The Devil in the White City


The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America (Crown Publishers, ISBN 0-609-60844-4) is a 2003 historical non-fiction book by Erik Larson presented in a novelistic style. The book is based on real characters and events. Leonardo DiCaprio purchased the film rights in 2010.[1]


The book is set in Chicago in 1893, interweaving the true tales of Daniel H. Burnham, the architect behind the 1893 World's Fair, and Dr. H. H. Holmes, pharmacist and serial killer who lured his victims to their deaths in his elaborately constructed "Murder Castle". The Devil in the White City is divided into four parts, the first three happening in Chicago between 1890-1893. Part four of the novel takes place in Philadelphia circa 1895. The story of Daniel Burnham, his building of the fair and the struggles he overcomes forms one plot line. The other, vividly different plot line is that of H.H. Holmes, a mentally unstable pharmacist/doctor who forms a plan to use an abandoned lot across from his pharmacy to lure in and kill multiple victims.

Burnham and the architects
  • Daniel Burnham: the chief architect behind the World's Columbian Exposition (also known as the Chicago World's Fair)
  • John Root: Burnham's partner
  • Charles B. Atwood: Burnham's head of design after Root's death
  • George Washington Gale Ferris Jr.: inventor of the Ferris wheel
  • Frank Millet
  • Louis Sullivan
  • Richard Morris Hunt
  • Charles McKim
  • Frederick Law Olmsted (designer of New York City's Central Park): landscape architect in charge of the World's Fair landscape.
  • George B. Post
  • Sophia Hayden Bennett
Holmes and associates
  • Herman Webster Mudgett (aka Dr. H. H. Holmes): a serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their deaths. Dr. Holmes had built his "World's Fair Hotel" complete with a gas chamber, dissection table, and a crematorium to dispose of the bodies. Holmes would have the skeletons of his victims removed and sell them for medical and scientific study.
  • Clara A. Lovering: Holmes's first wife
  • Myrta Z. Belknap: Holmes's second wife
  • Lucy Holmes: Holmes's daughter with Myrta
  • Georgiana Yoke: Holmes's third wife
  • Julia Smythe: employee and lover of Holmes; wife of Ned Connor
  • Ned Connor: employee of Holmes; husband of Julia Smythe
  • Emeline Cigrand: fiancée (and murder victim) of Holmes
  • Benjamin Pietzel: business associate (and murder victim) of Holmes
  • Carrie Pietzel: wife of Benjamin Pietzel
  • Howard, Nellie and Alice Pietzel: son and two daughters (respectively) of Benjamin and Carrie Pietzel.
  • Frank Geyer: detective in charge of finding Pietzel's children after Holmes was jailed for fraud
  • Thomas W. Barlow: assistant district attorney who prosecuted Holmes
Other figures
  • Mayor Carter Harrison, Sr.: Mayor of Chicago who was assassinated on the last day of the fair
  • Patrick Prendergast: assassin who killed Mayor Harrison under the delusional belief that he had helped Harrison win re-election
Film adaptation

Leonardo DiCaprio purchased the film rights to the book in 2010; the movie is to be produced by Paramount Pictures, Stacey Sher and Michael Shamberg's Double Feature Films, and DiCaprio's own production company Appian Way Productions.[2] Writer Graham Moore was originally hired to adapt the book into a screenplay, but it was later reported that Billy Ray would be writing the script.[3] Martin Scorsese is signed to direct.[4]

  • 2003 New York Times best seller (nonfiction)
  • 2003 International Horror Guild Award (Nonfiction)
  • 2003 San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year
  • 2003 National Book Award (Nonfiction), finalist
  • 2003 CWA Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction, shortlist
  • 2003 Great Lakes Book Award (Nonfiction), finalist
  • 2004 Washington State Book Award
  • 2004 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award
  • 2004 Edgar Award (Best Fact Crime), winner
  • 2004 Book Sense Book of the Year Honor Book, winner
  • 2009 ALA Outstanding Books for the College Bound (History & Cultures)
  1. ^ "Leonardo DiCaprio secures rights to book of first serial killer in the US", The Guardian newspaper (November 2, 2010). Accessed Nov. 2, 2010.
  2. ^ "Leonardo DiCaprio Teams With Martin Scorsese for 'Devil in the White City'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2017-09-03. 
  3. ^ Fleming, Jr., Mike (December 16, 2011). "Warner Bros Sets Black List Top Scribe Graham Moore For 'Devil In The White City'; Leonardo DiCaprio To Play Serial Killer". 
  4. ^ McNary, Dave (August 10, 2015). "Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Scorsese Reunite for 'Devil in the White City'". Variety. Retrieved January 15, 2017. 
External links
  • Official Random House page for the book
  • Chicago Historical Society

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