Historical references in the book "The Devil in the White City"On Page 79 of the novel The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson, what historical reference is discussed? What does that...

Historical references in the book "The Devil in the White City"

On Page 79 of the novel The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson, what historical reference is discussed?

What does that historical reference mean?

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In another to reference to the Chicago World's Fair (1893), a meeting between Fair planners is mentioned. A couple of things of significance to social history are revealed in this reference. One is that Hunt carried the largest influence among the Fair planners and that the others followed his lead when it came time to make difficult decisions. Another is that McKim tried to lead by inspirational motivational talk about the Fair but that Hunt, the influential one, was too driven to countenance anything but a direct approach. This correlates with his description as a fierce "frown in a suit." There is also a reference to the Players Club (New York gentleman's club founded 1888) where the architects from the East Coast met with Burnham, with a socio-historical reference to German poets Goethe and Schiller who dubbed architecture "'frozen music'." Schiller said this first in Philosophie der Kunst; Goethe later borrowed from his close friend and said it in conversation with Peter Eckermann, Peter Eckermann’s Conversations with Goethe.

"major players behind the planning of the Chicago World's Fair: Daniel Burnham, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., Charles F. McKim, and sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens." (New York Prreservation Archive Project)

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is important once again that you should mention the Panic of 1893 by name here.  The passage quoted in the previous post here is clearly talking about the impact of that panic.  It would show more knowledge on your part if you refer to it by name.

There is also another passage that can be seen as a historical reference.  This is the part where Burnham and the architects are meeting.  Larson tells us that they all "bore the scars of nineteenth-century life."  This is a reference to how hard and dangerous life could be in those days.  This was partly (as in the fevers Larson mentions) because medical science was not well advanced.  It was also partly because there was little in the way of health and safety regulations.  This allowed much more in the way of train wrecks and industrial accidents than we now have.  Thus, this is a historical reference to the fact that life in general was more dangerous for people in that century than it is for us today.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Page 79, of The Devil in the White City, provides a reference to the news made by a private bank in Chicago. The bank, S. A. Kean & Co., closed its doors on December 18, 1890. Given the earlier speak of financial troubles hitting Chicago, the closing of the bank was another cause for panic in the city. The owner, Mr. Kean, stated (in an interview with The New York Times) that the bank did not have the funds to "continue business safely pending the reorganization." (The complete article from the paper has been linked for you below.)

The quote, from the novel, which speaks to this historical reference is as follows.

Over breakfast at his hotel on Thursday morning, Burnham read with uneasiness about the failure of S. A. Kean & Co., a private bank in Chicago. It was one more sign of a gathering panic.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One thing that stood out to me was a reference to the famous architect Richard Morris Hunt on this page.

Hunt was fierce, a frown in a suit, with a client list that included most of America’s richest families. (p. 69)

Hunt was a famous architect of this time that designed many important public buildings, but also residences of the rich and famous in New York, New Jersey, and Chicago.  Thus having a house designed by him was a sign of affluence and status.  It was in fashion.  This contributed to Post and Hunt’s power in the community and in fact the entire eastern coast.


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