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The Devil in the White City | Quotes


Events and people captured his attention the way moving objects caught the notice of an amphibian.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 3

The narrator compares Holmes to an animal that has no feelings and simply registers something within its field of perception and calculates whether it is harmful, beneficial, or neutral. Holmes is described as a machinelike predator with no human sensibilities.


It was easy to ... forget some little thing ... a clever detective might ... use to propel him to the gallows.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 7

The narrator imagines Holmes's thought processes: Holmes plans to burn the World's Fair Hotel down when he is done with it, just in case he inadvertently leaves some incriminating evidence behind. Destroying the building is an extra precaution, and he can collect money on it, too.


There were too many disappearances ... to investigate properly, and too many forces impeding the detection of patterns.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 9

The narrator notes many people had disappeared in Chicago, and the ones Holmes was responsible for got mixed up with the rest. The police were not all that interested in investigating the disappearance of working-class people, and in any case they had little manpower to do so.


Burnham was obsessed by the feudal idea of power. ... Sullivan was equally obsessed by the ... idea of Democratic power.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 10

Sullivan is Burnham's rival, and they have different architectural philosophies. Sullivan believes form follows function, while Burnham and Root's designs are imaginative and reference classical designs. This is why Sullivan accuses Burnham of being obsessed with feudal power.


Do you realize this has been the greatest meeting of artists since the fifteenth century?

St. Gaudens, Part 2, Chapter 11

St. Gaudens is a respected sculptor who is called in to give his opinion when 10 architects present their individual designs for the fair pavilions. St. Gaudens is so impressed with the architects' beautiful drawings that he compares them to the Renaissance masters of the 15th century.


He ... would ... ignite the flames of his kiln and marvel at its extraordinary heat.

Narrator, Part 2, Chapter 12

The narrator imagines Holmes going down to the basement of his murder castle to watch the kiln's flames. The kiln, shaped like a coffin, was created to cremate a human body. Thus the narrator pictures Holmes taking pleasure in using it.


To build a tower would be to follow Eiffel into territory he already had conquered for France.

Narrator, Part 2, Chapter 13

Alexandre Eiffel gets in touch with the fair's directors and offers to build a new tower, even taller than the one in Paris. In fact some of the fair's architects have been thinking about including towers. But Burnham disagrees; he feels that building a tower—especially one of Eiffel's—defeats the purpose of the American fair, which is to make America shine.


With demand outpacing supply, doctors established a custom of graciously and discreetly accepting any offered cadaver.

Narrator, Part 2, Chapter 14

The country was experiencing a shortage of cadavers, which hospitals, medical schools, and doctors' offices desperately needed for educational purposes. Thus doctors readily accepted cadavers without questioning where they came from, whether they had been obtained legally or whether they might even be the bodies of murder victims.


I told her he was a bad lot and ... she had better ... get away from him.

Ned Conner, Part 2, Chapter 16

Ned Conner divorces his wife, Julia, but comes back to the castle to talk to Holmes about the mortgage on the drugstore Holmes tricked him into taking responsibility for. When he gets there, he meets Emeline. At this point he thinks his wife and daughter have left Holmes, who says she went back to Iowa. Ned guesses that Emeline is now in a relationship with Holmes, and he warns her that she ought to get away from him because he is no good.


Four other men died and dozens more suffered ... fractures, burns, and lacerations.

Narrator, Part 2, Chapter 17

The narrator explains how, in pushing to get the fair done, Burnham doubles the number of workers and makes them work night and day in the heat and rain. In August seven men die while others suffer injuries. According to an appraisal done after the fact, the fair "was a more dangerous place to work than a coal mine."


The possession he craved was a transient thing, like the scent of fresh-cut hyacinth.

Narrator, Part 3, Chapter 30

The narrator speculates Holmes's quest was to gain total possession of his victims, culminating in their murder. Holmes does not keep trophies; he takes fleeting enjoyment in his possession and must constantly acquire new victims to satisfy his craving.


The sight is so inspiring that all conversation stopped, and all were lost in admiration.

W.F. Gronau, Part 3, Chapter 33

Ferris's partner, Gronau, has just experienced his first ride on the Ferris Wheel. The Ferris Wheel's main attraction is the spectacular view riders obtain of the park and the harbor—a view so arresting that people stop speaking and simply stare.


The Black City now welcomed them back, on the eve of winter, with filth, starvation, and violence.

Narrator, Part 3, Chapter 45

The narrator is referring to the fair's closing, which leaves many people unemployed. They must now return to Chicago without any jobs just as winter approaches. They face physical deprivation and possibly violence. The author is juxtaposing the ideal White City with the reality of the Black City, as he calls it.


It was a game for Holmes, Geyer realized. He possessed them all and reveled in his possession.

Narrator, Part 4, Chapter 48

As Geyer investigates the route of Holmes and the missing Pitezel children, he realizes Holmes has been moving three parties around simultaneously and sometimes keeping them only a few blocks from each other: his fiancée, Georgiana; three of the Pitezel children; and Carrie Pitezel and her remaining two children. The detective realizes Holmes enjoys moving people around like pawns on a chessboard.


The fair awakened America to beauty and ... was a necessary passage that laid the foundation for [future architects].

Narrator, Epilogue, Chapter 54

The Chicago World's Fair gave Americans a new idea about what was possible for cities—specifically that a city could be beautifully constructed. Burnham was tapped to create urban plans for many other cities. Sullivan criticized the fair for "doom[ing] America to another half-century of imitation," but the narrator argues he paved the way for people such as Frank Lloyd Wright, who worked with him early on.

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