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You could step from a curb and be killed by the Chicago Limited. This was Chicago, on the eve of the greatest fair in history.

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The men who hired them were for the most part moral citizens intent on efficiency and profit. On March 30, 1890, an officer of the First National Bank placed a warning in the help-wanted section of the Chicago Tribune, to inform female stenographers of "our growing conviction that no thoroughly honorable business-man who is this side of dotage ever advertises for a lady stenographer who is a blonde, is good-looking, is quite alone in the city, or will transmit her photograph. In describing the fire dead, the term the newspapers most liked to use was "roasted." There was diphtheria, typhus, cholera, influenza. In the time of the fair the rate at which men and women killed each other rose sharply throughout the nation but especially in Chicago, where police found themselves without the manpower or expertise to manage the volume.

All such advertisements upon their face bear the marks of vulgarity, nor do we regard it safe for any lady to answer such unseemly utterances."The women walked to work on streets that angled past bars, gambling houses, and bordellos. "The parlors and bedrooms in which honest folk lived were (as now) rather dull places," wrote Ben Hecht, late in his life, trying to explain this persistent trait of old Chicago. In the first six months of 1892 the city experienced nearly eight hundred homicides. Most were prosaic, arising from robbery, argument, or sexual jealousy. And in Chicago a young handsome doctor stepped from a train, his surgical valise in hand.

The architect was Daniel Hudson Burnham, the fair’s brilliant director of works and the builder of many of the country’s most important structures, including the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D. Burnham overcame tremendous obstacles and tragedies as he organized the talents of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles Mc Kim, Louis Sullivan, and others to transform swampy Jackson Park into the White City, while Holmes used the attraction of the great fair and his own satanic charms to lure scores of young women to their deaths.

What makes the story all the more chilling is that Holmes really lived, walking the grounds of that dream city by the lake.

Award-winning graphic novelist ALISON BECHDEL will give a lecture about her creative process, followed by a hands-on drawing workshop and Q&A.

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