Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2005 Issue

Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

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Columbian Exposition tickets are actively traded on eBay.


The Columbian Exposition represented the success of a city and a region but it was not easily accomplished. The author, Erik Larson, gives the primary credit to Daniel H. Burnham, a local architect, who forges an alliance of nationally renowned architects to design the important fair buildings and create what would become the "White City," a campus of buildings that shared common architectural elements and were all finished in a shade of white. The single color unified the architectural images and gave the fair its unofficial name: the White City. That the fair comes to life so vividly in the pages of "The Devil in the White City" is a testament to Mr. Larson's research and writing skills. But it is the intertwining of a murder's increasing obsession and the extraordinary steps he takes to create a mechanism of easy and relentless death that, when juxtoposed with the progress of the fair itself, project a sense of black and white piano keys separately conveying their parts and together creating music, a dirge interspersed with high notes.

For the non-fiction reader who likes plot and pace this is one of those unusual books where truth delivers more mystery than most fictional works usually do. This book is also an interesting point of departure for collectors to find relating material. Dr. Herman W. Mudgett [H. H. Holmes] comes up in three eBay searches today while H. H. Holmes is implicated in 40. The "World's Columbian Exposition" comes up 607 times on eBay. On ABE using Herman Mudgett in the keyword field finds 59 matches, 137 with H. H. Holmes in quotes, and 846 for World's Columbian Exposition in quotes. "World's Columbian Exposition" comes up almost as often on eBay as ABE probably because the type of fair material that continues to circulate is mostly ephemera. Much of it is tickets and brochures which seem to be plentiful and generally inexpensive and not so easily sold on ABE. A collection, of such material, in any event, is not going to be costly.

So how many people did he kill and what finally happened to Dr. Mudgett, aka H. H. Holmes? Holmes confessed to committing 27 murders. Mr. Larson confirms 9. Murder, always heinous, is sometimes random, often spur of the moment and committed only once. Holmes slowly, and with great premeditation, constructed a mechanism of death and then used it again and again to kill mainly women who sometimes loved but often at least cared about him. He built a death chamber to coincide with the opening of the fair and was discovered only by chance after it closed. To learn how the story turns out you'll need to read the book, which I recommend.

The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson, was first published in 2003 and is available in hardcover and paperback on-line and in book stores around the world. In paperback it is an entertaining 396 page read.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Gonnelli Auction House<br>Books and Graphics<br>19th, 20th and 21st April 2021</b>
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 19-21<br>Books from XVI to XX Century</b>
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 20<br>Atlases and Maps</b
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 21<br> Veneto and Venice, a Selection of Books from the XVI to XX century</b>
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 20<br></b>Rossini Gioachino, Baguette de chef d'orchestre appartenuta a Gioachino Rossini, dono del Comune di Passy. 1500 €
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 21<br></b>Manetti Saverio, Storia naturale degli uccelli trattata con metodo. Cinque volumi. 1767. 18.000 €
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 21<br></b>Poe Edgar Allan, Double assassinat dans la rue morgue. Illustrations de Cura. 1946.
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 19-21<br>Books from XVI to XX Century</b>
  • <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Collection of a Connoisseur:<br>History in Manuscript, Part 2<br>27 April 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Ronald Reagan. Series of 37 letters to Senator George Murphy, and related material, 1968-90. £50,000 to £70,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Chaim Weizmann. Autograph letter signed, to General Sir Gilbert Clayton, 6 September 1918. £20,000 to £30,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Sir Winston Churchill. Autograph letter signed, to Pamela, Lady Lytton, 1942. £20,000 to $30,000.
    <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Collection of a Connoisseur:<br>History in Manuscript, Part 2<br>27 April 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Oscar Wilde. Five autograph letters signed, to Alsager Vian, 1887. £15,000 to £20,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Napoleon I. Letter signed to Admiral Ganteaume, ordering the invasion of England, 22 August 1805. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Horatio, Viscount Nelson, and Emma Hamilton. Two autograph letter signed, to Catherine and George Matcham, 1805. £6,000 to £8,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Frances Palmer, <i>Battle of Buena Vista,</i> chromolithograph, New York, 1847. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma, the earliest publication concerned solely with chocolate, first edition, Madrid, 1631. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Romans Bernard, <i>An Exact View of the Late Battle at Charlestown, June 17th, 1775,</i> engraving, 1776. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> <i>A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston,</i> English edition, London, 1770. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> William Soule, <i>Lodge of the Plains Indians,</i> albumen print, 1872. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Manuscript document to enforce New York’s “Agreement of Non-Importation” during the heyday of the Sons of Liberty, New York, 1769. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Clarence Mackenzie, <i>Drummer Boy of the 13th Regiment of Brooklyn,</i> salt print with applied color, 1861. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Moses Lopez, <i>A Lunar Calendar,</i> first Jewish calendar published in America, Newport, RI, 1806. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b><br>The Book of Mormon, first edition, Palmyra, 1830. $30,000 to $40,000.

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