The year is 1893 and the ‘White City’ has just opened in Chicago. This latest World Fair was the most spectacular so far, the landscape of white buildings set amongst tranquil gardens and canals. The man behind this was Daniel H. Burnham and to get it built was a struggle. Not only was the land basically a swamp, but he had to play the political game, battle with egos and strong personalities, and faced a never-ending stream of issues with the workers. There were up to 10,000 workers on site at any one time and no one thought that it would be built on time.
Most of it was, and as well as the huge centrepiece, the water pool, there was an 80m high Ferris wheel that could take around 40 people per car, life-size reproductions of Christopher Columbus’ three ships, the worlds first travelator and Little Egypt where Americans first saw a belly dancer for the first time. Even Buffalo Bill set up his own Wild West Show alongside after he was refused a spot inside. At its very peak, the fair drew 750,000 in one day. The fair was a massive draw bringing around 27 million people to the city from all across America and the world. Lots of people set up business hoping to gain an income from the visitors. One place was the World Fair Hotel, constructed by a handsome young doctor called H. H. Holmes. He was a charming man, and as he walked around the fair he would attract the single girls who had come to Chicago to see the bright lights and persuade them to come back to his hotel.
But his place was not a regular hotel. It was much more sinister than that.
As well as the regular rooms he had managed to get parts of it built that were not what people thought they were. Cleverly using different contractors to only do a section of the room, but not the whole thing he had constructed in this building airtight rooms, a gas chamber and a crematorium. The young ladies that entered the doors of his establishment rarely left. He was a fraud and a charlatan too, swindling people out of large sums of money, not paying for goods, claiming to be a medical practitioner and trying to stay ahead of his creditors. Whilst the shenanigans about the building of the world fair was interesting, that is merely a sideshow to the story about Holmes that is compelling as it is creepy. He was a sinister man who seemed to get a thrill from murder. He confessed to 27, but the police could only find evidence for nine but there was speculation that he could have murdered many more than that. It is something that will never be known given the way that he disposed of the bodies. Would have liked the part about building the fair to be a bit shorter, but that said, it would have been a struggle to fill any more detail in about Holmes given how secret he was. If you like true crime books then this is worth reading.