The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City

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Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of The Devil in the White City published in 2004.
Part 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

How easy it was to disappear. A thousand trains a day entered or left Chicago. Many of these trains brought single young women who had never seen a city but now hoped to make one of the biggest and toughest their home.

Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

In this early quote, Larson establishes the setting of his story: Chicago—and, in a more abstract sense, the contemporary metropolis. In the late 19th century, big cities (cities with tall steel buildings, light-rail systems, etc.) were still something of a novelty in the United States. The vast majority of people in America had never lived in a town of more than a few thousand people. As a result, when people moved from a small town to a big city, they continued to behave as if they were in a smaller, closer-knit community.

The new environment of the American metropolis posed a threat to many people, especially women coming from small towns. Accustomed to being safe and protected, women weren't prepared for the murderers, sexual predators, etc. who inhabited places like Chicago—and from their own anonymity in such a huge, unwelcoming city. One such criminal, Holmes, will be the focal point of the book. 


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Part 1, Chapter 2 Quotes

So far the year had been a fine one. Chicago’s population had toppled one million for the first time, making the city the second most populous in the nation after New York.

Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Larson establishes the setting of the book: Chicago. At the time when the book begins, Chicago is still an up-and-coming city: big and industrial, but not as culturally prestigious as New York City. From the perspective of America at the time, size matters: the quote presupposes that the bigger a city grows, the more businessmen, artists, inventors, and entrepreneurs move there, and the more impressive the city becomes. But as we've already seen, it's more complicated than that: big cities may be culturally prestigious, but they're also more dangerous, especially for young women. The same demographic forces that led Chicago to become one of the greatest cities in the Western hemisphere also led Holmes, a brutal murderer, to get away with despicable crimes for many years.

Though Chicago was rapidly achieving recognition as an industrial and mercantile dynamo, its leading men felt keenly the slander from New York that their city had few cultural assets.

Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

By 21st century standards, it's hard to grasp that there was ever a point when Chicago was actively competing for the glory and recognition of other American cities. But in the late 19th century, Chicago was on the rise: there were plenty of businessmen who'd made the city wealthy, but it was missing a certain element of class and sophistication.

As the quotation suggests, cultural prestige—even though it's impossible to measure—mattered deeply to the leaders of Chicago. The desire for this prestige explains why Chicago's elite invested so much of their time and energy in the Chicago World's Fair: the Fair cemented Chicago's status as a national leader in matters of architecture, entertainment, and technology.

Part 1, Chapter 3 Quotes

He had dark hair and striking blue eyes, once likened to the eyes of a Mesmerist. “The eyes are very big and wide open,” a physician named John L. Capen later observed. “They are blue. Great murderers, like great men in other walks of activity, have blue eyes.”

Related Characters: H. H. Holmes
Related Symbols: Blue Eyes
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

Holmes's appearance isn't what one usually associates with murderers: he's calm, innocent, and friendly-looking. As the quote makes clear, Holmes's blue eyes and innocent appearance made him "great" at what he did—namely, murdering innocent people.

The quotation further suggests that Holmes was able to murder so may innocent people because his appearance deceived his victims into viewing him as a friend. Holmes was able to establish trust between himself and his patrons at the hotel. In this way, he managed to gain access to people's money, family, and property; and when he'd succeeded in doing so, he would murder again and move on to a new prospect.

The quote about Holmes's blue eyes also brings up a connection implicitly made by the novel itself—the similarities between Holmes and the men designing the World's Fair. "Greatness" here has nothing to do with morality, and everything to do with skill, intelligence, and success. Thus Holmes and Burnham are both "great men" in this sense, even if one is a serial killer and one a family man and famous architect.

Part 1, Chapter 4 Quotes

That Prendergast was a troubled young man was clear; that he might be dangerous seemed impossible. To anyone who met him, he appeared to be just another poor soul crushed by the din and filth of Chicago.

Related Characters: Patrick Prendergast
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we're introduced to a young man named Patrick Prendergast. Although we're not told so right away, Prendergast will go down as a legendary figure in Chicago history: he's the man who assassinated the mayor of the city at the end of the World's Fair.

For now, however, Prendergast is just another young, mentally-ill man living in Chicago. The quotation suggests that Patrick has been "crushed" by Chicago itself—in other words, the big city pressures people into committing horrible crimes, effectively creating new criminals. The passage is written from the perspective of the naive city-dwellers of the 1890s—people who are unfamiliar with political assassins, serial killers, etc. Effectively, Patrick isn't treated as a threat because there's no precedent for a city-dweller acting so murderously. Over the course of the book, however, Chicago will come to see how insane some of its residents have become.

