It’s summer, the time of year when fairs of all types occur throughout our state and country.
These three fascinating nonfiction books educate us on facts regarding several world’s fairs. Two are located in Chicago during different centuries, and one is located in New York City.
If you haven’t yet read “Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson, you must. It weaves the true story of two brilliant men into one fascinating tale. The feat to establish and outshine previous world’s fairs at the onset of the 20th century, is the impetus for illustrious architect, Daniel Burnham, to create the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair Columbian Exposition. It is also the backdrop for the intense and gruesome details of a most devious serial killer, Dr. Henry Holmes, who uses the fair to attract his victims and then murders them, covering it all with his dissection table, gas chamber and crematory. The term “White City” was coined because the buildings were of white stucco. The extensive use of street lights, so the boulevards and buildings would be usable at night, gave the city a white appearance. The art, surrounding the entire fair development, creates a magical aura and grandeur in a real-life setting, as do the likes of Thomas Edison, Susan B. Anthony, Buffalo Bill and many other renowned fair visitors. It’s a mesmerizing mystery, that reads like fiction, of an exciting, romantic time in our own backyard.
“The Finest Building in America: The New York Crystal Palace 1853-1858” by historian Edwin G. Burrows, is a new book that illustrates the building masterpiece that was supposed to reflect the latest trends in technological advancements. Taking its cue from London’s Crystal Palace, our copy for America’s first world’s fair was declared to be unsurpassed, which helped to secure America’s status apart from Europe. American pride and loyalty was palpable; however, five years after its completion, a fire destroyed the palace within 30 minutes and all was lost. Burrows’ deft storytelling and the lovely drawn images transport us back and reveal a time when the dreams and aspirations of our young country were rapidly materializing. This small book is a delightful quick romp through bygone splendor.
Another recently published book is “Al Capone and the 1933 World’s Fair: The End of the Gangster Era in Chicago” by William Elliott Hazelgrove. This historical account revolves around the second time a world’s fair was held in Chicago. Coming off of World War I, the Great Depression was in full force, our U.S. president was in a wheelchair and organized crime was at its peak. How capital was secured for the endeavor is detailed, as are the show people, bankers and businessmen who contributed to the success of the fair. But the main focus is the city itself, struggling to exist in spite of all the corruption — thanks to Al Capone, prohibition and gang warfare. Just imagine attempting to execute a monumental feat such as a world’s fair during the lowest of times in recent history, all while trying to prevent Capone from causing murder and mayhem. This book is intense and exciting and brings to life a piece of history that’s thrilling and fascinating.
Off the Shelves is published Sundays. Each week a different Kenosha Public Library or Community Library staff member organizes reviews of a handful of books available through the library system.