manager followed Holmes to his second-floor office and there
in the pleasant cross breeze from the corner windows studied
Holmess drawings of his kiln. Holmes explained that he
could not obtain the necessary amount of heat. The
manager asked to see the apparatus.
That wasnt necessary, Holmes said.
He did not wish to trouble the manager, only to seek his advice,
for which he would pay an appropriate fee.
The furnace man insisted he could do nothing
without actually examining the kiln.
Holmes smiled. Of course. If the manager did
not mind spending the extra time, he would be glad to show it
Holmes led his visitor down the stairs to the
first floor and from there down another, darker flight to the
They entered a large rectangular cavern that
ran the entire length of the block, interrupted only by beams
and posts. In the shadows stood vats and barrels and mounds
of dark matter, possibly soil. A long narrow table with a steel
top stood under a series of unlit lamps and two worn leather
cases rested nearby. The cellar had the look of a mine, the
smell of a surgeons suite.
The furnace man examined the kiln. He saw that
it contained an inner chamber of firebrick constructed in a
manner that kept flames from reaching the interior, and he noted
the clever addition of two openings in the top of the inner
box that would allow gases from the box to flow into the surrounding
flames, where they would then be consumed. It was an interesting
design and seemed likely to work, although he did observe to
himself that the shape of the kiln seemed unsuited to the task
of bending glass. The inner box was too small to admit the broad
panes now appearing in storefronts throughout the city. Otherwise,
he noticed nothing unusual and foresaw no difficulty in improving
the kilns operation.
He returned with a work crew. The men installed
a more powerful burner that, once ignited, heated the kiln to
three thousand degrees Fahrenheit. Holmes seemed pleased.
Only later did the furnace man recognize that
the kilns peculiar shape and extreme heat made it ideal
for another, very different application. In fact,
he said, the general plan of the furnace was not unlike
that of a crematory for dead bodies, and with the provision
already described there would be absolutely no odor from the
But again, that was later.
Excerpted from The Devil in the White
City by Erik Larson Copyright© 2003 by Erik Larson.
Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House,
Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced
or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.