    • He continues writing his postcards.
  • Part III, Chapter 4

    Night Is the Magician

    • The fair provides visitors with a vision of what a city could be (and should be).
    • "The Black City to the north lay steeped in smoke and garbage, but here in the White City of the fair visitors found clean public bathrooms, pure water, an ambulance service, electric streetlights, and a sewage-processing system that yielded acres of manure for farmers" (3.4.1).
    • Visitors are delighted by live music and see the first moving pictures on Edison's Kinetoscope. They also see lightning chatter from Nikola Tesla's body.
    • Among other novelties at the fair are: an all-electric kitchen including an automatic dishwasher, Aunt Jemima's pancakes, zippers, Juicy Fruit gum, Cracker Jacks, Shredded Wheat, and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.
    • The fair is so big, the Columbian Guards find themselves being asked all sorts of questions, such as where the pope was staying (he wasn't actually there).
    • Visitors enjoyed the nighttime spectacle, where illuminations were some people's first encounter with electricity.
  • Part III, Chapter 5

    Modus Operandi

    • Here's where things get scary, so grab your lucky stuffed animal.
    • Women in Holmes' employment begin to disappear: first a waitress, then a stenographer. And the hotel constantly smells like chemicals and gas.
    • The police are never involved.
    • Unlike London's Jack the Ripper, Holmes doesn't kill face to face. "But he did like proximity" (3.5.4).
    • Holmes' vault stifles cries and pounding. He also fills rooms with gas while guests sleep, and slips into rooms to press chloroform-soaked rags to guests' faces.
    • "The choice was his, a measure of his power" (3.5.4).
    • He continues to send cadavers to Chappell, having decided long ago not to keep trophies of his kills.
    • Okay, we're done. You can stop squeezing Mr. Whiskers.
  • Part III, Chapter 6

    One Good Turn

    • Back at the fair, Ferris' wheel stands tall, but it's without its thirty-six passenger carriages.
    • The wheel is about to be tested for its first full rotation. Everyone is anxious.
    • The wheel is set in motion, but suddenly a "growl tore through the sky" and everyone at the fair stops and stares at the wheel.
    • Oops, looks like one engineer's just testing the brakes. All good here, folks.
    • The wheel takes twenty minutes for a single revolution, and it's a success.
    • Great: all they have to do now is test it with actual people inside.
  • Part III, Chapter 7


    • Minnie's sister Anna, also known as Nannie, arrives from Texas. Minnie introduces her to her husband Henry Gordon, whom she calls Harry.
    • Holmes plays his usual game, exuding warmth and charm. Anna's suspicions quickly recede.
    • The three travel to the fair where they see all sorts of glories and wonders.
    • Pitezel buys a souvenir for his son Howard: a tin man on a spinning top.
    • Holmes, Minnie, and Anna go to the fair nearly every day for two weeks, the minimum time needed to cover the fair adequately.
    • Unfortunately, the Ferris Wheel isn't yet ready.
    • Anna has such a great time, Holmes invites her to stay for the summer.
  • Part III, Chapter 8


    • Carriages pop up on the wheel one by one, and engineers get ready for the first revolution with passengers.
    • With one hundred people on board, the wheel completes a full twenty-minute rotation. It's truly a powerful experience. And you can't beat the views at the top.
    • "The entire park came into view as an intricate landscape of color, texture, and motion" (3.8.12).
  • Part III, Chapter 9

