The Center of the Light

In his prefatory note “Evil’s Imminent”, Erik Larson refers to his writing ultimately as, “a story of the ineluctable conflict between good and evil, daylight and darkness, the White City and the Black.” He establishes that the behaviors of good and evil are not exclusive because without one you can’t know the other, and in doing so establishes his writing as less of a historical recollection, and more as a recount and inquiry into the recesses of the human psyche. The prevailing question inspiring his writing was why would “some men choose to fill their brief allotment of time engaging the possible, others in the manufacture of sorrow.” Throughout Chicago at the time of the Gilded Age, there was a tangible sense of civic duty and honor so strong that those we felt it were willing to give the utmost sacrifice of their time and health in the pursuit of the impossible. And yet, hiding beneath it all was occurring an unimaginable atrocity of evil intention. The juxtaposition between the two extremes of human intention is what Erik Larson tells us fascinated him in the the book’s ending notes, and therefore this is what he sought to capitalize on in his writing.

The country’s population at the time of the World’s Columbian Exposition was only 65 million, and yet in the short 6 months it was open the fair recorded 27.5 million visits. It was one square mile of architectural geniusness and American exceptionalism. The greatest engineering feat until that time, the modern steel Ferris wheel, was unveiled at the fair and alone restored the country’s pride in the wake of the embarrassment left by the unveiling of Alexander Eiffel’s tower years earlier. In what was seemingly a pilgrimage to exceptionalism and geniuses, a notable lineup including foreign dignitaries like Archduke Francis Ferdinand, social activist Susan B Anthony, and inventors Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla were in attendance. American journalist Richard Harding Davis described the exposition as “the greatest event in the history of the country since the Civil War.” It was a bright time of progress and prosperity, and the enchantment and allure of the fair that would cause a great migration across this country and affect the direction of its progress for decades to come, earned itself the nickname of “The White City”. In mocking contrast to the architectural monument that was the exposition, a serial killer had used his deviously earned fortune and seductive charm to construct a block long mansion merely a few miles from the fair, into which dozens of naive, innocent girls were drawn and shown to an unspeakable demise, thereby earning it the title of “the Black”.

Drawing again on the contrast of two vastly different human psyches, Larson wrote this book from the viewpoints of “two men, both handsome, both blue-eyed, and both unusually adept at their chosen skills.” Two talented, smart men both of an impressively confident demeanor, and both applied their skills in completely opposite directions. One of them was Daniel Burnham, an architect not only responsible for the World’s Columbian Exposition but also accredited with some of “America’s most important structures” such as the “Flat Iron building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C.” The other was Dr. H.H. Holmes, the most prolific serial killer in American history. Potentially responsible for the murder of over 200 victims, Holmes committed unspeakable crimes and scientific inquiries on behalf of his victims, but he saw them as justified, even going so far as to say, “I was born with the devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing.” At a younger age, Burnham was denied admittance to a formal education at both Yale and Harvard, so much of his genius as an architect was of a natural gift and self taught. Here are two men who from birth were both inclined one to be great at being “good” and one to be great at being “evil”. Burnham brought life and prosperity to the city of Chicago, Holmes brought death. The contrast between the two is the perfect display of the never ending fight between “good and evil” and between “daylight and darkness”.

The passage that most embodies and summarizes this constants struggle that Larson seeks to present to us is found on page 288-289. Here Larson describes again the civic pride felt by Chicago and elaborates on the sense of personal pride and ownership of the fair that the natives felt. He also describes the exposition as a light for Chicago “to hold against the gathering dark of economic calamity. All across the nation banks and railroads were failing and suicides were rising. Larson said that, “the fair was so perfect, it’s grace and beauty like an assurance that for as long as it lasted nothing truly bad could happen to anyone, anywhere.” We know this to not be true though, as even despite the fact that the light of the exposition protected them from the darkness of the surrounding country, beneath it lurking an even greater evil. The darkest part of a light is always at the center, as will always inevitably be true for the human natures of good and evil.

