by Erik Larson
I thought this to be a very impressive book. I'm in awe that Chicago was able to pull this tremendous project off in as short a time as they had and with so many disasters along the way. Just over 20 years since the great fire started by Miss O'Leary's cow leveled most the city, Chicago was rebuilt and ready to take on the task of building a world's fair. Remarkable. The descriptions of the conditions in Chicago during the 1890's made me shudder and thank the powers that be that I'm living in a more refined era.
I especially liked reading about the famous architects at the time who were involved with building the great Columbian Exposition of 1893. I developed a bit of hero worship for Danial Burnham and added a bit more to Fredrick Olmstead. I found myself wishing while in Chicago and back home that there would have been more buildings saved from a later fire. I wish we had taken more time to go in some of the buildings that survived. I wish I would have known that the rookery was still standing and that we had gone inside it.
Of course, I gluttoned myself with notes on the new inventions and first time appearances of certian items, such as Shredded Wheat, Cracker Jacks, , Aunt Jemima's pancake mix in a box, Juicy Fruit gum, the first motion pictures, a dishwasher, electric lights, the Kodak camera that took what became known as snapshots and Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer. The Pledge of Alligiance came about as a nation-wide way of honoring the fair. Let's don't forget the first ferris wheel.
Intertwined with this interesting, compelling story of the Exposition was the story of a man who used the situation of a bustling town that was focused on a big, important goal that required so much of the cities resources with a time in history when young woman were feeling freer about moving around unchaperoned. Enter the devil! Dr. Holmes was an enigmatic, plotting and sick socio-pathe who could charm women out of their lifes. His is a story of easy opportunity to feed his sickness and to go undetected for a long period of time.
I started reading this book in June the week before our vacation with hopes of finishing before we left. That's not how it happened. That last week was hectic and there was little time for reading. So I renewed the book for the library with every intention of calling in and renewing it every 2 weeks from wherever we were. I found our days filled to the brim so that I was reading 4-5 pages a day. The book was too heavy to carry around in my tote, so I traded for a smaller paperback 'Shadow on the Rocks' to carry around with me and put Devil in the White City on temp duty in the back of the car. When we arrived home, the basement was being torn apart, we had to find places for the furniture being stored in our living room and dining room. We had to dig up the sewer and repair it. In case you hadn't heard, our basement sewer backed up while we were on vacation. Family moved all the furniture and boxes of stuff to the carport and upstairs rooms. We were ready to start fixing up (Candleman wants to do it himself, I want to hire it done so it is over sooner). My knight in shining armor, Candleman, has been sick with a flu bug for 5 days and nothing is happening. I did paint the back door and door frame and rehang the door. With all that and school starting and trying to keep the kitchen workable, I'd about decided not to finish Devil in the White City.
Enter the RIP Challenge and the Non-Fiction Five Challenge. I switched on of my choices for the NFF and added Devil AND I added Devil to the RIP. Double impetus to finish the last 300 pages. It worked. I finished it tonight! (6 renewals at the library and the book is still several days over due - but it goes back tomorrow.)
Anyone living in or near Chicago should definitely read this book. Those planning to visit should read and take notes so you can be sure to visit buildings that were in Chicago in 1893. All the rest of the country, at least, should read it. I am already planning a trip back to see a bit more of what I missed the first time. It will probably take many to satisfy that tickle I feel to know Chicago better. I was so surprised at the love I feel for Chicago in such a short visit. I attribute much of that to the trends set by Burnham and other builders - the magnificent mile and the public beachfront. Chicago has become one of my favorite big cities. The other is Quebec City.