HH Holmes “Murder Castle” Architect’s Diagram Discovered

I’ve been sitting on the above photo for quite a while, but now that advance copies of my book, HH Holmes: The True History of the White City Devil, are going around and they include it, I figure it’s time to release this one to the wilds of the internet.

The initial construction of the building now known as the HH Holmes “Murder Castle” took place in 1887 – at the time, it was just a two story building, with retail on one floor and apartments on the next. The third floor, which was ostensibly to be used as hotel rooms, was added in 1892.

The details for both phases of construction are well documented for one simple reason: Holmes didn’t pay his bills. In 1888, he was sued by Aetna Iron and Steel, who provided materials and labor. The architects sued him as part of the same lawsuit. Later suits with suppliers, investors, and insurance companies give excellent insight into more details.

Though I’ve found about 60 Holmes-related lawsuits in the legal archives, Aetna Iron and Steel vs Lucy T. Belknap (Holmes’ mother-in-law), is probably the one with the best info. Dragging on for over a year, Holmes filed affidavits telling the story of building the place, personally cross-examined a couple of workers, and more. There’s a ton of exciting data folded into the suit.

But nothing is quite as cool as the castle diagram, drawn by architect Edward Gallauner on a large sheet of very thin paper:

The Murder Castle architect's diagram, unfolded in the legal archives in Chicago, where it was folded into old lawsuit paperwork.
The Murder Castle architect’s diagram, unfolded in the legal archives in Chicago, where it was folded into old lawsuit paperwork.

murdercastlearchitect_s_diagram

 

It shows only the front portion that will face 63rd Street, and doesn’t have anything as lurid as, say, “torture equipment here,” (the bits about torture gear in the castle wouldn’t become part of the story until the 1940s), but it does give the exact dimensions of the front of the place. Other descriptions of it vary a little bit as to exactly how wide the place was.

Just for some perspective to help you see what we’re looking at here, here’s the diagram with the famous New York World diagram of the second floor overlaid:

The NY World diagram of the castle overlaid on the original architect's diagram
The NY World diagram of the castle overlaid on the original architect’s diagram

I’ll be covering more of the suit in a couple of upcoming blog posts, and transcribing some of the most important bits in Very Truly Yours, HH Holmes, a supplement to HH Holmes: The True Story of the White City Devil, which will include over 120k words of Holmes’ letters, statements, articles, confessions, affidavits, and more, many of which have never been published, and many more of which haven’t seen print since the 1890s.

In the mean time, here’s another plug for HH Holmes: The True History of the White City Devil,

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2 thoughts on “HH Holmes “Murder Castle” Architect’s Diagram Discovered

  1. I am wondering whether Holmes himself drew any diagrams of the floor plans of the place since he admitted to the killings he had nothing to hide. I tend to doubt the newspaper’s version because it includes either what seem like luridly ludricous rooms such as the “cement-sealed chamber” or absurdly mundane ones like the corner “waiting room”. What would he have needed a waiting room for? He wasn’t practicing as a doctor was he? I also tend to doubt he used the basement for anything nefarious since he would have had to share it with the shops on the ground floor. It seems more likely that he was operating a “boarding house” to get victims rather than a “hotel”. As such, it would seem that most of the rooms were simply residential units because if they were a maze of creep send WHY didn’t the police make a floorplan diagram or photographs of the Chambers to use as evidence against him for his alleged activities?

    1. You’ve figured it out, Richard! The place wasn’t a hotel; the second floor was apartments. The third floor was supposed to be a hotel space, but it was never completed or open for business, and probably wasn’t really intended to be. Many of the things one sees in diagrams are from the New York World’s tabloidy take on it, which was not based on any first hand reporting (it conflates the second and third floors, then adds some pure fiction and wild speculating). The police didn’t find anything they could really have used against him in trial there – most of the wildest stories come from the police letting their imaginations get the best of them. His victims were all people he knew well, not random travelers that he’d lured to a building. Though he wrote out a confession in which he confessed to every killing he’d ever been accused of, plus a few more, he took it back the very next morning, and several of the victims weren’t even dead. I hate to say “just read my book” but it’s all in there.

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