Tag Archives: Chicago

Review: The Girls of Murder City by Douglas Perry

1st January 2014

pg1*I purchased this book.

The subtitle of Douglas Perry’s The Girls of Murder City tells it all: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers Who Inspired Chicago. Though I’ve long loved the music of Chicago (my mother is especially – and disturbingly – fond of the line, He ran into my knife ten times!), I never realized it was based on the true story of a spate of murders in Chicago in the early 20s. 

In 1924, the Cook County Jail was full of women killers. Perry briefly discusses the phenomenon, citing the new found freedom of women in Chicago in the Jazz Age as a possible reason for the higher female crime rate. If you were pretty, you got off. If you weren’t, or worse, were a foreigner, then the jury was a bit harsher. Disturbed by the indulgent treatment of these female killers in the media, young journalist Maurine Watkins decided to lend her hand to the court of public opinion. With all-men juries showing leniency to the attractive inmates, Chicago’s female inmates began to learn a nice dress and a new hairdo worked wonders for their trials, and Maurine was determined to document the ridiculousness of it all.

Belva Gaertner and Beulah Annan were the worst offenders in Maurine’s opinion – both having killed lovers without much remorse. But even though both women were accused of lewd behavior and illegal drinking, they became the darlings of the Chicago papers and later, the juries. Anxious to attempt redress for the injustice, Maurine writes her play, Chicago, what New York Times reporter Brooks Atkinson said was “a satirical comedy on the administration of justice through the fetid channels of newspaper publicity – of photographers, ‘sob sisters,’ feature stunts, standardized prevarication and generalized vulgarity.”*

Though the end of the book drops off a bit as it discusses Maurine’s subsequent failures as a writer, The Girls of Murder City is a fascinating – and sometimes amusing – look at a true phenomenon of Chicago in the Jazz Age. I’d recommend this book for anyone interested in feminism, true crime, the musical Chicago, and more specifically, as a great intro to someone looking to read more nonfiction.

Add this to your Goodreads shelf.

*This is a nice reminder that the “good old days” of journalism never really existed…

The Picky Girl RAVES about The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

7th March 2011

“Murder, Madness, and Magic at the Fair That Changed America”

 

So let me just be honest here: This book was amazing. Just flat-out amazing. There were things I didn’t love, but there was so much about it that was phenomenal that the other is certainly negligible in terms of the overall effect.

The Devil in the White City is about The World’s Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and everything leading up to it. The previous exposition had elicited excitement never before seen, and the Eiffel Tower was considered to be the epitome of man’s progress at that time. As the book puts it, the States had to “Out-Eiffel Eiffel.” Chicago wins the bid, and the men and women involved in the project begin a mad dash toward an all-but-impossible deadline. Larsen juxtaposes the architects’ plans and struggles with a serial killer operating at the time, Dr. H.H. Holmes (whose aliases are too numerous to mention here). It is a very odd mashup, and he explains in the notes that “the juxtaposition of pride and unfathomed evil struck [him] as offering powerful insights into the nature of men and their ambitions.” Eh, it didn’t work for me. I certainly see the fascination, but to me, the exposition and its creators were far more interesting.

As Larsen follows Chicago’s bid and then the exposition’s creation and completion, he points out small details, keeping me hooked. The White City (named so because all the buildings were painted white) stood as a land of promise against the dark background of Chicago, with its filth and soot. The possibility held within the confines of the exposition were so overwhelming people would sob upon viewing the White City, and many were depressed after its closing, knowing they had seen the most amazing sight in their lifetime.

I don’t want to give away any of the magic moments of this book, but it sure has them. The inventions and innovation were unbelievable, and I had to Google them several times (even though I knew this was nonfiction) to find out more. It is truly incredible what and who this short period of time spawned.

If you’ve read this, what did you think? Does anyone know of any other nonfiction about the Exposition or any fictional accounts? I’d love to delve deeper here.

Read this one: immediately / asap / when you get a chance / if you’re bored

jenn aka the picky girl