The scene is 1893 Chicago and the city has been awarded the honor of hosting the next great World's Fair. The previous host, Paris, really set the bar by unveiling the wonder that is the Eiffel Tower. An architect and his team are expected to not only meet, but exceed the wonder brought to the stage by Paris. Oh, and they have little time and money to do so.
The book predominantly features two main characters: the architect Daniel Burnham who was famous for his work around the world at the time and also a little known con-man from New England named Herman Mudgett better know as H.H. Holmes. Each chapter jumps back and forth chronologically for the most part to each character as the 1893 Chicago World's Fair is getting ready to open and operate.
The book chronicles the killing spree of H.H. Holmes as he cons people out of money, property and their lives. The book gets in depth with his killing spree and cashing in of the benefactors he took life insurance out on. He was described as very handsome and charming and he reminded me of Ted Bundy in the way he approached his crimes. In his creepy hotel he built in a kiln, secret passage ways, pots of acid and much more. Due to its proximity to the fair many people stayed in his dark palace.
Burham was a man under immense pressure to essentially come up with a beautiful city that is built on sand with a limited timeframe. He manages to pull it off, but not without several hitches and acts of God getting in his way.
What Did I Learn?
1. For those of you that know your history, you'll know that the Ferris Wheel was introduced at this fair and was a smashing success. Can you imagine launching the Ferris Wheel to the masses when you aren't even sure that the steel will hold up to all of the weight. I really found this to be a fascinating story within a larger story.
2. The fairs were really a spectacle in the way that Epcot's Around the World section of Disney World is set up. It is meant to give you a small taste of what other cultures are like. The organizers even brought in full villages of people.
3. I had always heard that Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show was part of the fair itself, but that turned out to be untrue. In a genius use of guerilla marketing, Buffalo Bill rented out land next to the fair and sold out show after show taking advantage of the crowd.
4. I had always assumed that H.H. Holmes was an architect himself based on the fact that he designed his hotel. The truth is he was a medical doctor and pharmacist. When designed the hotel he hired many crews to one particular job and rarely paid them all that they were owed. No one outside of Holmes had any real idea the secrets his building held.
About the Author
Andy Rupert is a Penn State (B.A. John Curley Center for Sports Journalism 08') and a Southern Miss (M.S. Sport Management 09'). He has spent his whole career working in sports and tourism digital marketing and metrics.