What are the essential similarities and differences between Daniel Burnham and H.H. Holmes?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This is an interesting question because, on the surface, these two men do not appear to have much in common. Erik Larson's story The Devil in the White City is the story of the Chicago World's Fair at the turn of the century, and he follows the actions of Daniel Burnham and H.H. Holmes. One is responsible for the most magnificent display of ingenuity and innovation the world had ever seen; one is responsible for a series of bizarre murders which take place in the shadow of the White City. Their differences, then, are relatively clear. Among other things:

  • Burnham's goal is lofty and will serve the greater good; Holmes's goal is self-serving and will actually harm everyone who comes too near him.
  • Burnam's creativity and ingenuity is on public display; Holmes's creativity and ingenuity is necessarily something he cannot have anyone see.

Despite that, they do have some things in common. Among them:

  • They are both men who know how to accomplish their goals. Burnham has to work with others to achieve his goal; Holmes must work alone to accomplish his goal.
  • Both men are creative and utilize great ingenuity in order to accomplish their goals.
  • Both men take advantage of visitors coming to Chicago--one to make money for the fair, the other to find unsuspecting victims who will not be easily missed.
  • Both men are personable and intelligent.



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