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Kevin P. Dincher
The Devil in the White City:  America's Urban Aspirations - and Nightmares

In his book The Devil in the White City, Eric Larson interweaves the history of Chicago’s epic 1893 World
Columbian Exposition with the horrifying story of one of America’s first serial killers, Dr. H. H. Holmes.  This course
is no less epic than the exposition itself!

Larson’s book forms the backdrop for an exploration of America’s great hopes for its cities—and the nightmares
encountered along the way.  This course includes an exploration of:

  • The historical and social context of the 1893 Exposition’s glamorous and promising While City

  • The scandalous living and working conditions, crime and utter hopelessness that was the lot of the have-nots in
    America’s cities of the Gilded Age that were exposed by the 1890 photographic work of Jacob Riis (How the
    Other Half Lives)—and that further shocked the American public when Upton Sinclair published The Jungle
    in 1906.

  • The City Beautiful Movement with its beaux arts architecture and principles of landscape architecture proposed
    by Frederick Law Olmstead embraced by the White City and cities around the country as a cure for urban ills.

  • And of course, the story of America's first serial killer, H. H. Holmes—along with Caleb Carr’s 1984 novel The
    Alienist, the fictional story of a serial killer roaming New York City when Teddy Roosevelt was chief of police,
    inspired Larson’s pursuit of Holmes with its philosophy of the nature of evil and poverty.
Course Materials and Additional Resources
(Available when class is in session)