    Heathen Wanted

    • Olmsted and Burnham scratch their heads, wondering why the fair's attendance is so low.
    • They listen to what people have heard about the fair, finding that what visitors like best aren't the exhibits—but rather the buildings, waterways, and scenery.
    • Olmsted writes, "There is a rising tidal wave of enthusiasm over the land" (3.9.2).
    • He confides in Burnham that he thinks the fair should be more "fun." Perhaps this will help to draw more visitors?
    • Olmsted proposes "skipping and dancing masqueraders with tambourines" like the ones seen in Italy.
    • Meanwhile, on the other side of the park, a small fire occurs in the Cold Storage Building, a castle structure that served as an ice skating rink.
    • The building is a private venture, meaning Burnham had nothing to do with it beyond approve its design.
    • Burnham, usually a man of control, is not made aware the incident that has occurred.
    • The fire prompts insurance agents to take a closer look. They discover issues with the structure, warning that it will probably go up in smoke soon.
    • Anybody think to warn Burnham about this prediction? Not in the slightest.
  • Part III, Chapter 10

    At Last

    • Fifty-one days behind schedule, George Washington Gale Ferris officially opens his wheel.
    • Each carriage is full for every rotation, carrying a total of two thousand passengers.
  • Part III, Chapter 11

    Rising Wave

    • Much to Olmsted's delight, the Ferris Wheel draws people to the fair in hordes.
    • Attendance is up, and the trend is encouraging.
    • Famous people frequent the fair, and "one of the delights of the fair was never knowing who might turn up beside you" (3.11.18).
    • Archduke Francis Ferdinand roams the grounds in disguise, for instance.
    • Other famous figures include: escape artist Houdini, ragtime pianist Scott Joplin, and good ol' Teddy Roosevelt.
    • Helen Keller meets Frank Haven Hall, the inventor of plates for printing books in Braille.
    • The Ferris Wheel quickly becomes the most popular attraction at the exposition. Ferris himself profits, receiving today's equivalent of $400,000 per week.
    • Most importantly, the fair offers people an escape from the nation's financial turmoil.
    • People are sad that the fair can't last forever.
  • Part III, Chapter 12

    Independence Day

    • There's bad weather on the Fourth of July. But fireworks still illuminate the sky in a dazzling display of lights.
    • Holmes, Minnie, and Anna are in attendance.
    • Holmes promises to take Anna on a tour of his hotel the next day, and Anna is super-excited. Don't. Don't be excited, Anna.
  • Part III, Chapter 13


    • The novelty of the Ferris Wheel wears off, and fair attendance drops.
    • Bankers pressure the exposition's directors to create a Retrenchment Committee to reduce expenses.
    • Burnham knows that placing the future of the fair in the hands of bankers will surely lead to failure.
    • All the fair needs to do is sell one hundred thousand tickets per day. Easy, right? Not at all. It can barely sell seventy thousand.
    • "With the nation's economic depression growing ever more profound—banks failing, suicides multiplying—it seemed an impossibility" (3.13.6).
  • Part III, Chapter 14


    • Holmes shows Anna around the hotel, and she's impressed.
    • He asks her if she wouldn't mind going into his walk-in vault to retrieve a document for him. Nothing spooky about that, right?
    • Cheerfully, she complies. Quickly, Holmes follows.
    • The door closes, but Anna think's it's an accident. She pounds on the door. Nothing.
    • Alone inside the dark room, Anna finds the air getting thinner.
    • "The panic came, as it always did" (3.14.10).
    • Holmes listens to Anna's pleadings fade to silence.
    • He then goes to Minnie's apartment and tells her to come to the castle where Anna is waiting.
    • We can only imagine what happens next.
    • Holmes has a large trunk sent to Chappell, and delivers a collection of fine women's dresses to Pitezel's wife Carrie. He says they belonged to his cousin, Miss Minnie Williams.
  • Part III, Chapter 15

