The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City


Erik Larson

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Devil in the White City can help.

The Devil in the White City Characters

Daniel Burnham

The Director of Works at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Burnham is a talented architect, as well as a shrewd organizer of other architects. He is instrumental in assembling an elite creative team to design… read analysis of Daniel Burnham

John Root

Burnham’s partner at the beginning of the World’s Fair, John Root is widely regarded as the more creative and imaginative member of the partnership. He is instrumental in developing the neoclassical aesthetic of the… read analysis of John Root

Louis Sullivan

The temperamental Chicago architect who designs the award-winning Transportation Building at the World’s Fair, Sullivan regards Burnham as a rival, and opposes Burnham’s efforts to give the Fair a neoclassical aesthetic. Though Sullivan’s career goes… read analysis of Louis Sullivan

H. H. Holmes

The blue-eyed, charismatic, and sociopathic doctor who commits multiple murders at the end of the 19th century, Holmes is born with the surname Mudgett, and regularly uses other aliases, such as Henry Gordon, H.S… read analysis of H. H. Holmes
Minor Characters
Dora Root
John Root’s wife, and later his widow.
Francis Millet
The talented painter who develops the distinctive white paint that helps earn the World’s Fair the nickname, “The White City.” Millet is also responsible for organizing entertainment at the Fair in order to attract more visitors.
John B. Sherman
A wealthy slaughterhouse superintendent, Daniel Burnham’s father-in-law, and Margaret Burnham’s father. Early in his career, Burnham designs a mansion for Sherman.
Dankmar Adler
Louis Sullivan’s architectural partner.
Mrs. Holton
The elderly woman from whom Holmes buys his drugstore shortly after arriving in Chicago.
Clara Lovering
The first woman Holmes marries, and then abandons.
Frederick Law Olmsted
The temperamental landscape architect who designed Central Park, as well as the grounds for the World’s Fair.
Henry Sargent Codman
Olmsted’s architectural partner and frequent stand-in during the World’s Fair. When Codman dies mid-way through the Fair, Olmsted replaces him with Charles Eliot.
Mayor Carter Henry Harrison
The charismatic, blue-eyed, five-time mayor of Chicago who enjoys a reputation as a “man of the people” despite his actual elite education. He is assassinated during his fifth term, casting a pall over the last months of the World’s Fair.
Patrick Prendergast
Prendergast is a young, mentally disturbed man who believes that Mayor Harrison will appoint him to a government position in return for Prendergast’s vigorous campaigning. Prendergast ultimately assassinates Harrison when he fails to get the role he believed he should.
Myrta Belknap
Holmes’s second wife.
Holmes’s child with Myrta Belknap.
Charles Chappell
A loyal friend of Holmes’s who converts corpses into skeletons without asking any questions.
Patrick Quinlan
Caretaker at Holmes’s hotel who seems to have plotted with Holmes to murder Jonathan Belknap.
Benjamin Pitezal
A loyal helper of Holmes who also goes by the aliases Howard E. Phelps and Benton T. Lyman and helps Holmes with his murders and confidence tricks. Holmes later betrays Pitezal when he murders him and his children.
Howard Pitezal
Benjamin Pitezal’s son, murdered by Holmes.
Alice Pitezal
Benjamin Pitezal’s daughter, murdered by Holmes.
Nellie Pitezal
Benjamin Pitezal’s daughter, murdered by Holmes.
Mrs. Carrie Pitezal
Benjamin Pitezal’s wife.
Jack the Ripper
Notorious English serial killer of prostitutes who terrifies London, England and whose deeds titillate and terrify America as well.
A woman Holmes convinces to take out an insurance claim in his name.
An architect from the Eastern United States who commits to working on the World’s Fair early on.
Harriet Monroe
John Root’s sister-in-law. She writes a long poem that’s performed at the Dedication Day ceremonies for the World’s Fair, but no one can hear it.
Ned Conner
An employee in Holmes’s building, who Holmes cons into running his failing drug store. Ned dooms his daughter and wife by leaving them in Holmes’s care.
Pearl Conner
Ned and Julia’s daughter, murdered by Holmes.
Julia Conner
Ned’s wife, seduced and then murdered by Holmes.
Julia Conner’s sister, who travels to Chicago to live in Holmes’s building, then leaves after Holmes is indiscreet with her.
Lyman Gage
President of the World’s Fair.
Clarence Darrow
A famous attorney who negotiates with unions leading up to the World’s Fair construction, and later tries, unsuccessfully, to save Patrick Prendergast from the death penalty.
Charles Atwood
Root’s replacement after his death.
Colonel Mason Schufeldt
A World’s Fair organizer who dies traveling to Africa looking for pygmies to bring to Chicago.
Thomas Edison
The inventor, who tries to negotiate the use of DC (rather than AC) light bulbs at the World'
George Westinghouse
A businessman who successfully negotiates the use of AC light bulbs at the World’s Fair.
Nikola Tesla
A scientist and inventor, and the designer of the AC bulbs used to light the World’s Fair.
Buffalo Bill
Legendary hero of the “Wild West” who organizes a highly popular Wild West show adjacent to the site of the World’s Fair at Jackson Park in 1893 (and which pulls visitors from the Fair).
Sol Bloom
An intelligent businessman, Sol Bloom organizes the entertainment at the Midway at the World’s Fair, and later becomes a congressman.
