The Thrilling Tale of Good and Evil in “The Devil in The White City”

In Erik Larson’s tantalizing book, The Devil in the White City, we are faced with a choice, “between good and evil, daylight and darkness, the White City and the Black” (xi). On the good side, the reader has Daniel Burnham, a man who is building up the city of Chicago after the great fire that destroyed most of its infrastructure. Burnham has seen many defeats in life but has also been entrusted with bringing the World’s Fair to Chicago. On the bad side, there is a man by the name of Henry Howard Holmes or H.H. Holmes for short. This man walked off the train claiming to be a doctor, and as such “[h]e walked with confidence and dressed well, conjuring [the] impression of wealth and achievement” (35). Holmes was brand new to the city of Chicago and decided to take up residency in “a village called Englewood in the town of Lake, a municipality of 200,000 people that abutted Chicago’s southern-most boundary”(35). In The Devil in The White City, Daniel Burnham and H.H. Holmes are prime examples of the vast differences between good and evil in the windy city of Chicago.

When we first meet Burnham he is a down on his luck man who has tried many different jobs in life but ultimately failed at everything. Burnham wrote “[t]here is, a family tendency to get tired of doing the same thing [for] very long” (19). He has no interest in anything until he meets John Wellborn Root, a civil engineer from Atlanta who would eventually become Burnham’s business partner. In 1889, the city of Chicago citizens committee passed their resolution stating “[t]he men who have helped build Chicago want the fair, and, having a just and well-sustained claim, they intend to have it” (16). Burnham knew, after hearing this new decree, that it would take a lot of work to turn the city of Chicago into a venue worthy of having a World’s Fair. A french editor described Chicago as “[a] Gordian city, so excessive, so satanic” (28). Another depiction of the windy city came from author and publisher, Paul Lindan saying “ [Chicago is] a gigantic peep show of utter horror, but extraordinarily to the point” (28). The city was steeped in evil which helped draw malicious and devious characters like Dr. H.H. Holmes.

As readers dive deeper into this book they realize that the Chicago Times-Herald description of Holmes is correct saying, “ [he was] a prodigy of wickedness, a human demon, a being so unthinkable that no novelist would dare invent such a character. The story, too, tends to illustrate the end of the century” (370). Yet Holmes was also very charismatic, using this trait Holmes left a trail of deceit, heartbreak, fraud, and eventually murder in his wake. In the chapter “Don’t Be Afraid” readers also find out the real reason Holmes moved to Chicago:

“Holmes adored Chicago, adored in particular how the smoke and din could envelop a woman and leave no hint that she ever had existed, save perhaps a blade thin track of perfume amid the stench of dung, anthracite, and putrefaction” (62).

Holmes is the epitome of evil, he is rumored to have killed as many as 200 people from the time his Englewood mansion was completed to the time he was caught. The acts of H.H. Holmes drove the small village of Englewood to become the Black City.

Maneuvering through the complexities of good and evil in The Devil in The White City readers become entranced by the characters of Daniel Burnham and H.H. Holmes. As Burnham seeks to build up the decimated city of Chicago, Holmes finalizes plans for the castle in which he will commit his horrendous crimes. When work finishes on the site of the World’s Fair, bringing new light to the city of Chicago, the darkness inside of Holmes radiates through the village of Englewood transforming it into the Black City.


Works Cited

Larson, Erik. The Devil in The White City. Vintage, 2004.


The Casting Team’s Decision for “The Devil in The White City”

In our group we came to a consensus that Leonardo DiCaprio was the best fit to play the role of Holmes in the film version of The Devil in the White City directed by Martin Scorsese. We also decided that Daniel Burnham should be played by John Goodman, which was my original pick and the group agreed with this choice. Next we tackled the actress to play the role of Minnie Williams, and from her previous role as the love interest of DiCaprio in Titanic we chose Kate Winslet. The other character we decided to cast was Minnie’s sister Anna Williams which we struggled with casting because we wanted a familial resemblance between this actress and Kate Winslet. After much discussion we finally settled on Jennifer Lawrence to play Anna, due to her very compelling and serious role in The Silver Linings Playbook. Our fifth character to cast was Margaret Shurman, the pretty blonde daughter of John Shurman. The first actress to come to mind that was both pretty and blonde was Reese Witherspoon who is famous for her role as Elle Woods in the Legally Blonde franchise. Our final casting decision was Jude Law to play the character of Frank Geyer, the burly detective who ends up catching Holmes after a long and infuriating man hunt.

