Murder at the World’s Fair

The North Dakota exhibit had its own building and was organized by Jamestown resident Alfred Dickey.

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The World’s Fair opened in Chicago on May 20, 1883, with a big presence from North Dakota. The North Dakota exhibit had its own building and was organized by Jamestown resident Alfred Dickey.

Dickey was the former lieutenant governor of North Dakota and would be the benefactor who provided the city with the library building still in use.

Much of the interior decor in the reception room of the state exhibit was provided by ladies groups in Jamestown and photographs from the area adorned the walls.

It was all designed to promote the area and encourage future settlers to come to the state. I’m sure it also drew many visitors from North Dakota who looked at the display with pride.

I hope those visitors were safe.


The history of the Chicago World’s Fair of 1883 includes the rather black stain of one H.H. Holmes, who operated a hotel near the fairgrounds and promoted the facility as a place to stay while visiting the sites.

Historians now believe that Holmes was America’s first serial killer.

As his crimes became known, the hotel earned the nickname “The Murder Castle.”

Holmes, real name Herman Webster Mudgett, had a long history of fraud before he moved on to large-scale murder.

In medical school, he was accused of stealing cadavers, buying life insurance polices on them and then staging “fatal” accidents.

Actually quite clever if you think about it.

The facts get a little more obscure when you get to the murders he committed.

According to some reports, the hotel had large “laundry chutes” that could be used to drop a body down to the basement where a crematorium-type furnace was located. Some speculate the building also had airtight rooms where gas could be introduced for executions and soundproof rooms where people could be tortured.


Most of that is speculation as the building burned down early in the investigation.

Some researchers speculate Holmes may have killed more than 200 people with at least some of those victims in Chicago to attend the World’s Fair.

Legitimate investigation has identified less than 10 probable victims. Those were killed in the years after the World’s Fair.

Holmes, while on death row, confessed to 27 killings. He died by hanging in 1896.

Hopefully, the North Dakota residents visiting the World’s Fair stayed at a different hotel.

Author Keith Norman can be reached at

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