The White City

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Oooh, how I’d love to see this if I lived a little closer – Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry had a special virtual simulation tour of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair on Dec. 5 and 6.

I became fascinated with that particular world’s fair several years ago after reading The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America (the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair was referred to as the White City, and also as the Columbian Exposition).  What a book!  You must read it if you haven’t – to use a cliche, it’s the gripping account of the construction of the world’s fair (yes, they really did construct an entire “white city” for it, along with the first Ferris Wheel, and much more).  It’s also the story of mega-creepy H. H. Holmes, who lured various women to the World’s Fair Hotel.  He designed the hotel with many secret chambers and even a chute straight to the basement (which contained a large oven, if that gives you any idea of how he disposed of some of his victims).

devil in the white cityIt’s the story of Daniel Burnham as well, a much more savory character than Holmes, who designed the fair. The book helps you experience just how far we’ve come in the past hundred years.  I remember numerous descriptions of Burnham suffering for months with toothaches, among other things.

It’s one of those books that stays with you long after you’ve read it, and it does make history fun.

Anticipating a trip to Chicago after I read it, I looked up the addresses of some spots mentioned in the book. Holmes’s hotel (mercifully) exists no longer, nor does much of the White City, but the Museum of Science and Industry is the one building that was kept and re-done from the fair – its magnificent classical architecture gives you an idea of how grand the fair must have looked.

Chicago Museum of Science and Industry

Wikimedia Photo Commons, © Jeremy Atherton, 2006.

The White City was along Lake Michigan, around the area now housing the Museum of Science and Industry.  Apparently Burnham went on to design much of downtown Chicago, and this exhibit celebrates the centennial of his design.

Do yourself or a reading friend a favor and get this for Christmas.  You won’t regret it …

1893 Chicago World's Fair, Columbian Exposition

1893 Chicago World's Fair, Columbian Exposition Ferris Wheel

5 thoughts on “The White City

  1. I’ll have to look for that book and wish I could go to the Museum too! My great-aunt had a souvinier dish from the Fair and some little black and white photos of she and her brothers at the fair! [Amazing what we remember from childhood…..]

  2. Why would I want to read about an unsavory character who was able to dispose of females in large ovens? I don’t think that’s the kind of thing I would enjoy reading.

    Why did they name it the White City? There must be something I don’t know about the fair.

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