As a group we all decided that Leonardo DiCaprio was the best choice to play H.H. Holmes in the upcoming film adaptation of The Devil in the The White City. On page 12 we get our first basic introduction and description of Holmes as “a young handsome doctor step[ping] from a train, his surgical valise in hand.” This fits with the type of roles DiCaprio personifies best, he exemplifies the look of a classic gentleman with a dark and devious side. As we continue to read we come upon a more detailed description of Holmes on page 35. “He walked with confidence and dressed well, conjuring an impression of wealth and achievement. He was 26 years old. His height was five feet, eight inches; he weighed only 155 pounds. He had dark hair and striking blue eyes…”

Moving along, we decided that Daniel Burnham would be serve by John Goodman. We believe that this was a good casting choice because of the descriptions giving to him by the author. In the book he is described as, “…sixty-five years old and had become a large man.” (3). Also, it states that, “His hair had turned gray, his mustache nearly white, but his eyes were as blue as ever, bluer at this instant by proximity to the sea.” (3). Based on these descriptions, it concluded us to instantly think of John Goodman, therefore we made the decision to cast John Goodman as Daniel Burnham.

Next, we chose to cast Minnie, who we chose to be Kate Winslet. We made this decision because of their resemblance according to this book. In the book, it tells us that she is plain, short, and plump. It also states that she is between the weight of 140-150. We think that this is also a great choice because of her previous interactions with Leonardo DiCaprio, in the movie The Titanic. We believe that these two would be outstanding in this movie, as they were in The Titanic. For the sister of Minnie William, Anna Williams, we decided on Jennifer Lawrence for her young looks and congeniality. In the book we learn that Anna was a teacher back home in Midlothian, Texas. Though Lawrence has never starred in a movie where she played a teacher her skepticism and adaptability, as portrayed in her previous work The Silver Linings Playbook, exemplifies the attributes of Anna described on page 203.

Next, we chose to cast John Sherman’s daughter, Margaret Sherman. She was listed as being, “…young, pretty, and blond…”(21). So with that description we chose to pick Reese Witherspoon. We made this accusation, because of their similarities in their everyday features. Also, we all know that Reese Witherspoon has played in several great movies, so we believe that she could shine great throughout this movie.

“Detective Frank Geyer was a big man with a pleasant, earnest face, a large walrus mustache, and a new gravity in his gaze and demeanor”(339). We cast Jude Law for this role for his magnificent portrayal of Dr. Watson in the 2009 adaptation of Sherlock Holmes. Jude Law can portray the hard working overly serious detective, who is no stranger to the site of murder and heinous crimes. Frank Geyer would end up being the hero of the story eventually catching Holmes.
Overall our group worked very well together and had many of the same ideas on who to cast and why. Mainly we focused on the descriptions of our characters looks and their attitudes throughout the book. We also wanted actors that are very skilled at their craft and really take their work seriously, learning everything they can about a character before becoming the character. As a group we also decided to chose some older actors along with younger more popular actors which would draw in a younger crowd to the movie as well as providing a livelyhood to the picture.

Works Cited:

Larson, Erik. The Devil in the White City. Vintage, 2004.

The Casting of “The Devil in the White City”

The Devil in the White City, written by Erik Larson, is set to be made into a major motion picture by director Martin Scorsese. It has already been announced that Leonardo DiCaprio will play the role of H.H. Holmes and some people have disputed this idea. I believe that Leonardo DiCaprio is the best choice for the role of H.H. Holmes. Holmes and DiCaprio are both very charismatic and they both can be considered womanizers. Also, Leonardo DiCaprio always puts 100% of himself into his roles and makes sure that he represents the character as he sees fit.


H.H. Holmes



Leonardo DiCaprio
Leonardo DiCaprio



Though the role of Holmes has been cast, Scorsese and Paramount Pictures have not yet announced the actors for the role of Daniel Burnham and Minnie Williams. For Daniel Burnham, I would suggest actor John Goodman because he looks most like Burnham, but he also fits the personality traits of Burnham as well. Goodman is a very jolly man but he also can be extremely serious in his roles and express a lot of emotion.