    Storm and Fire

    • On July 10th, smoke rises from the Cold Storage Building. It's the same one that had the earlier fire incident. You know, the one nobody told Burnham about.
    • The building's like a house where the chimney ends inside the attic, not on the roof. This is bad, very bad.
    • The fire department arrives on the scene.
    • Captain James Fitzpatrick enters the building with no idea that he's leading his team into a "lethal trap" (3.15.18).
    • The superheated building becomes explosive, and what happens next is horrific. Those at the top of the Ferris Wheel witness everything.
    • Flames erupt fifty feet below Fitzpatrick and his men.
    • Fireman John Davis leaps for a hose while others remain fixed.
    • Men tell each other goodbye and jump to their deaths.
    • The blaze kills twelve firemen, including Captain Fitzpatrick, and three fair workers.
    • The next day, attendance exceeds one hundred thousand.
    • To Burnham's shock, he's charged with criminal negligence.
    • Shortly thereafter, the Retrenchment Committee is established. It has unrestricted powers to cut costs.
  • Part III, Chapter 16


    • Holmes brings his new woman, Georgiana Yoke, to the fair.
    • He works his usual charm and asks her to marry him under the name Henry Mansfield Howard.
    • Mayor Harrison also believes he is in love. At sixty-eight, he sets his sights on twenty-something-year-old Annie Howard.
  • Part III, Chapter 17


    • The men of the fair's newly appointed Retrenchment Committee resign. The responsibility is too much.
    • The fair's closing in three months anyway, on October 30 (it was supposed to be October 31 but somebody forgot that October had 31 days).
    • Millet tries to promote a series of exotic events to boost attendance, including boat races in the basin of the Court of Honor, swim meets in the lagoon, and a big dance at the great Midway ball.
    • Millet succeeds. "The ball and Frank Millet's other inventions imparted to the exposition a wilder, happier air" (3.17.22).
  • Part III, Chapter 18


    • Prendergast grows impatient that Harrison still hasn't appointed him. He visits City Hall to see his future office.
    • Of course, the clerk has no idea who he is.
    • Prendergast asks to see the current counsel, Kraus.
    • Kraus, amused, introduces Prendergast to the men in the room as his "successor" and everyone smiles. They're not laughing with you, Prendergast, they're laughing at you.
    • Prendergast mistakes their smiles for acknowledgements that he will soon be in charge.
    • Kraus' error here is humoring Prendergast and intensifying his delusions.
  • Part III, Chapter 19

    Toward Triumph

    • Millet designates October 9, 1893 as Chicago Day.
    • Approximately seven hundred and fifty thousand people attend that day, exceeding the Paris record of just under four hundred thousand visitors.
    • In fact, more people attend Chicago Day at the fair than any single day of a peaceable event in history (prior to 1893).
    • Chicago Day attendance generates a surplus that eliminates the exposition's debt.
    • Now all Burnham has to do is prepare for the grand closing ceremony at the end of the month. Oh, and secure his place in architectural history as the best of the best.
  • Part III, Chapter 20


    • Like most park-goers, Burnham doesn't believe the park should be set aflame after the fair ends.
    • And yet, "no one could bear the idea of the White City lying empty and desolate" (3.20.5).
    • So was it better to vanish suddenly in flames than to lie abandoned?
    • As things draw to a close, Olmsted begins to sever his connection. At age seventy-one, the dude's got other stuff to do.
    • Louis Sullivan returns to his firm and fires a junior architect after he discovers the man has been using his free time to design homes for clients of his own. His name is Frank Lloyd Wright.
    • Thousands of construction workers leave the fair and return to a world without jobs.
    • Harrison puts them to work right away to keep the streets clean and dispel riots.
    • Holmes also senses it's time to leave Chicago. Plus, pressures grow from creditors and families of missing daughters.
    • He sets fire to the top of his castle, hoping to collect on his fire insurance. But it doesn't work.
    • An attorney named George B. Chamerlin of Chicago's Lafayette Collection Agency meets with Holmes, creditors, and other attorneys.
    • They deem Holmes owes at least $50,000.
    • Holmes gets a tip that creditors are leaning towards arrest. He flees.
    • He sets out for Fort Worth in Texas to take advantage of Minnie Williams' uncle's land. He goes with Pitezel and his fiancé Georgiana Yoke.
    • He also takes out a $10,000 life insurance policy to insure Pitezel’s life. Uh oh, that can't be good for Pitezel.
  • Part III, Chapter 21


