The Angel and the Demon in the White City

The Devil in the White City is a book by Erik Larson about both the creating of the Chicago World’s Fair and the notorious murderer Dr. H. H. Holmes who would prey upon the Fair. In Larson’s prefatory note “Evils Imminent”, he describes The Devil in the White City as a story of the ineluctable conflict between good and evil, daylight and darkness, the White City and the Black” (xi). This statement is true, Larson describes how the Chicago World’s Fair was pure intentioned by exposing America to different cultures and to highlight America’s greatness, however, the Fair became the perfect breeding grounds for crime, both misdemeanor and felony. Part one of The Devil in the White City best portrays the theme of light and dark due to most of the section dedicated to looking into the personal lives of each character and the drafting of the Fair.

The relationship between light and dark could be used to describe Holmes perfectly. Holmes’ wife Myrta said, “[h]e was so kind, so gentle and thoughtful…” (65). This description of Holmes shows us that he was charismatic and decent. However, his façade would sometimes leak out some of the festering evil that lurked below. A bricklayer named Bowman said, “… [Holmes] came over to me and, pointing down to the basement, said, ‘[y]ou see that man down there? Well, that’s my brother-in-law, and he has got no love for me, neither have I for him. Now, it would be the easiest matter for you to drop a stone on the fellow’s head while you’re at work and I’ll give you fifty dollars if you do’” (68). Holmes was a truly sick man, he would gain the trust of newcomers to Chicago just to take their lives as if they were only born for his amusement. His charisma did not only charm the naïve newcomers but businessmen and bill collectors as well. Holmes was known to charm the people whom he owed money too to the point where they had forgotten about the debt by the time they left. When the businessmen were fed up with Holmes’ charm, he sold his business to a man named Ned who was “of an easy-going nature” (124). Holmes fit Dr. Hervey Cleckley’s definition of a psychopath perfectly as a “reflex machine which can mimic the human personality perfectly” (88). With all of this in mind, Dr. Holmes is definitely the darkness in the White City.

Daniel Burnham is the light in the White City due to his pure intentions to better not only Chicago but the entirety of the United States of America. Burnham was a pure gentleman, upon learning that his “brother had forged checks” he contacted his fiancé’s father to end the courtship so not to harm her family’s reputation (21). Others also described Burnham to be “decisive, blunt, and cordial” (53). Burnham was tasked with building the Fair in a short period of time which he accepted. Burnham wasted no time at all to break ground on this massive project. He went to New York by himself to try to enlist some of the country’s best architects. Burnham went into this project with “no plan other than somehow to surpass Eiffel” (81). We can really see into Burnham’s personality and work ethic here which is significant evidence to name him as the light in the White City.

The Devil in the White City fits the light versus dark archetype perfectly which makes it even more amazing to be a nonfiction book. It was extremely interesting to read about the creation of such a huge feat of American ingenuity whilst simultaneously learning of one of America’s most sinister and notorious serial killers. Larson has effectively demonstrated that history can tell very bizarre and intriguing stories that one could only conclude was fiction.



Work Cited

Larson, Erik. The Devil in the White City. Penguin, 2004.


Group Casting for The Devil in The White City

In our group discussion, we debated different candidates to play certain roles in the film adaptation of The Devil in The White City. We spent a lot of time trying to cast certain actors and actresses who have starred alongside with some of the other actors and who were thought to have perfected a certain role. I think we came up with a fine cast for The Devil in The White City.

As a group, we all decided that Leonardo DiCaprio was the best choice to play H.H. Holmes in the upcoming film adaptation of The Devil in The White City. On page 12, we get our first basic introduction and description of Holmes as “a young handsome doctor step[ping] from a train, his surgical valise in hand.” This fits with the type of roles DiCaprio personifies best, he exemplifies the look of a classic gentleman with a dark and devious side. As we continue to read we come upon a more detailed description of Holmes on page 35. “He walked with confidence and dressed well, conjuring an impression of wealth and achievement. He was 26 years old. His height was five feet, eight inches; he weighed only 155 pounds. He had dark hair and striking blue eyes…”

Moving along, we decided that Daniel Burnham would be served by John Goodman. We believe that this was a good casting choice because of the descriptions giving to him by the author. In the book, he is described as, “…sixty-five years old and had become a large man.” (3). Also, it states that, “His hair had turned gray, his mustache nearly white, but his eyes were as blue as ever, bluer at this instant by proximity to the sea.” (3). Based on these descriptions, it concluded us to instantly think of John Goodman, therefore we made the decision to cast John Goodman as Daniel Burnham.

Next, we chose to cast Minnie, who we chose to be Kate Winslet. We made this decision because of their resemblance according to this book. In the book, it tells us, that she is plain, short, and plump. It also states that she is between the weight of 140-150. We think that this is also a great choice because of her previous interactions with Leonardo DiCaprio, in the movie The Titanic. We believe that these two would be outstanding in this movie, as they were in The Titanic. For the sister of Minnie William, Anna Williams, we decided on Jennifer Lawrence for her young looks and congeniality. In the book, we learn that Anna was a teacher back home in Midlothian, Texas. Though Lawrence has never starred in a movie where she played a teacher her skepticism and adaptability, as portrayed in her previous work The Silver Linings Playbook, exemplifies the attributes of Anna described on page 203.

