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Art of Racing in the Rain
Book of Lost Things
Chant to Soothe
Curious Incident 1
Curious Incident 2
Cutting for Stone
Devil in the White City
For the Win
Half a Life
The Help 2
In Cold Blood
Koko Be Good
Life of Pi 1
Life of Pi 2
Lost Symbol 2
Miracle of St. A's
Other Wes Moore
Pride & Prejudice
Red & Me
Thousand Splendid Suns
Thousand Splendid Suns 2
Town Called Alice
Where Men Win Glory
Year of Living Biblically
Devil in the White City
The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson
Location: Mr. Halsted's Room
AP Literature and Composition: Creative Writing
9 September 2011
A Troubled Child
Reaction to Larson’s The Devil in the White City
It was never difficult for Herman Mudgett to make friends. Even as a young child, he could bend the will of those around him and quickly turn would-be enemies to friends. Years later, when the journal of Mudgett’s grade school teacher was found, the reality of his childhood began to take form.
“Every day I watch him. He is truly a pleasure to behold. He is kind to every one of his peers, and for that he is loved. His small, soft hands are constantly being held, and he will even occasionally slip his hand into mine. Surrounded as I am by the sticky, dirty hands of children, the cleanliness of his hands always surprises me; were it not for the size, I would believe myself to be holding hands with a fastidious adult. Just today, as Eugene took his usual, solitary seat outside at lunch, Herman approached him and took his hand, leading him over to sit with the other children.”
“Herman has been acting slightly strange recently. He is not his gregarious self, and will occasionally leave for lunch, disappearing into
the surrounding woods. This, of course, is unacceptable. I pulled him aside yesterday and asked what he was doing, and if anything was wrong. ‘Of course not, Mrs. Humphries,’ he replied, staring deep into my eyes. ‘I don’t go anywhere, just over to the stream for a while.’ Staring into his eyes, I felt myself to be upon the edge of a precipice, as if I could tumble into them; tunnels of blue that would envelope me for eternity. It took me almost a full day to realize that there is no stream.”
“Herman is getting worse. He continues to be a friend to all, but something has changed. He no longer acts as if the children are his equals, and he no longer tries to please them. It has come to seem as if the children are his subordinates, each vying for his attention while he stands aloof, like a beautiful, controlling apparition, forever out of reach, while everyone yearns to grab him. I myself feel as though I would do anything for this small boy, this young prodigy with the ability to make each person feel themselves to be the most important, most loved individual in the world. Herman is also able, unfortunately, to do the reverse. I saw him speaking to Eugene after school today, and when I left the classroom almost an hour later, Eugene was crouched in the corner, shaking. He would not speak to me.”
“I do not know what to do. Herman has changed and I seem to be the only person, besides poor Eugene, who can see that. The children gather around him as if he were their ring leader, and today as I left I saw him, walking through the woods. He walked through the underbrush, ignoring the path beside him. His hair was perfectly neat, his small face was tranquil, and he had his usual bright, slightly crooked smile. There was blood on his hands.”
“I do not know what to do. Herman barely comes to school, and when he does it is hard for me to be around him. His eyes are still penetratingly blue, but I have come to see that there is something missing. There is something different about his eyes, and it is not just their seemingly endless quality. It is that at the end of that tunnel, where in most people resides a spark, a spark of life, a spark of love and above all, a spark of humanity, there is nothing. I am scared of that tunnel. I am scared of what may come to appear there. In my minds eye I see Herman in the woods, blood on his hands; I cannot escape it. He is everywhere. I do not know what to do.”
“A dead rabbit. On my desk. A dead rabbit, its stomach cut open, its innards removed. He knows. He knows that I have seen the end of the tunnel. I cannot stay here.”
So ended Mrs. Humphries’ journal. It is thought that she moved to Virginia under a pseudonym, where she fell into bouts of crippling depression. She died less then three months later.
Letters from Alice to her mother
Friday September 28, 1894
Nellie and Howard and me are fine. We are on the train our way to Cincinnati. I am so excited, I have never been this far from home before. Dr. Holmes is really nice to us, he bought Nellie and Howard some candy at the train station and he bought me
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
. The weather is nice and I am enjoying looking out the window at the scenery flashing by. I wish you were feeling better and could be here with us.