    • With time to visit the fair running out, more and more people attend in the final days.
    • Mayor Harrison's big moment, American Cities Day, comes on Saturday October 28. Five thousand mayors and city council men from across the nation attend.
    • Harrison praises the exposition in his speech. "These buildings, this hall, this dream of poets of centuries is the wild aspiration of crazy architects alone" (3.21.6).
    • Meanwhile, Prendergast cannot stand the wait any longer.
    • He decides it's time to take action, so he loads five bullets into his six-chamber revolver.
    • Harrison returns home after the American Cities Day festivities and has dinner in his mansion with his children.
    • Prendergast arrives at the mansion, requesting to see Harrison (not an odd request by any means, as Harrison made himself accessible to the working population of Chicago).
    • Harrison's children hear a few gunshots and run downstairs to find Harrison on his back.
    • There's not a lot of blood but his heart stops moments later.
    • Prendergast hands himself over to the police station. "Lock me up; I am the man who shot the mayor" (3.21.28).
    • Prendergast claims Harrison betrayed his confidence and didn't live up to his word.
    • The Exposition Company cancels the closing ceremony and Jubilee March.
    • The day instead becomes a memorial for Harrison, taking place in the fair’s Festival Hall. A grand procession throughout the city follows.
    • And with that, the fair is over.
    • The fairgrounds are illuminated at night for one final time.
  • Part III, Chapter 22

    The Black City

    • The scene is desolate: the White City is abandoned, drifters take up residence on the grounds, and thousands are left unemployed.
    • "Heights of splendor, pride, exaltation in one month: depth of wretchedness, suffering, hunger, cold in the next" (3.22.1), writes one journalist.
    • Soon, the first planned fires occur and destroy several structures, transforming the once vibrant fair into a landscape of "twisted and blackened steel" (3.22.3).
    • The winter is especially cruel, with thousands of labor unions going on strike throughout the city. President Cleveland sends federal troops to Chicago to handle them mess.
    • Arsonists set fire to the former palaces of the exposition.
    • Burnham later writes, "There was no regret, rather a feeling of pleasure that the elements and not the wrecker should wipe out the spectacle of the Columbian season" (3.22.6).
    • It's not until much later in 1894 that people begin to wonder what ever happened to the women who went to the fair but were never heard from again.
    • Perhaps they found their way to Holmes' Castle?
    • Initially, the Chicago police have no answers.
    • After all, it was so easy to disappear in the time of the fair.
    • But soon the persistence of one detective reveals Holmes for who he really is.
  • Part IV, Chapter 1

    "Property of H. H. Holmes"

    • Part IV is called "Cruelty Revealed," so you just know it's going to be messed up.
    • Detective Frank Geyer is one of Philadelphia's top detectives. He knows murder well.
    • In June of 1895 Holmes is arrested for insurance fraud, but it's pretty obvious that he killed Pitezel to collect the insurance claim.
    • Geyer is hired by Pitezel's wife, Carrie, to find her missing children Alice, Nellie, and Howard—last seen in Holmes' custody.
    • Geyer begins his search by interviewing Holmes, who states the children are traveling around Europe with a woman named Minnie Williams.
    • Holmes admits to fraud, but doesn't admit to murdering Pitezel. He says he had a cadaver that looked identical to Pitezel and needed his fifteen-year-old daughter Alice to identify the body at the coroner's office so he could claim the insurance money.
    • Geyer is no fool. He knows Holmes is lying about the cadaver.
    • Geyer soon discovers that this is how things actually went down: Holmes killed Pitezel. He then persuaded Carrie to allow three of the children to travel with him.
    • Geyer, in possession of Alice's letters to her mother, re-traces the children's travels with Holmes. They are letters Holmes never sent and instead kept in a box marked "Property of H. H. Holmes."
    • Holmes likely assured Carrie that the children were happily enjoying their time in London under the care of Minnie Williams.
    • As Geyer travels from city to city, hotel to hotel, what he finds is unnerving.
    • Holmes made the children stay for a few days at a time in a hotel before moving to the next.
    • The children were miserable and wrote to their mother of their misery.
    • But guess where she was? At a hotel a few blocks away.
    • So while Carrie thought her children were in Europe, the children thought their mother was receiving their letters back home. In reality, both parties were just ten minutes away from each other.
    • It was a game for Holmes, Geyer realized. "He possessed them all and reveled in his possession" (4.1.60).
  • Part IV, Chapter 2

