Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Chicago World Fair Reflecting the Guilded Age

The Chicago World Fair attracted twenty-seven million people from all around the world. Showing off the fruits of industry as well as the exotic nature of the outside world, it was no wonder that this architectural masterpiece attracted such social success. However, the White City – much like the industrial products it so avidly showcased -- had two sides to it, and one was far darker than the other.

As is described in the Devil in the White City, the Fair not only attracted enthusiasts and knowledge-seekers. To quote the novel, “the police force would have to be ready to deal with the largest gathering of criminals which Chicago had ever seen.” The effects of crime on the Chicago experience are fundamental, albeit sometimes overlooked. With the surge of criminal activity, travelers coming into Chicago “mysteriously vanished” – so many that, half the time, the police couldn’t find them nor their bodies. The increased populace within Chicago resulted in crime becoming far more abundant, and it was then far easier for criminals to get away from the authorities. The psychopathic H. H. Holmes of the Chicago World Fair is one such example of this. Records state that the number of his victims ranges between 4-200. The gap is large, thus indicating the state of the legal system at the time. His killings lasted between 1888–1894; once again indicating the legal system’s struggle with dealing with the criminal activity in a quick manner, given the obstacles which were posed to them at the time.

This reflects one of the darker points of the Gilded Age transformation. With industry came a population boom. That population boom, added on to the psychological effects which the unsanitary, inhumane conditions which industries presented to the working force, resulted in an increase in criminal activity throughout America which could be compared to that of other industrialized areas of the world, including England. With industry came crime, and this crime was, unfortunately, a part of the Chicago World Fair experience.

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