Chicago's Black and White City in The Devil in the White City

Topics: America

The Black and White City of Chicago

Erik Larson’s nonfiction book The Devil in the White City tells the true story of America’s first serial killer and the building of the World’s Colombian Exposition of 1893. At that time, the city of Chicago had awed its visitors but at the same time terrified them. Chicago was both a “white city” and a “black city” due to the new results of the industrial revolution and the evils it brought with it as a side affect.

Chicago’s fast growing “white city” awed its visitors with great buildings of never seen before heights, lavish homes, and the glorious structures of the World’s Fair. The city got “bigger taller, and richer; but it also grew dirtier, darker, and more dangerous” (27). The black city was characterized by “garbage mounded in alleys and overflowed giant trash boxes that became banquet halls for rats and bluebottle flies” (28). As the city and population grows, there will also be the inevitable consequence of violence and the abuse and lack of care for the environment.

Many unemployed men and women went to Chicago during the time of the World’s Fair for jobs and opportunities. The fair had employed and gave jobs to thousands of job seekers. On the other hand, Chicago’s dark side showed beyond the walls of the exposition where there was a rise in layoffs, wage reductions, and poverty. While working to build the fair in Jackson Park, Walter Wyckoff, a Princeton professor who was disguised as an worker had wrote, “guarded by sentries and high barriers from unsought contact with all beyond, great gangs of us, healthy, robust men, live and labor in a marvelous artificial world” (154).

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The fair’s workers had worked in a white city undisturbed by its surrounding black city of a chaotic society.

During the time of the World’s Fair, millions of visitors from around the world came Chicago. It became Chicago’s as well as the nation’s great pride that they had manage to build an exposition of such extravagance. To visitors, the fair was a dreamland and its “grace and beauty like an assurance that for as long as it lasted nothing truly bad could happen to anyone, anywhere” (289). On the contrary, the white city had also attracted evils, such as a serial killer who went by the alias H. H. Holmes. Holmes had used the white city to lure his prey which mostly consisted of young women who he found to be vulnerable. He had manipulated and then murdered the young women who were just were on their own and just experiencing their new freedom in Chicago. “He is a prodigy of wickedness, a human demon, a being so unthinkable that no novelist would dare to invent such character” (370), the Chicago Times-Herald had described.

In conclusion, Chicago was both a “white city” and “black city” during the World’s Colombian Exposition of 1893. The white city was characterized by its beautiful buildings, the opportunities, and the dreamlike quality that attracted so many men and women. The black city was the dark counterpart of the white city. “The White City had drawn men and protected them; the Black City now welcomed them back with filth, starvation, and violence” (323). The white city had brought along a black city because a society can never be purely good without a evil or bad part to it.

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Chicago's Black and White City in The Devil in the White City. (2021, Dec 27). Retrieved from

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