Cafe Parlez for August

Tonight we’re discussing “The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson. The snacks are based on food items that were introduced at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1893: Triscuits (for the Shredded Wheat), maple syrup cookies for the Aunt Jemima syrup, Cracker Jack, and cheese for the crackers, plus lemonade.

J is asking for suggestions for next year’s reading, and for anyone who might want to facilitate some of the discussions for the next year.

Housekeeping done, now for the book!

Passing around two stereoscope cards for the Exposition from G’s collection, one of the White City, and one of the crowd on opening day. J is going over some information she found online.

A question of where Dahomey is, and it’s Benin. M asks how did we not know about this. P has The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers, and Holmes is in there, but not in his own separate passage. Possibly because they couldn’t prove that he killed all the people that disappeared. He confessed to 27 victims, but some were found alive later. How did these women disappear and not be missed, and him not be suspected. Holmes was very charismatic, like most serial killers, and the women were traveling alone.

And how did the Fair get missed, when it took an Act of Congress to get it going. Now folks are discussing all the people who were affected or influenced by the Fair: Frank Lloyd Wright, L. Frank Baum, Walt Disney’s father.

There was no clean air or water, so it was important for the Fair to truck in clean water.

L has been going to Chicago for years and hasn’t seen anything of the Fair. The Museum of Science and Technology is the only building standing. It wasn’t built to last, and the plan was to destroy it when it was done. P says that it would lose its magic over time.

How did the Fair change America? They used AC current, incandescent bulbs, communication, clean water, midway as a standard feature at fairs. America at that time, the Gilded Age, was very exaggerated, with great progression, especially for women. Women were becoming independent, and Holmes took advantage of the situation.

Holmes designed a house of death, with a crematoria, dead bodies all around, and no-one asked where the bodies came from. He despoiled the body so that they couldn’t be identified. He was a sociopath. There was no way to track a person back then, so there was no tracing him through his Social Security number. They were not suspicious because women were owned and ruled by men. He also preyed on women who had low self-esteem. Some women are the same today. There was no technology like today to find out about people, and we tend to be more suspicious today. S thinks the girls were very gullible, but M says he spent lavishly, and owned a building that covered a city block, was well-educated and well-spoken.

The White City was built in such little time and battled so much red tape, L isn’t sure that we could do such a thing today. Frederick Law Olmstead was such a wreck: tooth decay, constant pain, but he had such a vision and was driven by ambition.

Hubris and bombast meant that you thought you could bend nature to suit your will. It never works.

How the book reads: the first two chapters were tough going. But the two types of writing tended to relieve each other. Once again, somebody should have said something about Holmes’ and his plans!

The death of the mayor: the mayor is assassinated on the last day of the Fair. M says that there was a PBS program called “The White City” about the Fair. We’ll look for it, it may be an American Experience.

P has yet another book about serial killers and their horoscopes, and says many of them have Taurus in their horoscope.

Why are more men than women serial killers? Maybe because we have to clean it up! P says that women tend to use poison more than something more physical; “Black Widow Killers”.

Larson has a very good writing style and can pull so much information and plot together and keep our interest. The juxtaposition of the two stories keeps the reader going. Reads like a novel. He does all of his own research, and doesn’t use fact-checkers. He likes to handle the artifacts and first source material. His voice does creep in, and does speculate on what might have happened. Only when you read the notes do you find the facts. Larson walks the line between fiction and nonfiction.

Because people couldn’t imagine someone would do such a thing was the reason no-one suspected Holmes.

Some discussion on how defacing books is a sign of a psycopath.

Next month’s book is “On Writing” by Stephen King, and the date is September 27. TTFN!


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