The Devil in the White City

by Erik Larson

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On Pages 254-255 of the novel Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, what historical reference is discussed word for word?

What does that Historical reference mean?

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As noted in the other answer, the marvel of the electric lights that illuminated the Chicago World's Fair at night are described in some detail. We learn that electric lights "laced every building and walkway" and were the first large-scale test of alternating current. Larson offers another factoid as well: the fair used three times as much electricity as the entire city of Chicago. Of course, as we learn earlier in the book, Chicago at this time is still very much illuminated by gas lights, although electricity has been introduced to the city.

Larson talks about how safe people felt walking around at night in the bright illumination of electric lights and about the beauty of a fountain's water lit by electricity.

As for a specific historic reference, Larson quotes a Polish immigrant girl named Hilda Satts who attended the fair with her father. She was only formerly familiar with kerosene lights. Larsen quotes her saying that, in contrast to kerosene, the electric illumination is "like getting a sudden vision of heaven."

She is also surprised that the electric lights are turned on by a switch and do not require matches.

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The most important historical reference on these pages is to the electric lights that were so prevalent at the fair.  As the book tells us on p. 254, these were the first electric lights that many people had ever seen.

At the turn of the century, the US was approaching a time when technology would be used to a great extent to make people’s lives easier.  The earlier industrial revolution in the US had been built around capital goods like railroads.  Now, technology was being used to help regular people with their everyday lives.  Electric lights were a clear example of this as they made life safer and more pleasant for millions of Americans in the years around the time of the Columbian Exposition.

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