Your loving daughter,
Wednesday October 3, 1894
How are you feeling? I hope you are doing better. We spent two days in Cincinnati and then traveled on to Indianapolis.. Dr. Holmes took us to the zoo in Cincinnati, Howard was afraid of the lions but liked the monkeys. Nellie and I both liked the river otters. We are staying at the English Hotel. I don’t like how Dr. Holmes has been calling me babe, child, and dear. I am fifteen and don’t appreciate being called such childish names. Sometimes Dr. Holmes leaves us in the hotel room for a while and goes off some where. It is warmer today which is good because it has been chilly for the past few days. Have you received my other letters? Write back soon.
Your loving daughter,
Wednesday October 10, 1894
Why haven’t you responded to any of my letters? Howard, Nellie, and I are very worried about you. Howard has been complaining a lot lately and being very disobedient. Dr. Holmes got very angry at him when he wandered off. It really scared me when Dr. Holmes yelled at Howard, the look in his eyes scared me. We spend a lot of time in the hotel room. I am reading
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
for the second time. Indianapolis is growing colder and we are spending more time in the hotel room. I have only a thin jacket and I have asked Dr. Holmes for a warmer one. We are all extremely homesick. Please write back soon.
Your loving daughter,
Sunday October 14, 1894
We are now in Detroit and the weather has turned very cold. Nellie and I both have a cold and therefor we are spending a lot of time drawing pictures in the hotel room. I miss you so much. Are you feeling any better? I am really worried because Howard is no longer with us. I don’t know where he is but Dr. Holmes assures us that he is fine and will be back soon. Please write back soon, I miss you so much.
Your loving daughter,
Jim and Mariah both just read the book Devil In The White City by Erik Larson. They both go to the gym on Wednesday mornings. Today, a discussion arises regarding the book. Jim loved the book while Mariah hated it.
Jim: In the first few pages of the book, I could clearly picture Chicago back in the early 1890’s. The author really wanted to make sure we could visualize the area so we knew how close these two very different men were from each other. I also really enjoyed having the chapters switch back and forth between the perspectives of H.H Holmes and Daniel H. Burnham. This allowed me to really compare each man throughout the book.
Mariah: Well I did not like the book at all. I thought that it made it difficult to follow when the author continued to switch the views with each chapter. In the first large chunk of the book the only thing that tied the two men together was that they were both in Chicago at the same time. I continually would have to remind myself what was going on with each man once I got to their chapter. I do agree that the author did an outstanding job describing Chicago in the beginning.
Jim: I do understand how one could get confused when the chapters kept changing perspective, but I think it worked well and kept me, as the reader, going. Other than the style of writing, I feel like the story showed how people can be so different but also similar. Both Burnham and Holmes went to Chicago to be successful in each career. Burnham got into architecture where he became successful and eventually got a leading position in the World’s Fair. Holmes opened a pharmacy and began opening up other shops and became successful because he was able to manipulate the government and people. Both men also saw the World’s Fair as an opportunity. Burnham thought it would be the perfect career move that would make him the most successful architect in history. Holmes thought it would be an opportunity to make money off his hotel as well as finding many single, young women he could coheres into staying with him so he could eventually kill them. I thought this idea was great and made the book very interesting.
Mariah: I felt like the book didn’t really give a meaningful message that was clear enough. I felt like there wasn’t a clear enough reason for having both men’s stories being told at the same time. I also felt like most of the time I was reading boring facts about the fair rather than being told a story. I didn’t feel like I hot to know the personality of Burnham as much as I did with Holmes, and I think it is important to even out those types of things in a book. Overall I didn’t find a purpose in the book.
Jim: Because it is a non-fiction book, it may not have an underlying message like a fiction book. Maybe a non-fiction book isn’t the right book for you. Unlike you, I think the author did a great job giving the facts while adding perspective so that it was a story rather than organized facts. I also think the book gave an example of how the United States was changing at the time. Big dreams, big cities, as well as horrific crime.
Mariah: I suppose you’re right. Maybe it is that fact that it was non-fiction. But I do think it was a little confusing the beginning portrays Burnham being old and thinking about the fair so it seems like the readers will be reading from his perspective but then it continually changes. I also think the ending had so many facts about what happened after the fair in such few pages that it was overwhelming. Overall, I just didn’t like the book.
Jim: I really like the ending, to tell you the truth. I wanted to know what became of the men who worked on the fair as well as what became of Holmes. I thought it was appropriate. I just really enjoyed the book.
So Jim and Mariah agreed to disagree about Devil In The White City in the end.
