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The Devil in the White City | Chapter Summaries

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Timeline of Events

  • 1886

    Holmes arrives in Chicago, buys the Hortons' drugstore, and then kills Mrs. Horton.

    Part 1, Chapter 3
  • 1887–88

    Holmes marries Myrta Belknap and begins building his murder castle, concealing its true design.

    Part 1, Chapter 5
  • February 1890

    Chicago wins the World's Fair; Burnham and Root expect to be the fair's lead designers.

    Part 1, Chapter 2
  • October 1890

    Burnham is appointed chief of construction, and Olmsted is made supervising landscape architect.

    Part 1, Chapter 4
  • 1891

    Holmes decides to turn his building into a hotel and designs a kiln hot enough to cremate bodies.

    Part 1, Chapter 7
  • January 1891

    Jackson Park is chosen as the fair's site, and Burnham hires 10 architects, some from out of town.

    Part 1, Chapter 6
  • January 1891

    The architects form a board and approve Root's preliminary plan; Root dies; Burnham is devastated.

    Part 1, Chapter 10
  • Spring 1891

    Burnham moves into a shanty to supervise construction; Sol Bloom is hired to oversee concessions.

    Part 2, Chapter 13
  • December 1891

    Holmes kills a pregnant Julia Conner and her daughter, Pearl. Chappell articulates Julia's corpse.

    Part 2, Chapter 14
  • January–October 1892

    Burnham pushes construction and increases the workforce; Dedication Day arrives.

    Part 2, Chapter 17
  • May–October 1892

    Emeline Cigrand, Holmes's new secretary, moves in; he courts her and proposes marriage.

    Part 2, Chapter 16
  • December 1892

    Holmes kills Emeline and tells Mrs. Lawrence she has married someone else and left town.

    Part 2, Chapter 20
  • March–April 1893

    Holmes stages a marriage to Minnie Williams and cheats her out of her land deed.

    Part 2, Chapter 22
  • May 1, 1893

    Although not quite completed, the fair opens with a quarter to a half million people in attendance.

    Part 3, Chapter 26
  • June 1893

    The Ferris Wheel becomes operational and immediately increases ticket sales.

    Part 3, Chapter 35
  • October 9, 1893

    On Chicago Day, the fair finally makes enough money to pay off the last of its debt.

    Part 3, Chapter 44
  • October 28, 1893

    Prendergast shoots and kills the mayor, and closing ceremonies are canceled due to the funeral.

    Part 3, Chapter 46
  • July 5, 1893

    Holmes kills Minnie and her sister Nannie and ships them in trunks to different destinations.

    Part 3, Chapter 39
  • June 1895

    Holmes, arrested for fraud, is charged with multiple murders. Geyer looks for the Pitezel children.

    Part 4, Chapter 48
  • Fall 1895–May 1896

    Holmes is tried for the murder of Pitezel and hanged.

    Epilogue, Chapter 56

Chapter Summaries Chart

Chapter Summary
Epigraph The author provides two quotations attributed to his two protagonists. The first quotation is from World's Fair architec... Read More
Evils Imminent (A note) The beginning note introduces the true story of two men, an architect and an urban serial killer, linked by a "magical e... Read More
Prologue: Aboard the Olympic (1912) When Daniel Burnham is introduced, he is near the end of his life. He is sailing to Europe with his wife, Margaret, on t... Read More
Part 1, Chapters 1–5 In 1890 young, single women are arriving in Chicago to obtain work and lead independent lives. Both men and women die ... Read More
Part 1, Chapters 6–10 The fair directors have finally decided to place the fair in Jackson Park, and Root, guided by Olmsted and Burnham, pr... Read More
Part 2, Chapters 11–15 In February 1891 the architects meet with Burnham and Olmsted to unveil their designs. "Each building was more lovely,... Read More
Part 2, Chapters 16–20 Holmes pays for his assistant, Benjamin Pitezel, to take the Keeley cure for alcoholism in a clinic in Dwight, Illinoi... Read More
Part 2, Chapters 21–25 The winter before the fair opens is especially brutal in Chicago, which makes things difficult for Olmsted, Ferris, an... Read More
Part 3, Chapters 26–29 On opening day a line of 23 carriages appears on Michigan Avenue in preparation for the ride to Jackson Park and the C... Read More
Part 3, Chapters 30–33 A waitress disappears from Holmes's restaurant, along with a stenographer named Jennie Thompson and Evelyn Stewart, wh... Read More
Part 3, Chapters 34–37 In June Olmsted worries about the fair's "lackluster attendance." He speculates people are postponing trips to Chicago... Read More
Part 3, Chapters 38–42 While ticket sales are close to 300,000 on July 4, attendance falls off after the holiday. Burnham's department has go... Read More
Part 3, Chapters 43–47 Prendergast continues to believe the mayor will appoint him as corporation counsel. He even visits the man currently h... Read More
Part 4, Chapters 48–50 It is now June 1895, more than two years since the Chicago World's Fair began. Holmes is in prison in Philadelphia; Pi... Read More
Part 4, Chapters 51–53 Holmes finds a journalist to arrange for publication of his memoir and continues to claim innocence, now saying Minnie... Read More
Epilogue, Chapters 54–57 The chapter recaps the highlights of the Chicago World's Fair and explains how it made a lasting impression on America... Read More
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