Works Cited

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

Devil in the White City Cast Choices

Production is under way at Paramount, recently having won the film rights, of the newest adaptation of Erik Larson’s “The Devil in the White City”, led by none other than the cunning Leonardo DiCaprio playing Doctor H.H. Holmes. Not only is DiCaprio the perfect physical embodiment of a mustached, blue eyed, man of large stature like Doctor Holmes, but he is uniquely talented in playing a vast range of visages and their accompanying personalities, as is required to play a man truly sadistic yet apparently empathetic like Doctor Holmes. Much like Holmes was able to adopt a dangerously enticing, romantic façade to draw innocent young women to work for him and become his lovers, and eventual victims; DiCaprio is quite the romantic too, playing the handsome young lover in both “Romeo and Juliet, and Titanic”. Dicaprio also played the role of a mustached, gun slinging villain in the recent film “Django Unchained”, proving that he can perfectly emulate the vile, evil nature of Dr. Holmes also.

Seeing as The Devil in the White City follows two distinct plot lines, one from the view of Dr. Holmes and one from Chief of Works Daniel Hudson Burnham, his casting choice is equally prudent to the success of the film. For Burnham we suggest Matthew Bomer. Burnham was described as an extremely attractive young man of large stature, who carried about him a seemingly tangible sense of confidence and control, He exudes leadership, but at the same time is a hard working, architectural genius. A true man’s man. Matthew Bomer’s chiseled jaw line and rough distinct features exude a alpha sense of masculinity that is to be observed and respected, much as how Burnham would have carried himself. His age, build, and physical attractiveness make him the perfect candidate.

Daniel Burnham’s business partner and life friend John Root is often credited with much of the creative inspiration behind the World Fair, as well as their successful architecture company. A true creative genius, his choices of design for the World Fair influenced architectural trend across the country and around the world for decades to come. For him we have chosen Gerard Butler. Much like Burnham, Root was a young, attractive man in excellent shape, and who exuded confidence from years as a successful businessman. Gerard Butler’s rough shaven sharp jaw, and his serious yet calm and tactful attitude are perfect expression of Root’s personality. He is an excellent match both on accounts of physical appearance and demeanor.

Holmes met Minnie Williams several years prior to this story under a different alias, and she soon moved from New York to Chicago to work as a stenographer for him at the Castle. Holmes seducing charm was too much and before long Minnie was married to him in a private ceremony. This was all according to the Doctor’s plan, which also included to eventually murder her and receive a rich land inheritance. Minni was small yet slightly plump woman with a round face that only lent to her average attractiveness, but she was very naive as she gave the attentive longing for proximity that Holmes dangerously loves. To play her role we suggest Lily Collins. Her attitude of juvenile innocence along with her plain but pretty girl next door look makes her the perfect choice.

Holmes seemingly had an affinity for marrying and murdering young, pretty women he hired to work as stenographers, much like he did with this next character. Miss Emeline Cigrand was Holmes eleventh victim, who he hired to work for him from the her previous employment at a Kelley Sobriety Clinic after hearing from his handyman Pitezel about the gorgeous, blond secretary that worked there. We suggest that Miss Cigrand be played by Rachel McAdams. Rachel is a striking blond actress who exhibits a persona of mature beauty and confidence well beyond the years of her physical appearance, and she is perfect to play the beautiful young secretary who runs off to marry a rich doctor.

Perhaps one of the most influential characters of the Devil in the White City is George Washington Gale Ferris. The World’s Columbian Exposition needed an engineering and architectural feat capable of surpassing the wonder imposed by the unveiling of the Eiffel Tower at the Paris International Exposition several years later. Persistence and confidence in his design of the world’s first Ferris wheel eventually won him the job. The massive size of this creation is hard to imagine, but it carried over 2,000 passengers at a time and pushed the boundaries of engineering for centuries to come, as these massive amounts of steel had never been used in a moving structure before. He was a very stern man of a calm, yet easily aggravated demeanor, and he embodied the mustached manly man you would expect to be such a skilled steel worker and engineer.  Because of this we suggest Tom Selleck for the role. Aside from the striking physical and personality similarities, his mustache alone qualifies him for the job.


