|The White City - Chicago, 1893|
I travelled to
, my hometown, during the summer to continue my genealogical research. Stopping at the Chicago Chicago History Museum, I came across the book The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. It tells the story of the lead up to the Chicago 1893 Columbian Exposition (World’s Fair), and I thought it would give me additional insight into late 19th century Chicago.
Half the story deals with the preparations for the Exposition and the building of The White City (the fairgrounds), and the other half deals with
’s first serial killer, Dr. H. H. Holmes. America
Dr. Holmes built a large office and apartment complex about a mile from the site of the Exposition. Acting as both architect and general contractor, Holmes designed the building with shops on the first floor, rooms to let and offices on the 2nd and 3rd floors. The basement had a furnace that could withstand extremely high heat, as well as operating rooms. The upper floors had secret passages, stairwells that went nowhere, doors that didn’t open into anything, and windowless, soundproof rooms that could be rendered air-tight were also fitted with gas jets that could be manipulated from hidden viewing areas. His plan was to take advantage of the thousands of visitors to the city, lure them to what was to be called his Castle, where he would torture and dispatch select guests. Detailed itineraries were not common at that time – usually the most information left with loved ones is that they were going to
, with no additional information on accommodation or specific return date. This made it much easier for people to simply disappear, to the benefit of the Doctor. Talk about creepy scope… Chicago
The trick was to get the building completed without letting anybody in on the design. Holmes decided to take an interesting approach to communication – he just simply didn’t communicate.
The building’s plans were kept a secret. Workers were hired to build bits and pieces of the whole. Work crews were regularly fired and replaced – easy to do as there was a limitless supply of workers. Nobody really had a feel for the building as a whole.
The building was completed, and operated according to the original ghoulish plans. No one was the wiser, until – well, I won’t say. It is getting close to Halloween, and this book is a good read.
I should also point out that the other half of the book, the part that deals with the lead up to the Columbian Exposition, contains all sorts of examples of really bad project management. In keeping with the upcoming haunting season, pick up a copy and give it a read!