(I wrote this in 2011. The original headline, written by me, was “A better than fair fair zips toward the silver screen.” But Hollywood and all…
Anyway, “zips toward the big screen” turns out to be wrong. Instead, Variety reported in February of this year that “Hulu is developing a series based on the book The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson. Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese will executive produce the project (whatever that means?) Paramount Television will produce. The book was so good, it might just be worth the wait…)
A zipper is like the world pole vault record or plumbing: you never think about it until it’s broken.
The zipper. So key. So crucial. Sleeker and faster than the cumbersome button, yet with that subtle hint of danger. You probably have one on right now. Hopefully it’s not caught in anything.
The zipper has consumed my thoughts this week because of a book I read, Devil in the White City, sequel to the bestselling Devil in My Zipper. That second part is just a joke but the first part is real, and a really good book.
Written in 2003 by Erik Larson, it’s a story of “Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America,” the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.
I’m mentioning this in the wake of this year’s Academy Awards because Leonardo DiCaprio has bought the rights to the book; the movie is scheduled for release in 2013.
DiCaprio is signed up for the part of H.H. Holmes, who went to the fair several times and still made time to knock off, by police estimates, at least 27 people. Maybe 200. As millions of people overwhelmed the city, you can imagine how easy it would be for someone to disappear. Several did. (H.H. did it – though you’ve got to figure fair food killed a few.)
The book follows the building of the fair, a nearly impossible undertaking that Chicago and some of America’s best architects and engineers and thousands of laborers accomplished to rave reviews. Meanwhile, Holmes is juking and jiving.
How does the zipper play into all this? Did Holmes zipper people? Jack The Ripper had terrorized London less than 10 years before.
Holmes The Zipper?
Neg. What I found interesting was that the zipper was introduced at the Chicago World’s Fair. Until then, no zipper. Imagine a moment in the great Exposition Hall when a man stopped and, encountering this device on display, gasped, “Ethel! You GOTTA see this!”
The first automatic dishwasher was introduced to the world at the fair. A box with stuff inside that claimed to make pancakes, with the brand name of Aunt Jemima’s. And from different ends of the spectrum, Juicy Fruit gum and Shredded Wheat cereal. Cracker Jack. A new beer, after winning Best of Show, expanded its name to Pabst Blue Ribbon.
They even had a 22,000-pound cheese in the Wisconsin Pavilion, and it never molded, the whole summer long. I’d have liked to have attended, if I could have dodged Mr. Holmes
My favorite part was an invention by a 33-year-old Pittsburgh engineer. A key to global pride was building something that would “out-Eiffel Eiffel,” something that would top the tower built specifically for the International Exhibition of Paris in 1889. America was having a tough time coming up with something.
But we did. And it was perfect. What the engineer imagined was a huge success, something you’ve likely enjoyed. The original contraption – you can still see pictures online — was even transported to St. Louis and starred in the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904 (“World, meet Dr Pepper!”) before it was dynamited and sold for scrap.
The engineer imagined his invention carrying 2,160 people at a time 300 feet into the air. Miraculously, it did. Major, major hit along the Midway, throughout the country and across the sea, even out-Eiffeling the Eiffel Tower.
The engineer’s name was George Washington Gale Ferris.