The Devil in the White City Cast Suggestions

Production is under way at Paramount, recently having won the film rights, of the newest adaptation of Erik Larson’s “The Devil in the White City”, led by none other than the cunning Leonardo DiCaprio playing Doctor H.H. Holmes. Not only is DiCaprio the perfect physical embodiment of a mustached, blue eyed, man of large stature like Doctor Holmes, but he is uniquely talented in playing a vast range of visages and their accompanying personalities, as is required to play a man truly sadistic yet apparently empathetic like Doctor Holmes. Much like Holmes was able to adopt a dangerously enticing, romantic façade to draw innocent young women to work for him and become his lovers, and eventual victims; DiCaprio is quite the romantic too, playing the handsome young lover in both “Romeo and Juliet, and Titanic”. Dicaprio also played the role of a mustached, gun slinging villain in the recent film “Django Unchained”, proving that he can perfectly emulate the vile, evil nature of Dr. Holmes also.

As of this moment Leonardo DiCaprio is the only actor to have been cast for this film, but there is innumerable existing talent to fulfill the remaining roles. One forerunner for the part of Patrick Eugene Prendergast is Robin Lord Taylor. Spectacularly cast for the role of Penguin in the hit TV show Gotham, Taylor fulfilled an eerily similar role to the Devil in the White City’s Prendergast, in which he was a willing servant, distraught and set on revenge when his superiors did not show their appreciation as deserved. He is wonderfully suited for the demented character exhibited by Prendergast.

One of the largest roles yet to be filled is that of the Director of Works of the Chicago World Fair, Daniel Hudson Burnham. An architectural genius ahead of his time, Burnham was a burly man with a steel reserve, and a taste for the finer things in life. He was a loud, commanding, larger than life figure, but still emotionally in touch and passionate, and therefore John Goodman is perfect for the role.

Another monumental role, not only for his part in the world fair and the Devil in the White City’s rendition of it, but also for the feat of engineering that left its mark on history, is that of George Washington Gale Ferris. The inventor of the modern day Ferris wheel created the greatest feat of engineering to date, with the intent of surpassing the wonder of the Eiffel Tower’s unveiling at the Paris Exposition, and was largely responsible for the lucrative success of the fair. For this role I would suggest a Tombstone era Kurt Russle. His masculinity is perfect for the character responsible for such a feat of engineering, and his exquisite mustache alone, along with other physical similarities, qualifies him for the part.

Work Cited

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

The Intentional Injustice of Our Justice System

In his personal memoir “A Question of Freedom”, Dwayne Betts recounts his story of maturing and coming of age in one of the most violent environments imaginable: prison. At only 16 years old, Betts and a friend carjacked a sleeping man at gunpoint, and were later caught when they tried to use his credit card. Being his first time ever holding a firearm this was a far cry for Betts who, despite having to deal with an absent father, was a well behaved child with a hard working mother and who did well in school. But in that moment he committed a certifiable felony that would lead to him being tried as an adult, and would change his life forever. Through his writing Betts raises many profound questions about everything from freedom, race, life, and most of all the justice system.

Betts tells us that his upbringing in Suitland, Maryland was extremely “black and white”. That in a majority black community it wasn’t that there were no white people, but the white people there were seen as “intruders or people looking to have power”. When Betts first arrived and was incarcerated for a short time in the Landmark Detention Center he tells us there was a single white boy there with them, and the rest were black. He even goes as far to state that his new title “juvenile defender” was “a nice way of saying black boy in jail”. When he’s first watched by a white officer who tries to intimidate him, Bett’s describes the ingrained stereotypes enforced by the media of “black boys who pull guns on people”. From his time before prison and throughout his entire incarceration, race was an ever present factor in Betts life. Because it’s an ever present factor in our justice system. You don’t have to look far to find statistics to support this.The Human Rights Watch published a report on race and drug enforcement in May 2008. It showed that while African Americans comprise 13% of the US population and 14% of monthly drug users, they are 37% of the people arrested for drug offenses. The American Civil Liberties Union performed a study in California and found that blacks are 3 time more likely to be stopped than whites. Most African American cases never go to trial and are instead ended by plea bargains, much like the one Betts took in hope that he would receive a lessened sentence for his honesty and cooperation. In a study conducted in March 2010 the US Sentencing Committee conducted a study and found that, for the same crime, black offenders receive sentences on average 10% longer than their white counterparts. Perhaps the most shocking yet applicable statistic out of all these is the fact that, as published in the 2009 Criminal Justice Primer, while African American youth comprise 16% of the population, they account for 28% of juvenile arrests, 37% of those incarcerated in juvenile detention centers, and 58% of the youth that are sentenced to adult prisons. Systematic racism is a brutally ingrained cycle that is hard to break when it’s designed to be that way. As well as arrest statistics, systematic welfare is also disproportionately targeted towards populations of color. And because of this so is poverty. People are given the ability to live comfortably in positions of poverty, and therefore continue to turn to crime, continue to fulfill this segregated role in our nation’s justice system, and continue to feed the for profit justice machine.