Part 1, Chapter 5 Quotes

There were rules about courtship. Although no one set them down on paper, every young woman knew them and knew instantly when they were being broken. Holmes broke them all … it frightened [Myrta], but she found quickly that she liked the heat and the risk.

Related Characters: H. H. Holmes, Myrta Belknap
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

Holmes is a seductive man, and as the passage explains, he's seductive because he knows the unwritten rules of courtship in America, and then proceeds to break them. One of the basic rules of courtship between men and women is "no touching." Holmes breaks this rule constantly—but the women he flirts with seem to enjoy it.

One of the reasons that Holmes is such a fascinating figure is that he feels strangely modern to readers. While the other characters in the novel are overly trusting and formal in their behavior (i.e., they're basically 19th century people), Holmes is a 21st century man—at once more immediately understandable to modern readers, and also frighteningly impossible to understand. Holmes's violation of courtship rules is a great example of why he seems modern to us—while everyone else in the novel is caught up in old-fashioned rules, Holmes breaks the rules with ease. Holmes's behavior in the quote further ties him to Chicago itself: like Chicago, Holmes is hot, risky, and dangerous—and yet also completely alluring.

Part 1, Chapter 9 Quotes

The hair was sold for wigs, the clothing given to settlement houses. Like the Union Stock Yards, Chicago wasted nothing.

Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:

In the end of the 19th century in Chicago, people began to be murdered in alarmingly high numbers. The Chicago police were ill-quipped to track down the murderers, and as a result, many went free. The quote describes how the corpses of murder victims were treated: the hair of the corpses was converted into wigs, while the clothes were sent to settlement houses (reform institutions).

The quote is interesting because it focuses on the sociopathic nature of law enforcers and of society itself, not of the serial killers like H. H. Holmes. Although one would think that people would treat dead bodies with some respect, this is not the case: the bodies are converted into wigs. In general, then, the quote suggests that Chicago's problem at the end of the 19th century was far broader than individual serial killers: the city itself was losing its moral grounding as people became increasingly dehumanized. Ordinary people—cops, civilians, etc.—felt a new coldness and brutality toward one another.

Part 2, Chapter 1 Quotes

The dome was too much — not too tall to be built, simply too proud for its context. It would diminish Hunt’s building and in so doing diminish Hunt and disrupt the harmony of the other structures on the Grand Court.

Related Characters: Daniel Burnham, Richard Morris Hunt, George B. Post
Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:

As the architects of the Chicago World's Fair plan their designs, controversy inevitably breaks out. The planners of the World's Fair are a veritable who's who of the country's greatest designers and architects, and also a who's who of the country's biggest egos. As the Fair draws nearer, the architects, such as Hunt, Post, and Burnham, have to learn to work together. One example of how the architects must learn to cooperate comes in this quotation: Post has designed an enormous domed building that—in spite of its majesty—will distract from the other buildings and ruin the overall effect.

With every decision Burnham and his colleagues make, they have to ask themselves two questions: is this right for my building, and is it right for the World's Fair as a whole? Naturally, the first question comes much more naturally than the second, and in this case, Post has failed to ask the second question altogether. The most successful architects at the World's Fair learn to balance their desire for individual glory with their enthusiasm for the success of the Fair and the city as a whole.

The shared vision expressed in their drawings struck [Olmsted} as being too sober and monumental. After all, this was a world’s fair, and fairs should be fun.

Related Characters: Frederick Law Olmsted
Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:

As the designers of the World's Fair proceed with their plans, they bicker over the basic "look" of the Fair. Burnham proposes a style of architecture that favors big, white, neoclassical buildings, overflowing with pillars and domes. Olmsted, on the other hand, wants something lighter and more playful: he's afraid that big white buildings (the titular "white city") will discourage people from enjoying themselves.

Olmsted and Burnham's aesthetic differences say a lot about how they approach their respective careers. Olmsted, the chief designer of Central Park, favored a subtle style of design, whereas Burnham liked big, "heavy" buildings that drew attention to themselves with their majesty and seriousness. As the title of the book makes clear, Burnham won his quarrel with Olmsted: the Fair was white and monumental. Whatever one thinks of Olmsted's opinion, one thing is clear: in the clash of egos at the Fair, some major artists like Olmsted were silenced.