Gustave Eiffel
The architect who designed the Eiffel Tower, the building that helped to inspire the Ferris Wheel at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893.
Elias Disney
Father of Walt Disney, a construction worker during the World’s Fair.
Emeline Cigrand
A young woman to whom Holmes proposes marriage. Holmes later murders her in the walk-in vault in his building.
Jonathan Belknap
Myrta’s wealthy great-uncle, who Holmes attempts to murder.
Charles McKim
One of the Eastern architects Burnham hires to work on the World’s Fair.
Alfred S. Trude
A prominent Chicago attorney who prosecutes Patrick Prendergast, having received multiple letters from him.
George Washington Gale Ferris
The engineer who designs the Ferris Wheel.
Mrs. Lawrence
A lodger in Holmes’s building who presses Holmes for information when Emeline Cigrand disappears.
Charles Eliot
Olmsted’s partner after the death of Henry Codman.
Rudolf Ulrich
Olmsted’s superintendent.
Henry Owens
A porter whom Holmes bribes to pretend to be his business partner.
Washington Hesing
The Democratic candidate who loses in the mayoral primaries to Carter Henry Harrison for the 1893 election.
Samuel W. Allerton
The politician who loses to Carter Henry Harrison in Chicago’s mayoral elections.
Grover Cleveland
The President of the United States, who leads the Opening Day parade at the World’s Fair.
F. Herbert Stead
A British journalist who criticizes the dirtiness of the World’s Fair. He is the brother of William Stead.
William Stead
A British journalist who writes about the World’s Fair and dies on the Titanic. The brother of F. Herbert Stead.
Luther Rice
An engineer and businessman who oversees the assembly of the Ferris Wheel.
Infanta Eulalia
A Spanish princess who offends Chicago high society by not attending the parties and balls held in her honor.
Frank Haven Hall
The designer of the Braille printer. He meets Helen Keller, who learns how to read by using his invention, at the World’s Fair.
Hellen Keller
A woman who overcomes being deaf, mute, and blind to learn how to communicate. She meets Frank Haven Hall, the inventor of the Braille printer that teaches her to read, at the World’s Fair.
Susan B. Anthony
The woman’s suffrage organizer who amuses Buffalo Bill by saying that she’s rather her child go to Bill’s Wild West show than to church, since he’d learn more.
Bertha Palmer
A Chicago socialite who organizes the decoration for building at the World’s Fair and parties for famous guests from Europe.
Sophia Hayden
An architect at the World’s Fair who is committed to an asylum after arguing with Bertha Palmer.
A visitor to the World’s Fair who panics while riding the Ferris Wheel.
John Davis
A firefighter who dies in the Cold Storage Building explosion in 1893.
Theodore Dreiser
The famous American author of American Tragedy, who meets Sara Osborne White at the World’s Fair, and later marries her.
Sara Osborne White
The schoolteacher who marries Theodore Dreiser after meeting him at the World’s Fair.
Georgiana Yoke
Holmes’s fiancée, who leaves Chicago with him after the World’s Fair.
Annie Howard
The young woman to whom Mayor Harrison is engaged at the time of his death.
Citizen Train
The famous psychic who attends Francis Millet’s Midway Ball.
Samuel Gompers
An important union organizer.
Eugene Debs
An important union organizer, and eventual Presidential candidate.
The Chicago corporation counsel who humiliates Prendergast.
Frank Lloyd Wright
The great American architect who works for Louis Sullivan as a young man, and is quickly fired by Sullivan. Wright later befriends Sullivan and argues that he is one of America’s greatest architects.
F.G. Cowie
An insurance claim investigator who suspects Holmes of arson.
George B. Chamberlin
An attorney who investigates Holmes for avoiding his debts.
William Chalmers
Mayor Harrison’s neighbor, with whom Harrison argues on his deathbed.
Detective Frank Geyer
A noted Philadelphia detective who is responsible for finding evidence that Holmes murdered the children of Benjamin Pitezal.
Michael Swango
A doctor who murdered his patients in the 1990s and, in the notebooks he kept, cited Holmes as an inspiration.
J.C. Thomas
A Cincinnati man who helps Geyer track down Holmes.
Henrietta Hill
A woman who sees Holmes with a large iron stove in Cincinnati.
Detective David Richards
A detective who helps Geyer with his investigation into Holmes’s crimes.
Herman Ackelow
A West Indianapolis man who helps Geyer investigate Holmes’s crimes.
Thomas Ryves
A Toronto man who lent Holmes the shovel he used to bury Pitezal’s children.
Thomas Barlow
The Assistant District Attorney during Holmes’s trial.
L. Frank Baum
The author of The Wizard of Oz, who may have based Oz on his impressions of the Chicago World’s Fair.
J. Bruce Ismay
The designer of the Titanic and the Olympic.
Richard Morris Hunt
A New York architect who designs the Administration Building at the World’s Fair.
George B. Post
A New York architect who designs the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building at the World’s Fair.
Jane Addams
A Chicago social worker and Nobel Peace Prize winner whose purse is stolen while she’s visiting the World’s Fair.
Minnie R. Williams
A naïve heiress to land in Texas who Holmes easily seduces and then murders. Sister of Anna Williams.
Anna Williams
The sister of Minnie R. Williams. She is initially skeptical of Holmes but eventually comes to trust him, only to be murdered by Holmes in his walk-in vault.