At the young age of 16, entering a prison of fully grown, hardened criminals is a terrifying prospect. Betts tells us that he was no stranger to violence or fear prior to his incarceration, growing up in a rough community where fighting was the norm for him, but  on page 7 he writes, “Fear was a commodity everyone traded in. In three months I’d learned that everyone from lawyers to judges to the other kids around me thought their power rested in getting someone to fear you. After the arrest warrant had been signed there was only fear and violence.” Surely this doesn’t sound like a productive environment for a 16 year old child who is at a crucial developmental stage of his life to grow and mature. That’s because it’s not. Children, as opposed to their mature criminal counterparts, are at a unique stage in their lives where there is still great potential for learning and redemption for the crimes they have committed. Juvenile detention facilities have the resources and programs available to help with this, while prisons often do not. Multiple psychological research studies have shown that the immature brain of a juvenile leads to more irrational and immature thinking than by adults. The law takes this into account by setting age restrictions for driving, drinking, smoking, joining the military, etc. (all very large responsibilities), so it only makes sense that the same logic would be applied. There are some pretty terrifying statistics regarding the violence juveniles face in prison also. In adult prisons they are 5 times as likely to be sexully assaulted, twice as likely to be physically assaulted by prison staff, 50% more likely to face violence with a weapon, and 8 times as likely to commit suicide than children of the same age in juvenile facilities. Being exposed to long term psychologically damaging violence at such a young age is not productive to building reformed citizens upon release, but rather in assisting them in returning to a life of crime. Betts crime potentially carried a life sentence when tried in adult court. At the young age of 16 he could have been looking at the rest of his bleak life behind bars, and that is the sad reality for so many others like him.

From the time Betts was born simply by being an African American in the community he was born into, he was already predisposed more so than others to a life of crime and eventually prison. Entering into prisons was the first time he had ever even lived in a racially integrated society. The racially disparate brought on by a corrupt, profit driven justice system in place in this country is a social epidemic that needs to be stopped. When this is coupled with a questionably extremely inefficient system of holding minors responsible to to the fullest extent of the law for crimes committed while not at the fullest extent of maturity, we are faced with a justice system that does not bring true reform and is rather inclined to produce life long criminals.

The Role of Satirical Humor in Wonder of the World

David Lindsey Abaire writes with a comedic twist the story of Lois, a suicidal alcoholic, and Cass, a recently separated lost soul, as they navigate the woes of marriage. He does so skillfully by drawing humor from the most dire of situations and presenting outright absurdity in a nonchalant manner. Many would argue that comedy of the sort greatly devalues the literary merit of a piece. Reviewer Ben Brantley claimed that, “too often the plays wackiness feels imposed rather than organic.” The organic nature of comedy comes through the instinctiveness and natural flow with which a humorous situation is presented, and the genuine reaction of other characters. By manipulating both ends of the comedic spectrum in his writing, David Lindsey-Abaire effectively delivers a type of satirical, low-brow humor that sets the tone of the play, and drives the story behind it.