Part 2, Chapter 3 Quotes

At Jackson Park, aggravation was endemic. Simple matters, Burnham found, often became imbroglios. Even Olmsted had become an irritant. He was brilliant and charming, but once fixed on a thing, he was as unyielding as a slab of Joliet limestone.

Related Characters: Daniel Burnham, Frederick Law Olmsted
Page Number: 143
Explanation and Analysis:

Burnham, who's been placed in charge of the World's Fair, struggles to control the volatile group of architectural "prima donnas" on his board. One of these prima donnas is Frederick Law Olmsted. Olmsted has been a good friend to Burnham, yielding to Burnham's "vision" of the Fair. But there are also times when Olmsted refuses to back off from his point of view, and Burnham finds it exhausting trying to convince such a brilliant man as Olmsted of anything he doesn't already believe.

The quotation is important because it reminds us that Burnham, in spite of his vast architectural talent, isn't really on the board of the World's Fair to build buildings. Burnham is chosen to head the Fair because he's good at organizing and delegating other people. Burnham's job is to communicate an overall idea of how the Fair should look, then rely on his talented board members to carry out this idea in time for the 1893 Fair.

Part 2, Chapter 4 Quotes

Though sexual liaisons were common, society tolerated them only as long as their details remained secret. Packinghouse princes ran off with parlormaids and bank presidents seduced typewriters; when necessary, their attorneys arranged quiet solo voyages to Europe to the surgical suites of discreet but capable doctors. A public pregnancy without marriage meant disgrace and destitution. Holmes possessed Julia now as fully as if she were an antebellum slave, and he reveled in his possession.

Related Characters: H. H. Holmes, Julia Conner
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:

In the 19th century, having a baby outside of marriage was a truly shocking thing: it would ruin a woman's reputation for life. Women who'd had affairs that didn't end in marriage couldn't find employment, get married to someone else, etc. As the quotation explains, H. H. Holmes has struck up an affair with a young woman named Julia, and gotten her pregnant. Holmes knows full well that he now has complete control over Julia's actions, since he could ruin her life at any time by telling people about the affair or the pregnancy.

The quotation explains a lot about Holmes's psychology. Although Holmes seems to genuinely enjoy killing people, he gets the most pleasure from the sense of power he wields over women: he savors Julia's hopelessness and her desperation. Even more generally, though, the passage criticizes 19th century gender norms. It's important to remember that Holmes's reputation wouldn't be ruined if he were to disclose news of his affair; only Julia's. The gender biases of the era kept women dependent on men's discretion, not the other way around. One could even say that sexism is the real "villain" of this passage (and of the entire book) because it created vast numbers of desperate young victims for Holmes.

Part 2, Chapter 5 Quotes

If an engineer capable of besting Eiffel did not step forward soon, Burnham knew, there simply would not be enough time left to build anything worthy of the fair. Somehow [Burnham] needed to rouse the engineers of America.

Related Characters: Daniel Burnham
Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:

As Burnham proceeds with his designs for the Chicago World's Fair, it becomes clear that the Fair isn't going to serve its intended purpose: it's not going to put Chicago on the map to the extent that was hoped. The Fair is going to fail because it lacks a single truly impressive architectural marvel; something that can rival the achievement of Gustave Eiffel, the architect of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The quotation is important, then, because it reminds us what an international project the Chicago World's Fair really was: Chicago wasn't only trying to impress the elite of New York and Philadelphia; it was trying to assert American dominance in technology and engineering to Europe as well.

It's very revealing that when Burnham faces a crisis of creativity, he doesn't try to design anything himself. Burnham, in spite of his intelligence and talent as a designer, isn't really a creative force on the board of the World's Fair: his job is to encourage creativity in others.

Part 2, Chapter 7 Quotes

Unlike the majority of the audience, Monroe believed the poem to be rather a brilliant work, so much so that she had hired a printer to produce five thousand copies for sale to the public. She sold few and attributed the debacle to America’s fading love of poetry. That winter she burned the excess copies for fuel.

Related Characters: Harriet Monroe
Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:

One of the best parts about Larson's book is that he captures the failures of the World's Fair as well as the successes. Although there were some titanic talents working in Chicago in the 1890s, there were also plenty of mediocrities. One such mediocrity, Harriet Monroe, tried and failed to become a popular poet, publishing her work and then later burning the copies to keep herself warm.

