Anne Murphy and Hannah Duehren’s visit, Devil in the White City

Erik Larson's chilling tale of serial murder is well worth reading.

Dunreith’s dear friend and former roommate Anne Murphy is staying with us for the weekend, along with Hannah Duehren, her oldest daughter who is fresh off a two-week architecture experience at Notre Dame.

In addition to catching up, reliving memories from when they lived together in their native Springfield, Dunreith and Anne have been talking in almost disbelieving tones about Hannah and Aidan’s impending college applications.

As part of that process, we plan to head down to the University of Chicago by way of IIT, which has a Mies van der Rohe building that some say is his finest achievement and a futuristic student center designed by visionary architect Rem Koolhaas.

The University of Chicago is home to the Midway Plaisance, which was one of the major sites for the fabled 1893 Colombian Exposition that announced Chicago’s official rebirth after the devastating 1871 fire.

It’s also where legendary architect and civic elite member Daniel Burnham made of his most significant contributions and where serial killer H.H. Holmes plied his diabolical trade.

Erik Larson tells the story of both men and a whole lot more in Devil in the White City.

The work, which, as Vocalo blogger Lee Bey notes, has not yet been made into a film, captures the grandiose ambition of the exposition, the severe obstacles designers and workers had to overcome, and the denouement after it ended.  In addition to the two major characters, Larson also gives substantial attention to architects Louis Sullivan and Frederick Law Olmsted.

The depiction of the age, though, is an effective backdrop for Holmes’ murderous run.  Larson paints a chilling picture of Holmes’ calculations, in which he would repeatedly prey on vulnerable men and women, torture and then murder them by different methods in his three-story castle, and then meticulously dispose of their bodies.

Eventually, he was caught and confessed to 27 murders, but the count may have been higher.

Larson brings a novelist’s flair for language and a historian’s attention to detail and understanding of an era.  Although it may give potential University of Chicago students like Hannah the creeps, for people looking to wile away a few hours during the early Chicago summer, Devil in the White City is a fine way to go.


2 responses to “Anne Murphy and Hannah Duehren’s visit, Devil in the White City

  1. Please tell Dunreith and Anne not to worry about which schools Aidan and Hannah pick. I am sure they are smart kids and will excel where ever.

    Now picking a life partner, that’s important.

    Ok, if you really are worried about the school selection thing I have tip: work it such that the school tour guide is AWESOME! How do you define awesome? Handsome, pretty, musical, intelligent, kind, rock star, bad boy, bad girl, whatever works for your kid. Case in point: former #1 student at ETHS threw U. of C. out because she didn’t like the tour guide. I believe she said he was boring.

    Now, boring is ok in a life partner (if he/she truly loves your kid, etc.). But boring is not an option for the tour guide. Unless, of course, you can’t afford that school in the first place!

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Great comment as always, my friend. The three of us all got a chuckle out of reading it together!

      Hope all is well with you and your crew. Let’s get together soon.


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