The World’s Fair Hotel

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Holmes Castle of Dreams - The World’s Fair Hotel and inspiration for The Hotel Cortez

American Horror Story season five was named Hotel and it is alleged the hotel is based on The World Fair Hotel , Chicago and it’s owner HH Holmes.

In 1886 Holmes purchased an empty lot across from the drugstore, his own business, where he built his three-story, block-long hotel building. Because of its enormous structure, local people dubbed it “The Castle”. The building was 162 feet long and 50 feet wide. The address was 601-603 West 63rd Street. It was called the World’s Fair Hotel and opened as a hostelry for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, with part of the structure devoted to commercial space. The ground floor of the Castle contained Holmes’ own relocated drugstore and various shops, while the upper two floors contained his personal office and a labyrinth of rooms with doorways opening to brick walls, oddly-angled hallways, stairways leading to nowhere, doors that could only be opened from the outside and a host of other strange and deceptive constructions. Holmes was constantly firing and hiring different workers during the construction of the Castle, claiming that “they were doing incompetent work.” His actual reason was to ensure that he was the only one who fully understood the design of the building.

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During the period of building construction in 1889, Holmes met and became close friends with Benjamin Pitezel, a carpenter with a criminal past. He used Pitezel as his right-hand man for his criminal schemes. A district attorney later described Pitezel as Holmes’ “tool … his creature.” However , Holmes ended up killing not only Pitezel s children but Pitezel himself.

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After the completion of the hotel, Holmes selected mostly female victims from among his employees (many of whom were required as a condition of employment to take out life insurance policies, for which Holmes would pay the premiums, but was also the beneficiary), as well as his lovers and hotel guests, whom he would later kill. Some were locked in soundproof bedrooms fitted with gas lines that let him asphyxiate them at any time. Holmes would also lock his victims in a room where the walls were covered with iron plates and had blowtorches installed to incinerate them. Some victims were taken to one of the rooms on the second floor, called the “secret hanging chamber”, where Holmes hanged them. Other victims were locked in a huge soundproof bank vault near his office, where they were left to suffocate. There was also a secret room that was completely sealed by solid brick that could only be entered through a trapdoor in the ceiling; Holmes would lock his victims in this room for days to die of hunger and thirst.He also invented a unique alarm system and installed it to all the doors on the upper floors to alert him whenever anybody was walking around in the hotel. The victims’ bodies were put inside either a secret metal chute or a dummy elevator which led to the basement,where some were meticulously dissected, stripped of flesh, crafted into skeleton models and then sold to medical schools. Holmes also buried some of the bodies in lime pits for disposal. Holmes had two giant furnaces used to incinerate some of the bodies or evidence, as well as pits of corrosive acid, bottles of various poisons and even astretching rack. Through the connections he had gained in medical school, he sold skeletons and organs with little difficulty.

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After a tip off in 1894 , long after Holmes had left Chicago and was involved in more disturbing murders, the police began interviewing the Castle’s employees.

The caretaker, P.Quinlan, informed police that he was never allowed to clean the second floor.

They began a thorough investigation over the course of a month, uncovering Holmes’ torture chambers and secret passageways on the upper floors.

Inside a large stove on the third floor, they found a piece of a gold chain, women’s hair, and a woman’s shoe. It was suspected that the chain belonged to Minnie Williams, and by taking it to a local jeweler (who had sold jewelry to Minnie in the past), received confirmation it was hers.

By looking inside Holmes’ office vault, several scratch marks were revealed, and a mark of what appeared to be a woman’s shoe.

Holmes later stated in his confession that the shoe print in the vault came from Annie Williams, during her violent struggle before dying.

Once the the upper floors investigation was finished,  the police moved their investigation down to the basement.

There they found a pile of human bones mixed with animal bones, a dissection table covered with dry blood, and a pile of bloody women’s clothes.

By digging up the lime pits , the investigators found skeletal remains of Holmes’ victims. The lime had turned most of the remains into dust, but they identified two strands of hair, one brown and one fair, in two soft spots in the hard clay.

The strands matched the respective hair colors of Minnie and Annie Williams. They also found a pile of lime with a female footprint on it; they suspected that the footprint came from Minnie.
A search inside the acid pit  revealed several bones at the bottom.

In one part of the basement, investigators unearthed several bones belonging to a child estimated to be 6 to 8 years old.

Three firemen later explored a nearby tunnel that led from the basement to the street. The tunnel ended in a hollow-sounding wall. After the firemen had torn it down, a plumber lit a match for illumination and accidentally caused an explosion powerful enough to shake the whole building. Several of the men were injured and had to be taken to the hospital. Afterwards, investigators found the fumes that caused the explosion were coming from an oil tank hidden behind the wall. Holmes had no explanation for the oil tank, but the chemists who examined the oil stated that the fumes were strong enough to kill someone in less than a minute. Holmes later stated that the bodies that were found in the basement were bought from a man who stole them from a local cemetery, but he could name neither the man nor the cemetery.

Only nine murders were confirmed, but the number of his victims has been estimated between 20 and 100, and even as high as 200, based upon missing persons reports of the time as well as the testimony of Holmes’ neighbors, who reported seeing him accompany unidentified young women into his hotel, whom they never saw leave. Many people came to Chicago to see the World’s Fair but, for one reason or another, never returned home. Holmes personally confessed to 27 murders, and right before being hanged, claimed he’d only murdered two people.

Some of the names listed in the confession, for which The Philadelphia Inquirer paid him, turned out to be those of people still alive, although police had commented that some of the bodies in the basement were so badly dismembered and decomposed that it was difficult to tell how many bodies there actually were. Holmes’ victims were mainly women (primarily blonde), but included men and children.

In October 1895, Holmes was put on trial for the murder of Benjamin Pitezel, and was found guilty and sentenced to death. 

On 7th may , 1896, Holmes was hanged atMoyamensing Prison, also known as the Philadelphia County Prison.

Whilst in August 1895 , The Murder Castle was mysteriously gutted by fire.

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