When writing about a big historical event like the Chicago World's Fair, it's tempting to focus on the figures who attained the most success, such as Louis Sullivan or Burnham himself. Larson, however, gives a fuller view of Chicago at the time by writing about both the successes and the failure of the era. (And while Monroe's poem probably wasn't very good at all, there's a grain of truth in her remark that America no longer loves poetry—the sentiment seems to reflect the decline in public morals that is a central theme of Larson's book.)

Part 3, Chapter 1 Quotes

As a 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.

Related Characters: Jane Addams
Page Number: 239
Explanation and Analysis:

In this amusing scene, Jane Addams, the Nobel Prize-winning community organizer and founder of Hull House, gets her purse stolen by an anonymous onlooker at the World's Fair of 1893. The scene is interesting for a number of reasons. First, note the contrast between Addams's fame and the thief's anonymity: it's precisely this clash between high and low, famous and obscure, that Larson is trying to convey in his account of the Fair (and more particularly through his initial description of Addams herself as just another anonymous woman). More generally, though, the passage suggests that the Chicago World's Fair was an extension of life in Chicago, not an escape from it: i.e., the World's Fair was messy, dirty, unpredictable, and crime-ridden. Finally, the passage foreshadows the murders committed by H. H. Holmes during the time of the Fair: like the pickpocket, Holmes would take advantage of the disorder and anonymity of the Fair, committing crimes that he knew the Chicago police would never get around to solving.

Part 3, Chapter 2 Quotes

As best anyone could tell, the owner also was a forgiving soul. [Holmes] did not seem at all concerned when now and then a guest checked out without advance notice, leaving her bills unpaid. That he often smelled vaguely of chemicals — that in fact the building as a whole often had a medicinal odor — bothered no one. He was, after all, a physician, and his building had a pharmacy on the ground floor.

Related Characters: H. H. Holmes
Page Number: 245
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Larson writes about Holmes ironically: he shows Holmes as he seemed to his unsuspecting guests, who had no idea that a serial killer was renting out rooms. From the reader's perspective, it's pretty obvious that Holmes is a devious man: his chemical smell, his willingness to rent to young women, and his guests who mysteriously disappear are all suspicious signs.

In general, the passage conveys how bizarre and unprecedented Holmes's murders were in 1893. Murder is always tragic, but in the 21st century there's at least some precedent for serial killers in the U.S.A. In 1893, Holmes was (or at least seemed to be) one of a kind: so bloodthirsty that his victims literally couldn't conceive of the crimes he committed.

Part 3, Chapter 11 Quotes

Visitors wore their best clothes, as if going to church, and were surprisingly well behaved. In six months of the fair the Columbian Guard made only 2,929 arrests.

Page Number: 283
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Larson notes that at the Chicago World's Fair, people were unusually well-behaved. For visitors, the Fair wasn't just a time for festivity: it was a near-religious experience, during which they'd be privileged enough to see the height of engineering, science, and art in the United States.

In a way, this quotation serves as a major vindication for Burnham, who masterminded the controversial neoclassical style of the Fair over the protests of Sullivan and Olmsted. Burnham wanted the Fair to be serious and monumental, while Olmsted wanted it to be fun. In the end, Burnham's approach may have been the wiser one: it fit with the scope and content of the Fair (a fun, laid-back atmosphere just wouldn't have been right, considering all the groundbreaking science and technology on display there).

But it's also important to keep in mind that Larson is being a little ironic. By this point in the book, we know very well that the most dangerous crimes committed at the World's Fair (Holmes's murders) were never even reported. So the fact that the police made less than 3,000 arrests doesn't mean much: there were definitely worse things going on beneath the Fair's glorious, innocent surface.

The exposition was Chicago’s great pride. Thanks mainly to Daniel Burnham the city had proved it could accomplish something marvelous against obstacles that by any measure should have humbled the builders.

Page Number: 288
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Larson sums up the achievement of the Chicago World's Fair: it proved (both to the U.S. as a whole and the rest of the world) that Chicago was a force to be reckoned with: the site of incredible technological and organizational achievements.

There's an interesting tension in this quotation, however, between individual achievement and collective achievement. True, the World's Fair is Burnham's triumph, since he was the head of the board of Fair planners. But of course, Burnham could never have succeeded without the independent genius of Olmsted, Ferris, Sullivan, and countless others. It was the collective genius of a group of people, as much as the individual genius of an organizer like Burnham, that made the Fair a success. Moreover, the success belonged to Chicago as a whole: after all, the Fair was only proposed in the first place because of the city's growing wealth and desire for prestige.

