Erik Larson's The Devil in thie White City, transports you back to a Chicago that I barely recognize. It is dirty, dangerous, unplanned, risky...He explores two stories, the construction of the turn-of-the-century World's Fair and the murderous spree of a man named Holmes.
For me, the story of the fair was fascinating - not so much for the serial killer aspect, but for its careful detailing of the challenge that building an amazing World's Fair presented to these early Chicagoans. It changed the way I walk down Michigan Ave. on my daily commute. Suddenly, I stop to notice each historical plaque - recognizing the names of the architects who havecome to life for me in the pages of this book.
I also learned some great trivia about Chicago. Did you know that:
- The Ferris Wheel was invented specifically for the Chicago World's Fair by an architect named Ferris who was trying to beat the Paris Fair that presented the Eiffel Tower?
- Walt Disney's father, Elias, helped build the White City - the nickname given to the buildings of the fair. Perhaps it inspired the Magic Kingdom?
- Products like Cracker Jack and Shredded Wheat were first introduced to visitors at the fair.
- Pabst Blue Ribbon is named as such because it garnered a blue ribbon at the fair.
- Frank Lloyd Wright, charmed by the fair's Japanese Temple, would soon be inspired to design Prairie architecture.
- The national holiday of Columbus Day was instigated by a publicity event intended to raise the number of visitors to the fair.
- The close of the fair was a memorial service to Mayor Harrison following his assassination.
- Writer L. Frank Baum visited the fair and its grandeur inspired the Emerald City in Oz.
- The new invention of electric lights graced the White City, further illuminating it against the grit and dust that usually marked the downtown of Chicago. For many visitors, it was the first time they could stroll through a well-lit neighborhood at night.
Beyond these smaller contributions, the fair proved how architecture could transform a plot of empty land to something bigger and grander and more spectacular than anyone ever dreamed. It was through the dreams and intellectual skills of men like Burnham and Sullivan and Root that the Chicago I know and love today was born.