Daniel Burnham



John Goodman


Another great casting choice would be Sandra Bullock as Minnie Williams, Holmes’ wife. Just like Leonardo DiCaprio, Sandra Bullock dedicates herself completely to her roles and does them all justice no matter what. Though she and Dicaprio have not co-starred together before, I feel that their shared work ethic would make them a wonderful duo in The Devil in the White City.

minnie williams
Minnie Williams


Sandra Bullock


R. Dwayne Betts on Taking Responsibility

In Chapter 8 of A Question of Freedom, “Running from Trouble,” R. Dwayne Betts tells us why he ran from the police, “[I ran] because I was guilty.”(44) Betts understood that him being arrested was punishment for his actions. Betts knew from the second him and Brandon used the credit card of the man they carjacked that things were just gonna go down from there. When describing the chase Betts writes “ [t]his was one way to start this part of how my life became a derailed train, with a chase. Two black boys running as fast as they can from a decision they made ” (45).  It was a cold Sunday morning in December of 1996 that changed Betts’ life forever.

In A Question of Freedom, Betts points out that being fatherless is not to blame for being incarcerated. Instead, society should put the blame on the young people who committed the crime. While incarcerated Betts knew that it was not the decisions of his father that put him into the prison system. It was his decisions as a 16-year-old naive boy that put him in there. When society blames the parents or the lack of parents, they make the individual who committed the crime feel no responsibility for his or her actions. Without a sense of responsibility for their crimes, these young people continue to commit crime always claiming no responsibility for what they have done.

As we read the first chapters of the book Betts it very clear that he is to blame for his crimes. He says the judge ruled based on his presence at the crime but Betts also recounts that “[b]efore prison, my father got judged on his absence.” (11) This being said he does not want readers to think this will be a story of a young boy acting out for the attention his father never gave him, instead Betts writes “it’s not about my father being absent [.]” (11) Along with explaining prison life in his memoir Betts wants to ensure that young people know to have personal integrity and feel proud of themselves for rising above the statistics. Young people learn from example, and due to high incarceration rates, these kids think that is their destiny.

During his preliminary hearings, the prosecution puts forth a motion to move Betts crimes to the adult court system. At sixteen years old, Reginald Dwayne Betts was put into the adult system even though he could not buy cigarettes, liquor, a lotto ticket, or register to vote but he had recently gotten his license. Betts’ lawyer thought the adult court judge would be more understanding towards Betts because he had so much more of his life ahead of him. The lawyer was very wrong, the judge handed down a nine-year sentence to Betts to be served in an adult state penitentiary. The judge also gave Betts some advice during his sentencing saying “I don’t have any illusions that the penitentiary is going to help you, but you can get something out of it if you want to.” (79) Betts took what the judge said to heart and turned his life around 180 degrees while in prison.

From his experience in the justice system, R. Dwayne Betts learned that society always finds a scapegoat to justify the criminal actions of young people. They blame parents, income, neighborhood anything they can find to justify the action of putting kids into adult prisons. Even the judge knew that sending Betts to prison was not gonna help him unless he put in the effort to be a better man. Many people feel that youth rehabilitation programs do not justify the penalties for the crimes that some young people commit. Yet youth rehabilitation programs help young people understand that their actions do not just affect them it also affects the people who love them and the victims of the crimes they committed.


Betts, R. Dwayne.  A Question of Freedom.  Avery, 2009.

R. Dwayne Betts: Speaking With Style

During R. Dwayne Betts book discussion you could tell he is very intelligent and understands how to keep the crowd engaged but the vernacular he learned in prison is still

Photo Credit : Rachel Eliza Griffiths

a part of him. When Betts began his talk he read an excerpt from “Shahid Reads His Own Palm.” He then thanked the faculty member and student who introduced him and you can tell he feels a sense of pride in his accomplishments but he also is very humble. After he thanked the crowd for attending the event, Betts even cracked a joke saying “I know there’s a lot you can be doing on a Tuesday night.” The crowd laughed and Betts continued his joke saying “Nah I know it’s Thursday. I just wanted to see if y’all was paying attention.” By using the joke Betts made sure all attention was on the discussion he was having with the crowd, he also humanized himself so that the event was more an open discussion with the crowd than him lecturing. Betts continued to crack jokes every once in a while throughout the rest of his talk, this was another attempt to keep the crowd engaged. Personally, I enjoy when speakers have a sense of humor because it makes the speech or lecture more enjoyable and easier to listen to.

