Excerpt from The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Devil in the White City

Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

by Erik Larson

The Devil in the White City
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Feb 2003, 447 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2004, 464 pages

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


This was Chicago, on the eve of the greatest fair in history.




Opening Day

Cleveland, immense in black, paused a moment in sober examination of the crowd before him. Nearby stood a table draped in an American flag, on top of which lay a blue and red velvet pillow supporting a telegraph key made of gold.

Every bit of terrace, lawn, and railing in the Court of Honor was occupied, the men in black and gray, many of the women in gowns of extravagant hues—violet, scarlet, emerald—and wearing hats with ribbons, sprigs, and feathers. A tall man in a huge white hat and a white buckskin coat heavily trimmed in silver stood a full head above the men around him: Buffalo Bill. Women watched him. Sunlight fell between tufts of fast-shredding cloud and lit the white Panamas that flecked the audience. From the president' s vantage point the scene was festive and crisp, but at ground level there was water and mud and the mucid sucking that accompanied any shift in position. The only human form with dry feet was that of Daniel Chester French' s Statue of the Republic—Big Mary—which stood hidden under a silo of canvas.

Cleveland' s speech was the shortest of all. As he concluded, he moved to the flag-draped table. "As by a touch the machinery that gives light to this vast Exposition is set in motion," he said, "so at the same instant let our hopes and aspirations awaken forces which in all time to come shall influence the welfare, the dignity, and the freedom of mankind."

At precisely 12:08 he touched the gold key. A roar radiated outward as successive strata of the crowd learned that the key had been pressed. Workmen on rooftops immediately signaled to peers stationed throughout the park and to sailors aboard the warship Michigan anchored in the lake. The key closed an electric circuit that activated the Electro-Automatic Engine Stop and Starter attached to the giant three-thousand-horsepower Allis steam engine at the Machinery Building. The starter' s silver-plated gong rang, a sprocket turned, a valve opened, and the engine whooshed to life on exquisitely machined shafts and bearings. Immediately thirty other engines in the building began to thrum. At the fair' s waterworks three huge Worthington pumps began stretching their shafts and pistons, like praying mantises shaking off the cold. Millions of gallons of water began surging through the fair' s mains. Engines everywhere took steam until the ground trembled. An American flag the size of a mainsail unfurled from the tallest flagpole in the Court of Honor, and immediately two more like-sized flags tumbled from flanking poles, one representing Spain, the other Columbus. Water pressurized by the Worthington pumps exploded from the MacMonnies Fountain and soared a hundred feet into the sky, casting a sheet rainbow across the sun and driving visitors to raise their umbrellas against the spray. Banners and flags and gonfalons suddenly bellied from every cornice, a huge red banner unscrolled along the full length of the Machinery Building, and the canvas slipped from Big Mary' s gold-leaf shoulders. Sunlight clattering from her skin caused men and women to shield their eyes. Two hundred white doves leaped for the sky. The guns of the Michigan fired. Steam whistles shrieked. Spontaneously the throng began to sing "My Country ' Tis of Thee," which many thought of as the national anthem although no song had yet received that designation. As the crowd thundered, a man eased up beside a thin, pale woman with a bent neck. In the next instant Jane Addams realized her purse was gone.

The great fair had begun.



A Hotel for the Fair

The manager followed Holmes to his second-floor office and there in the pleasant cross breeze from the corner windows studied Holmes' s drawings of his kiln. Holmes explained that he could not obtain "the necessary amount of heat." The manager asked to see the apparatus.

Excerpted from The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson Copyright© 2003 by Erik Larson. Excerpted by permission of Crown, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One-Month Free Membership

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Here I Am
    Here I Am
    by Jonathan Safran Foer
    With almost all the accoutrements of upper middle-class suburban life, Julia and Jacob Bloch fit the...
  • Book Jacket: Harmony
    Harmony
    by Carolyn Parkhurst
    In previous novels such as The Dogs of Babel and Lost and Found, Carolyn Parkhurst has shown herself...
  • Book Jacket: Commonwealth
    Commonwealth
    by Ann Patchett
    Opening Ann Patchett's novel Commonwealth about two semi-functional mid-late 20th Century ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Darling Days
    by iO Tillett Wright

    A devastatingly powerful memoir of one young woman's extraordinary coming of age.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Tea Planter's Wife
    by Dinah Jefferies

    An utterly engrossing, compulsive page-turner set in 1920s Ceylon.

    Read Member Reviews

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
Under the Udala Trees
by Chinelo Okparanta

Raw, emotionally intelligent and unflinchingly honest--a triumph.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Blood at the Root

Blood at the Root

"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

D C Y C Before T A H

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
X

Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!



Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.