Part 3, Chapter 12 Quotes

Holmes was such a charming man. And now that Anna knew him, she saw that he really was quite handsome. When his marvelous blue eyes caught hers, they seemed to warm her entire body. Minnie had done well indeed.

Related Characters: Minnie R. Williams
Related Symbols: Blue Eyes
Page Number: 292
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Holmes works his seductive magic on Anna Williams, the naive sister of Minnie Williams—the woman whom Holmes has already seduced, with the aim of stealing her inheritance. The passage is written in "indirect discourse"—written in the third person, yet also from the limited perspective of one of the characters (in this case, Anna). By writing the scene indirectly, Larson allows readers to note the contrast between what we know about Holmes (namely, that he's a despicable murderer) and what Anna thinks she knows about Holmes (that he's a handsome, charming man). By this point in the novel, we know that Holmes's blue eyes are fearsome—a symbol of his cold, uncaring nature. Yet they're also attractive and alluring; here, for example, the last sentence clearly shows that Anna is infatuated with Holmes.

Part 3, Chapter 14 Quotes

The panic came, as it always did. Holmes imagined Anna crumpled in a corner. If he chose, he could rush to the door, throw it open, hold her in his arms, and weep with her at the tragedy just barely averted. He could do it at the last minute, in the last few seconds. He could do that.

Related Characters: H. H. Holmes, Anna Williams
Page Number: 295
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Holmes listens calmly as his latest victim, Anna, suffocates to death. He's locked her in a vacuum-sealed vault downstairs, and can hear her panicking.

Part of what makes the passage so striking (and frightening) is that it shows Anna's death from Holmes's point of view—we're told exactly what Holmes is thinking as Anna dies. Based on this and other similar passages, it's clear that Holmes enjoys murder in part because he enjoys the control he exerts over his victims, and particularly his female victims. There's something unmistakably sexual about Holmes's pleasure here; he seems to enjoy dominating Anna, savoring his own power.

The passages that are narrated from Holmes's perspective (like this one) are the most novelistic in Larson's book. Although he's writing about real historical events, he's often put in a position where he needs to imagine the psychology of real people. Thus, he gives Holmes psychological depth that makes him both more of a literary character and more of believable historical character. 

Part 3, Chapter 21 Quotes

[Pendergast] knew that revolvers of this particular model had a penchant for accidental discharge when bumped or dropped, so he loaded it with only five cartridges and kept the empty chamber under the hummer.

Related Characters: Patrick Prendergast
Page Number: 329
Explanation and Analysis:

Here we're shown how Patrick Prendergast, the assassin of the Mayor of Chicago, plans to carry out his murder. Prendergast is at once sane and insane: he's driven to murder the mayor for the most incomprehensible of reasons (he thinks he's been denied a government position). And yet he's also surprisingly rational and controlled about the act itself: here, for example, he makes a special effort to keep a backup bullet, proving that his crime is premeditated.

The fine line between sane and insane is a recurring theme in the book: most of the major characters behave logically and illogically at different points (especially Burnham and Holmes). Prendergast is an especially interesting case of sanity and insanity, however, because it's so easy for him to carry out his bizarre revenge plot: it's extremely easy for him to buy a gun, get access to a major politician, and fire. Prendergast's behavior, then, shows how wild and unpredictable Chicago becomes as it enters the 20th century.

Part 4, Chapter 1 Quotes

Why had Holmes gone to the trouble and expense of moving the children from city to city, hotel to hotel, if only to kill them? Why had he bought each of them a crystal pen and taken them to the zoo in Cincinnati …?

Related Characters: H. H. Holmes, Alice Pitezal, Nellie Pitezal, Detective Frank Geyer
Page Number: 348
Explanation and Analysis:

Detective Frank Geyer here wonders to himself why Holmes—now known to be a murderer and kidnapper—has treated his murder victims so well. Holmes has abducted children and spent months with them prior to killing them: indeed, he's been a charming and loving father figure to them, buying them toys and taking them on trips. It makes no logical sense that Holmes would treat children so well and then kill them—but of course, as we're well aware by now, Holmes isn't always a rational person.