The Significance of “Close to You” by the Carpenters in Wonder of the World

David Lindsay-Abaire’s play Wonder of the World follows a tale of adventure and hopes to regain a lost lover. Our heroin, Cass Harris, believes she has wasted her life and abruptly decides to leave her husband, Kip Harris, for better and brighter things. Kip, left in the wake of Cass’ decision, does not feel that he can go on without the love of his life. Kip places all of his hope for him and Cass’ reconciliation in their wedding song “Close to You” by the Carpenters. In Act 1, Scene 8, Kip listens to “Close to You” on repeat while driving to Niagara Falls with the hope of winning Cass back. Unfortunately, to Kip’s dismay, Cass does not want him back and has moved onto another man. This is the greatest irony we see in the play, years ago when Cass and Kip got married they were, as the song entails, close to each other emotionally and physically. Fast forward to present day and Cass feels that Kip is distant while she also want ts to be as far away from him as possible because of it.

In the play Kip is very dependent on Cass and her love. The main reason for this is that Cass saved Kip from drowning when they were younger and he believes that without her, his life can no longer go on. Kip makes a plea for Cass to stay by saying “ You have a life here.”(1.1) What he actually means is you have a life here with me. To Kip’s dismay Cass does leave, all he is left with are the memories and a hole in his heart. After Cass leaves Kip decides to watch their wedding video to relive the love he has lost. Presumably while watching the rest of their wedding video Kip hears “Close to You” by The Carpenters and this gives him the drive to win Cass back, or at least try. He holds the song as a token of their undying love for each other, while also believing that if he can not have Cass then he should just die.

In reference to their wedding song has no feelings hung on it except for the fact that the lead singer died of anorexia. She talks with Lois about the song in Act 1, Scene 2:

CASS. (Returns to list.) Then we’ve got, “Have a baby. Wear overalls. Go parachuting.” I wanted to get married while skydiving. Kip said that was insane, so we had a church service instead. Our wedding song was “Close to You” by The Carpenters.

LOIS. She was anorexic.

CASS. Yeah, sad. (Back to list.) “Eat venison. Become friends with a clown.” Kip’s afraid of clowns, so — “Visit a prison and witness an execution by lethal injection.” That’s more of a long-term goal. “ Go on The Newlywed Game —”

Cass completely ignore the fact that the song is important to Kip or that it has anything to do with them at all. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum is Kip. He holds on to their love and that song as much as he can, listening to the song on repeat all the way to Niagara with a box of all the things he and Cass loved to do.

The ultimate irony in the play is the wedding song’s title. The song is called “Close to You” and features lyrics that display the singer’s longing to be close to their love. Yet Cass wants nothing to do with Kip and points out all the road signs, “[m}y old life is 463 road signs behind me.” (1.2) These 463 road signs represent her new life without Kip, she does not care about that song or the life she had with Kip. She wants to start her new life off right, making up for all those mistakes and regrets she has from marrying Kip. That song will not be apart of her life anymore and no longer holds any meaning to her.

Work Citied

Lindsay-Abaire, David. Wonder of the World. Dramatists Play Service. 2003.

Life Through Art

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

My name is Mallory and I love Art! Art has been a way for me to express myself since I was very young.

img_0089When I was five years old I drew on this plate (left) as a present for my mom for Mother’s Day. At the time I never knew how advanced my art would become. Thirteen years later I began a project for my little sister as a graduation gift, she’s graduating early so it needed to be something special. I asked her what she wanted (of course not knowing what I was getting myself into) and she requested that I paint Disney characters from all her favorite movies. So I have since embarked on a year long expedition to complete said
img_1691painting before she graduates in June (see pictures at end of post for my progress.) But I was in High School art class at the time of her requesting this project. Mr.Banner (my art teacher) assigned a project called “Plight of the Hemlocks,” we were to use these pieces to bring forth the importance of saving trees. My work (right image) went on exhibition at the end of the year event we hold for all the schools. While at this exhibition my piece was spotted by our Superintendent and on the spot he requested the piece be exhibited at his office for a year. Art has been one of the few outlets I have had to self express my views and
opinions. It also lead me to meet my best friend, surrogate grandfather, and overall the most wonderful human being img_2056on earth; Mr. Mickey Banner my beloved old art teacher.

– Mallory Renee’ Taylor


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