In 1893, Chicago hosted the World’s Columbian Exposition, a celebration of Columbus’ voyage of discovery and landing in the New World. It was a coming-out party for a city that wanted to show off its newfound sophistication. And by any measure, it was an extravagant affair.
Inspired by the Paris Universal Exposition of 1889, the Fair’s “White City” of grand (albeit mostly temporary) neoclassical buildings housed exhibitions showcasing progress in such areas as electricity, agriculture, mining, transportation, and science.
The Midway Plaisance, stretching westward from the White City, held amusements, restaurants, foreign villages – and the world’s first Ferris wheel. It foreshadowed such 20th-century amusement parks as White City and Riverview Park.
But while this great spectacle by the lakefront dazzled Chicagoans, not far away, an evil unfolded that they could not have fathomed. A man named Herman Mudgett, using the alias “Dr. Henry Howard Holmes,” built a small hotel in the Englewood neighborhood, a few miles west of the fairgrounds.
He lured young women who had come to Chicago to work at the fair. He killed at least 27 of them, and probably many more. He even built a crematory and a lime pit in his basement to dispose of their bodies.
The former site of Mudgett’s “murder castle” is now a post office in Englewood.
Author Erik Larson captured the story of Chicago’s first documented serial killer in his best-selling 2003 non-fiction novel, Devil in the White City.