Next, we chose to cast John Sherman’s daughter, Margaret Sherman. She was listed as being, “…young, pretty, and blond…”(21). So with that description, we chose to pick Reese Witherspoon. We made this accusation, because of their similarities in their everyday features. Also, we all know that Reese Witherspoon has played in several great movies, so we believe that she could shine great throughout this movie.

“Detective Frank Geyer was a big man with a pleasant, earnest face, a large walrus mustache, and a new gravity in his gaze and demeanor.” We cast Jude Law for this role for his magnificent portrayal of Dr. Watson in the 2009 adaptation of Sherlock Holmes. Jude Law can portray the hard working overly serious detective, who is no stranger to the site of the murder and heinous crimes. Frank Geyer would end up being the hero of the story eventually catching Holmes.

All and all, we believe that these actors and actresses can portray these characters to perfection. Even though none of these were my first pick, I see how they have worked together and will make this film a huge success. I am excited to watch this movie when it is released and will be even more excited to see the cast of this film so I will be able to compare Martin Scorsese’s picks with ours.

Casting for The Devil in The White City

The Devil in The White City by Erik Larson will be made into a movie by director Martin Scorsese and will star Leonardo DiCaprio as the villainous Dr. H H Holmes. Holmes has been described as a man who would, “[Stand] too close, [stare] too hard, and [touch] too much and long.” (Larson 36). None of DiCaprio’s characters have ever “played by the rules” and he has always played characters who were charismatic and who have dark secrets. It is almost as if DiCaprio were made for this role.

DiCaprio is the only known actor in the film adaptation of The Devil in The White City for now, but I have a few suggestions on who would be suited to play certain roles in the film. For the role of Daniel Burnham who is the man who brings all the architects together to construct the Chicago World’s Fair would be Kevin Spacey. I chose Kevin Spacey to play Daniel Burnham because he looks like a distinguished businessman and he can play the character who can make anything happen based on his role in House of Cards.

I would also like to choose Ron Perlman to play the role of detective Frank Geyer. Frank Geyer is described as “A big man” who “knew murder” (Larson 339). Ron Perlman is a large man and has the appearance of someone who has seen many horrendous things. Despite his role as the evil biker boss from Sons of Anarchy, he has the look of an old-timey detective who has been hardened by the site of murder scenes.

I truly believe that these actors would be able to play these roles to perfection and make The Devil in The White City a huge film success.

Work Cited

Larson, Erik. The Devil in the White City. Vintage 2004

A Question of Human Rights

            A Question of Freedom (2009) tells the story of the author R. Dwayne Betts’ time in prison as a juvenile and as a young adult. Betts was an honor roll student who made the mistake of carjacking a man at gunpoint when he was just sixteen years old. Betts was then tried and sentenced as an adult. Betts details what his life was like in prison as a minor. He also describes how he was mistreated at multiple correctional institutions. “We were the most expendable people in the United States…” (202). Prisoners in the United States are treated as if they are less than human.

The first-time Betts describes his mistreatment in his memoir is the point where anyone with a sliver of morality would be disgusted. “Prison life is a series of small indignities that you’re made to adapt to.” (105). No human being convicted of any crime should be treated as less than human, especially in a state funded and operated penitentiary. The fact that these men are being degraded and humiliated at a rate so high that to survive they must accept it as a fact of life is despicable. These men are so mistreated in prison that they would prefer to be in complete isolation, which is truly disturbing considering that we are extremely social creatures. (191). Additionally, violence was so prevalent in these prisons because people would ignore it and ultimately grow callous to the sight of violence. (186). These institutions repeatedly beat down the men who inhabit it both physically and psychologically, similar to the practices used during slavery. Betts recalls a rather grotesque and humiliating act in his memoir that upon arrival at the newest maximum security prison where he was made to squat naked in front of fifteen smiling guards armed with a video camera. (176). Which sounds both cruel and unusual.

Not only did the prison abuse the inmates physically, but they also made it near impossible to have contact with their families. Betts recalled that while spending time at the maximum-security prison that, “[p]hone calls were close to twenty dollars for fifteen minutes and there was no library.” (179). Which seems ludicrous considering that some of the best-paying inmate jobs made one dollar an hour. For a lot of these people, their family is their support group and reading is how they stay sane. To make sanity a luxury is an absurd lack of humility displayed by these institutions. The entire purpose of prison is to rehabilitate the inmates so that they can eventually recirculate into society and contribute to the wellbeing of the community. But according to Betts, “I was staring at going home and hadn’t received ten seconds of what I’d always heard was the rehabilitation prisoners were supposed to get in prison.” (214).

This memoirs’ main purpose is to show the reader what goes on in these prisons. These men are treated as less than human daily and must accept this treatment less they desire even worse treatment. Betts is an advocate for prison reform and after reading this moving memoir, I do not think anyone would deny that there are some serious issues with our prison system that have gone unacknowledged for far too long. A Question of Freedom is truly eye opening to the grotesque and heinous treatment of prisoners.


Work Cited

Betts, R. Dwayne. A Question of Freedom. Avery, 2009.