The Devil in the White City By Erik Larson Summary and Analysis Part II: Chapter 22 - Acquiring Minnie

Summary

While the builders of the fair are facing challenges, Holmes's business ventures, including a newly opened alcoholic treatment center, are thriving. Holmes focuses his time on preparing the hotel for the fair but becomes increasingly worried that he might have to leave Chicago because of inquiries into the whereabouts of Julia and Pearl Conner and Emeline Cigrand. The women's parents have hired investigators, who've questioned Holmes several times. By March 1893, Holmes finds himself in need of secretarial help. A former lover of Holmes from Boston, Minnie Williams, moves to Chicago and contacts him.

A flashback reveals Minnie's background, both before and after Holmes. Losing her parents at an early age, Minnie and her sister Anna go to live with separate family members. Minnie moves in with an uncle in Texas. Her uncle sends her to Boston for school, dies, and leaves her a small fortune. Boston is where Minnie first meets business traveler Holmes, and he courts her from a distance until the distance wears on him.

Once Holmes contacts Minnie, she immediately agrees to work for him and moves into the building, shrugging off the scandalous implications of such an invitation as acceptable in Chicago. Holmes values her skills as an assistant, and eventually asks her to marry him. They have a small ceremony, of which there is no legal record, and he talks her into signing her inherited fortune over to one of Holmes's aliases.

Analysis

This chapter serves as a solid comparison point for Burnham and Holmes, good and evil. Previous chapters have established Burnham as a determined, intelligent, skillful man who uses his determination and talents for public good. Holmes, on the other hand, uses his determination, intelligence, and skill to manipulate others and to the detriment of others. Holmes demonstrates depravity as he dodges creditors, lies to investigators hired by the families of people trying to find their loved ones, and marries yet a third woman, or at least makes her think he is marrying her.

This is the first chapter that notes Holmes's concern for being discovered, with the character contemplating leaving Chicago.

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