    Moyamensing Prison

    • Holmes is a model prisoner. "He made a game of using his charm to gain concessions from his keepers" (4.2.2).
    • By this time, Geyer has become a national sensation in his quest to find the Pitezel children and return them safely to their mother Carrie.
    • Holmes begins writing his memoir, and it reads like a fable. He also writes a letter to Carrie, assuring the woman the children are safe in London with Minnie.
  • Part IV, Chapter 3

    The Tenant

    • Geyer continues his search for the children, piecing together clues from their letters and testaments from witnesses who encountered Holmes. He was hard to forget.
    • Geyer receives a tip from a man claiming he lived next door to a residence Holmes briefly occupied.
    • Holmes had apparently asked him to borrow a shovel. To plant a vegetable garden, right? Wrong.
    • Geyer enters the property Holmes would have stayed in and dig around in the cellar. There he finds the bodies of two little girls.
    • To her own shock and horror, Carrie identifies the bodies as Alice and Nellie.
    • The coroner infers that the girls were suffocated.
    • Their brother Howard remains missing.
  • Part IV, Chapter 4

    A Lively Corpse

    • Holmes isn't supposed to see the article about the discovery of Alice and Nellie, for the district attorney was hoping to deliver the news in person in order to analyze Holmes' reaction.
    • But it's too late. Holmes has read of the discovery.
    • He's sitting at his table reading the news "as calmly as if reading about the weather" (4.4.2).
    • In his memoir, Holmes writes that the news did shock him. But it is Holmes…so who knows if this is even true.
  • Part IV, Chapter 5

    "All the Weary Days"

    • Geyer's instincts tell him that Holmes killed Howard in Indianapolis. Alice wrote in one of her letters around their time in Indianapolis that she missed him.
    • Meanwhile, back in Chicago, police enter Holmes' castle. What they find is shocking. You might want to grab your lucky stuffed animal again.
    • They find: airtight bedrooms with no windows, a walk-in vault, gas jets that pumped gas into rooms, a furnace with human bones, surgical tools, and a blood-stained dissection table. And more bones.
    • There's even an unmistakable imprint on the vault door: a woman’s bare foot.
    • The body of a child is found, identified not to be Howard but that of Pearl Conner.
    • Shortly thereafter, Holmes' castle goes up in flames. Arson is suspected. "His own dark dreamland, burned to the ground" (4.5.19).
    • Geyer learns that Holmes had a large woodstove installed in one of his Illinois residences. It's there that he finds the bones of a child. Howard.
    • And even more shocking is what they find alongside the remains: a tin man on a spinning top—Howard's favorite possession, his father's gift from the Chicago exhibition.
  • Part IV, Chapter 6

    Malice Aforethought

    • A Philadelphia grand jury votes to indict Holmes for the murders of Pitezel and his three children.
    • Holmes sticks to his claim that Minnie Williams and a mysterious Hatch had killed the children.
    • Holmes' memoir reaches newsstands, and it's full of fabrications.
    • Nobody can seem to understand how Holmes managed to escape any serious investigation by the Chicago police. Where's Law and Order when you need it?
    • The Chicago Times-Herald writes of Holmes, "He is a prodigy of wickedness, a human demon, a being so unthinkable that no novelist would dare to invent such a character" (4.6.6).
    • Ugh. Spooky.
  • Part V, Chapter 1