A Most Curious Etching
Emeline Cigrand was terrified. She was just starting to believe her Holmes, her beloved Holmes, was not the man he seemed. She’d gone to him just that night, demanding her eight hundred dollar savings. The suspicious whispers that had surrounded him were beginning to make sense, and she feared for herself. She had planned to return home to Lafayette, Indiana, to her family and find a more suitable and far more scrupulous man there. But she couldn’t leave without her life savings! So she had demanded them of Holmes that evening, barefoot and in her nightgown. He told her calmly that, of course he had her savings, they were in the vault next door. All she had to do was go in and collect them. She did so, stepping gingerly onto a floor that was strangely sticky and stung her feet slightly, looking about for anything that might contain her savings. Then the door slammed shut.
She felt her throat constrict as all traces of light vanished from the room, leaving her alone in the dark, cramped space. Surely this was a mistake? She waited for a few minutes, and when no help was forthcoming she approached the door. She knocked lightly and yelled “Hello?”, hoping someone, somewhere, heard. Nothing but silence. She knocked again and yelled. Still nothing. She began pounding against the door. Something, something was wrong. Very wrong. Her feet still stung slightly from whatever was on the floor, but she ignored them. Opening this door was more important. Slowly, she began to realize that her labored breathing wasn’t just because of the strain from attempting to make enough noise to be heard, but that she was slowly running out of air. She began to cry and beat the door harder, screaming. Surely her friends the Lawrences had heard? And didn’t her husband, her beloved Holmes know she was here?
Of course he did.
As that final revelation crashed down, she felt her sobs of fear and desperation turn to cries of a rage and despair smothered by impotence. She was being murdered! Not only that, but she was being murdered in the most cowardly way possible, and there was nothing she could do! She cursed Holmes with all the foulest names she knew, and screamed and screamed until there was nothing left.
In her desperation and fury, Emeline kicked against the door, and fell to the sticky, stinging, acidic floor. She gasped out one last sob, and passed out.
After the soft thumps and muffled screams subsided, Holmes got up and retrieved the body, bringing it to his medical table for later study. He was pleased with how the acid had performed, speeding up the consumption of oxygen nicely. He completely overlooked Emeline’s footprint, etched into the door by the acid that had been eating at her feet. His mind was far, far away, still back at the lab table where he’d left her body. Still, if he had noticed, he would have thought it most curious.
Perhaps it might have even made his long dead heart beat with fear.
The police surrounded Holmes’ castle, with the chief announcing their presence aloud. Every exit had men posted by, knowing that Chicago’s reputation was in the balance. Holmes was a black mark on the record of the White City, and he could not be allowed to escape into the fair.
The air was very still today. Although the fair was only blocks away, an eerie quiet had taken over the area. The police knew very little about what awaited them inside the walls of Holmes’ hotel, or what they would find. All that mattered was that they find him -- alive, or else they may never find the women that had disappeared over the recent months.
The front door was busted in, a pounding blast that woke up most of the neighborhood. Two detectives joined by a small army of officers entered the building. The aroma of chemicals rose from the basement, but it was credited to the pharmacy in the first floor. The sound of a door closing nearby sent the officers running. The reports were that Holmes was disposing the bodies of his victims in an oven in the basement, but the door led to a stairwell going upstairs. They followed in a hurry, and found themselves outside a large vault in the offices upstairs. There was no one in sight, so the officers turned the corner and began searching the nearby rooms. The detective stayed, however, and silently listened for anything he could hear. A faint sound was coming from the vault -- screaming? He walked up the vault door and strained to listen, the sounds muffled by the thick walls. The door was unlocked, so he entered slowly, gun drawn, expecting the worst. What he found didn’t disappoint.
The detective found a man (turning out to be Holmes’ partner) trapped inside. He was chained to the wall and bleeding heavily. The detective asked him about Holmes’ whereabouts, not paying attention to the door. The man’s mouth had been sewn shut, his only way of communicating being nods. A hissing sound came from the wall to the left and the odor gas was apparent immediately. This wasn’t a vault, but a gas chamber. The door slammed and the detective was face to face with none other than Holmes himself.
The police searched the entire office space, and returned to the vault room to find the door closed. It was opened to find all three men -- quite dead, with the secrets dead with them. A man chained to the wall, hanging from his wrists, his body limp. The detective and Holmes on the floor, no signs of physical struggle, almost as if they were only asleep. The smell of gas only faint now, it would take the police days to solve what happened. Whatever the men had known about the missing women would never be known now.. The devil left the White City with more questions left than answers, and went back to hell without leaving a trail behind.
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