It's important to note that the passage is phrased as a rhetorical question. Even if Geyer doesn't know the answer to his own question, we the readers do: Holmes's most recognizable trait is his desire for power and control. It's not enough for Holmes to murder his victims; he wants to dominate them completely, and make them love him before he kills them. Only when Holmes has achieved total control does he commit murder. The children whose deaths Geyer is trying to explain are only the latest in a long string of tragic examples of Holmes's sadism.

Part 4, Chapter 6 Quotes

The thing editors could not understand was how Holmes had been able to escape serious investigations by the Chicago police. The Chicago Inter Ocean said, “It is humiliating to think that had it not been for the exertions of the insurance companies which Holmes swindled, or attempted to swindle, he might yet be at large, preying upon society, so well did he cover up the traces of his crime.”

Related Characters: H. H. Holmes
Page Number: 370
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Chicago authorities point out something that's been apparent to readers for a long time now: it's bizarre and horrifying that Holmes was able to get away with mass murder for so many years. It's also humiliating that a simple technicality in an insurance claim was what led to his undoing, rather than the ingenuity of law enforcement.

The quotation reinforces what Larson has already had ample time to show: that Holmes benefited from a new, large-scale city (Chicago), in which the size of the migrant population and the physical complexities of the city's neighborhoods made police officers incompetent and overworked. In the quote, the Chicago Inter Ocean authorities try to cover their tracks somewhat, admitting that the police didn't do their job, but also insisting that Holmes did a fantastic job of "covering up" his own crimes. By modern standards, Holmes did not do a particularly stellar job of hiding his crimes from the public—rather, the American public was unaccustomed to serial killers, and so in spite of ample evidence that Holmes was a murderer, it was easier for civilians to think that he was an eccentric or an overworked doctor than it was for them to imagine that he killed dozens of people.

Epilogue, Chapter 1 Quotes

As Wright’s academic star rose, so too did Sullivan’s. Burnham’s fell from the sky. It became re rigueur among architecture critics and historians to argue that Burnham in his insecurity and slavish devotion to the classical yearnings of the eastern architects had indeed killed American architecture. But that view was too simplistic, as some architecture historians and critics have more recently acknowledged. The fair awakened America to beauty and as such was a necessary passage that laid the foundation for men like Frank Lloyd Wright …

Related Characters: Daniel Burnham, Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright
Page Number: 376
Explanation and Analysis:

After the World's Fair, there was a period in American architecture in which Burnham's neoclassical style, epitomized by the white monumental buildings at the Fair, became the norm for U.S. cities. But by the 1920s and 30s, the pendulum had swung back in the other direction: modernism and the avant-garde (represented by Louis Sullivan, one of Burnham's rivals, and his protege, Frank Lloyd Wright) became the most celebrated styles in U.S. metropolises.

Larson, having written 400 pages on the genius of Daniel Patrick Burnham, is understandably reluctant to admit that Burnham was second-rate, as so many contemporary architects claim. Instead, Larson opts for a "third way"—he admits that Burnham was a little old-fashioned, but argues that even if Burnham's specific style wasn't the most influential, it led to a general interest in architecture itself, paradoxically paving the way for figures like Frank Lloyd Wright (who rejected the aesthetic principles Burnham had stood for).

Epilogue, Chapter 4 Quotes

The fair’s greatest impact lay in how it changed the way Americans perceived their cities and their architects. It primed the whole of America — not just a few rich architectural patrons — to think of cities in a way they never had before.

Page Number: 373
Explanation and Analysis:

Assessing the influence of the Chicago World's Fair on the United States, Larson is led to a couple of interesting conclusions. Here, he argues that the Fair reinforced the metropolis as a site of architectural innovation: a place where a talented team of architects could work together to reshape an entire neighborhood in one uniform style. Furthermore, the Fair reinforced architecture as the ultimate public, democratic art form: Burnham and his colleagues built buildings designed for everyone in Chicago to enjoy, from the elite to the poor.

The irony of Larson's point—an irony that should be lost on nobody who's read the book thus far—is that the "new city" that Burnham and his colleagues built (a city of beautiful white buildings and exciting new places) was also the city in which murderers like Holmes had an easy time killing their victims. Perhaps it's fair to say that Holmes and Burnham—in spite of the tremendous differences between their characters—were both reacting to the same set of influences.  In a time when millions of new people flooded into American cities, Burnham chose to respond to the demographic changes with a new, democratic style of building, while Holmes chose to respond with a new level of brutality and cruelty.

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