    The Fair

    • Part 5 is called "Epilogue: The Crossing."
    • Let's recap: the fair has a powerful and lasting impact on the nation.
    • Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom is a descendant (his father Elias worked on the White City) and L. Frank Baum models the Emerald City of Oz after it.
    • Inventions like Shredded Wheat cereal, zippers, and light bulbs take off.
    • Even Washington D.C.'s Lincoln Memorial can trace its architectural heritage to the fair.
    • "The fair's greatest impact lay in how it changed the way Americans perceived their cities and their architects" (5.1.2).
    • Burnham revels in his accomplishments, becoming the greatest architect in America.
    • He receives honorary degrees from Harvard and Yale, and goes on to complete other national works.
    • But he's getting older and by 1909 thinks that his time is coming to an end.
  • Part V, Chapter 2


    • At age seventy-three, Olmsted fears his dementia is getting worse. His son checks him into an asylum in Massachusetts, realizing at once that he designed the grounds.
    • "They didn't carry out my plan, confound them!" he later writes.
    • Olmsted dies shortly after in 1903.
    • The Ferris Wheel remains at the fair until 1894 when it's dismantled and reassembled in Chicago's North Side.
    • But it's not as cool anymore.
    • The wheel is reused for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904 and by 1906 it's completely gone.
    • Prendergast stands trial. He's prosecuted by Alfred S. Trude, the same man who had, by total coincidence, saved his crazed postcards from years earlier.
    • Prendergast is found guilty and sentenced to death.
  • Part V, Chapter 3


    • Holmes stands trial in the fall of 1895 for the murder of Benjamin Pitezel. The District Attorney brings thirty-five witnesses, but the judge rules that he can only present evidence tied directly to the Pitezel murder.
    • And with that, a rich volume of details on Holmes' murders is erased from history.
    • Holmes is found guilty and dubbed "the most dangerous man in the world" (5.3.7). Yeah, not the kind of superlative you want in your yearbook.
    • Holmes is sentenced to death by hanging. (Fun fact: the electric chair made its debut at the Chicago World's Fair.)
    • Awaiting execution, Holmes prepares a long confession. He admits to killing twenty-seven people.
    • He also lies in his confession, claiming he's changed physically and is beginning to look like the devil. Okay, dude.
    • Afraid science might steal his body after execution, he leaves behind strict instructions to refuse autopsy and seal his coffin with cement.
    • It's hard for the guards at the gallows to do the deed. He is, after all, a "charming killer" (5.3.13).
    • Holmes is executed May 7, 1896.
    • Shortly after, strange things happen to those he had come into contact with:
    • • Geyer becomes seriously ill
    • • The warden of Moyamensing prison commits suicide
    • • The jury foreman is electrocuted in a freak accident
    • • The priest who delivered Holmes' last rights is found dead on the church grounds
    • • Emeline Cigrand's father is burned in a boiler explosion
    • • And a fire destroys the district attorney's office, leaving only a photograph of Holmes unscathed
    • Maybe his claims of being the devil weren't that far-fetched?
  • Part V, Chapter 4

    Aboard the Olympic

    • Back to the future again. It's 1912 and we're aboard the Olympic.
    • Burnham waits to hear of Millet and his ship that struck the iceberg.
    • Burnham hopes his own ship will reach the site of the Titanic soon, and there he'll find Millet alive.
    • But news arrives that another ship has already reached it.
    • It isn't long before Burnham learns that Millet is dead, drowned along with the fair's Opening Day critic William Stead.
    • Alone, Burnham writes, "Frank Millet, whom I loved, was aboard her…thus cutting off my connection with one of the best fellows of the Fair" (5.4.5).
    • Burnham dies forty-seven days later.
    • He's buried in Chicago, close to the grave of his partner John Root.