Satirical comedy is a literary genre for which many people hold great endearment, and one which has amassed a very large fan base. Shows such as The Simpson’s, Family Guy, and South Park dominate mainstream television and all have a dedicated following. But what is the allure of low-brow comedy that quite often makes the viewer feel less intelligent simply for finding it humorous? This type of comedy is often overplayed by writers to such a degree that the humor is lost in the sheer stupidity of the joke, and any literary merit is discredited. One of the greatest ways to implement satirical comedy into any work is through bizarre, often tragic occurrences. The old adage, “it’s only funny until it happens to you” is a cornerstone of satirical comedy. Wonder of the World is filled with this.

Beginning on page 21 we find the bizarre account of Captain Mike’s late wife’s demise. The way he spoke with wonder of her work at a cotton candy stand outside a wax museum adds an element of humor due to the complete randomness of this occupation, and he goes on to recount her preposterous death by over sized peanut butter accident, for which he feels very guilty. On the very next page as Captain Mike resumes his role as a tour guide, he announces the story of Bobby Leach. Leach miraculously survived a plunge over the falls in a steel barrel, only to “years later slip on an orange peel, develop complication, have his leg amputated, contract gangrene poisoning, and die.” How ironic. On page 33 Lois and Cass’s helicopter pilot tells them, in the most matter of fact manner, the story of his father throwing his 8 year old self way too high, at which point he became tangled in the ceiling fan. While this dramatic of a story would illicit a jaw drop from any other listeners, Cass and Lois hardly blinked an eye and promptly change the conversation. Unnatural, especially underwhelming, reactions to situations of a disproportional magnitude, is one way writers implement satirical humor. Only 2 pages later Cass is telling to Lois and the helicopter pilot, who is a complete stranger, the very personal and inappropriate story of her previous husband’s fetish and how he “would swallow a Barbie head and derive extreme sexual pleasure from passing it”. In this case Lois and the pilot’s reaction of complete disgust is perfectly acceptable, but the ease with which Cass tells a story capable of turning any normal person’s stomach is the unnatural reaction that the humor would be drawn from. Closer to the end of the book on page 55 in the middle of a heated argument and gun pointing, Glen completely out of the blue pulls out his shoe shining kit and offers shoe shines $5 a piece. Despite the tensions of the ensuing argument, the entire cast pauses to consider this deal. The randomness and improbability of an event like this occurring the way it did is so slim that it adds an element of humor.

While the excessive occurrence of these satirical expressions of humor may make the comedy feel imposed rather than organic like Brantley said, the same dramatic storyline of Wonder of the World could easily be presented with a different tone and transformed into a romantic drama. Divorce is in no way a light hearted topic, and neither is alcoholism or suicide, but David Lindsey-Abire found humor in and made light hearted all three. Maybe it speaks to the twisted psyche of the human mind, but there is humor to be found in viewing and sympathizing with someone’s pain and hardships, without ever having to feel them yourself.  Satirical comedy makes light of and can present valuable lessons in the midst of dark situations. While the wackiness of Wonder of the World does detract from the delivery of any type of message other than a good laugh, satirical humor is used throughout  deliver an otherwise painful story.

Work Cited

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


My Journey With Powerlifting

I started lifting weights the summer following eighth grade with my soon to be football coach, and I absolutely hated it. I was not very athletic as a child and so I did not catch on quickly. I hated lifting because I was weaker than most of the other players, but that’s what made me want to lift more. I also got tired of being the fat kid. So I devoted myself to training and dieting. That same year I threw shotput and discus and my track and field coach was a competitive powerlifter. He saw how much I enjoyed lifting and convinced me to enter a competition with him. A powerlifting competition is 3 attempts each of the squat, bench, and deadlift with the goal to achieve the highest total possible. I was 14 years old, weighed in at 15olbs, and squatted 365lbs, benched 175, and deadlifted 410lbs. I was hooked. Fast forward to my last competition I was 18 years old, weighed in at 250lbs, and squatted 600lbs, benched 365lbs, and deadlifted 680lbs. Powerlifting has become much more then a sport or a hobby for me, but rather a lifestyle. It gives me a unique opportunity to better myself in all aspects of life on a daily basis, as I strife to become a better lifter. It has transformed my body and given me health and confidence, and I have fallen in love with it.

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