Stories of the Fair

Among the many stories circulating about the World's Columbian Exposition, including tales of bordellos serving hundreds per night and harrowing rides on Chicago's El trains, this is undoubtedly the most gruesome.

Many visitors traveled great distances to see the Fair. Weary from their train rides, visitors sought the first affordable room they could find. Because the demand was so great for accommodation, they often had to accept the first (seemingly) reasonable offer. The unfortunates who took a room with Dr. H.H. Holmes, just outside the gates of the Fair, were more than reminded of the risks of city life. Holmes, born Herman Webster Mudgett, began his career as a medical student in Michigan. Having been kicked out of the university for "unusual activities," Holmes moved to Chicago and started a drugstore empire. With his fortune, he built a one hundred-room mansion, but it was no ordinary wealthy businessman's manse: he outfitted it with gas chambers, trap doors, acid vats, lime pits, fake walls, and secret entrances. During the Fair, he rented rooms to visitors, and killed most of them and then experimented with their corpses. Some say he killed over 200 people during his career, before he was caught and hanged in 1896.

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