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America’s first serial killer inspires immersive show at London hotel – it’s not for the squeamish

First opened to the public 125 years ago – on May 1, 1893 – the World’s Columbian Exposition covered almost 2.5 sq km of Chicago with about 200 exotic-looking buildings, parkland, water features and other marvellous tourist attractions. Two years under construction, the so-called White City attracted more than 27 million visitors in the six months that it was open.

Also known as the Chicago World’s Fair, it was the first event of its kind to feature national pavilions (from 46 countries) and amusement rides, which included the original Ferris wheel and the first moving walkway.

It was a spectacular event by any measure (and culminated in the assassination of the city’s mayor, Carter Harrison Snr) but it is less remembered today than the man most often associated with it – the hotelier, and America’s first serial killer, H.H. Holmes.

Whether his World’s Fair Hotel, located a few kilometres from the event site, was ever actually open for business is unclear, but a significant number of Holmes’ victims (estimated at between nine and 200 in total) were apparently murdered there in unusually unpleasant ways.

Many books have been written about Holmes, but the most reliable are probably The Devil in the White City: A Saga of Magic and Murder at the Fair that Changed America (2003), by Erik Larson, and H.H. Holmes: The True History of the White City Devil (2017), by Adam Selzer.

A film based on Larson’s book, to be directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is supposedly in pre-production, but in the meantime visitors can check-in at The Hollow Hotel, in southeast London.

Promising “an immersive interactive psychological horror that draws inspiration from the historical events surrounding America’s first and most terrifying serial killer”, this new immersive theatre production doesn’t actually involve an overnight stay, but is clearly not for the squeamish. Nor is it for anyone who might think that 125 years on is perhaps still too soon to be trivialising Holmes’ horrifying crimes.

Grand illusions
Although described on its website as “an example of regency architecture”, the Grand Metropark Hotel Xian doesn’t exactly epitomise that early 19th-century English style. The fact that the property was previously a Hyatt Regency probably has something to do with the crossed wires.

Newly opened across town, the Grand Hyatt Xian’s very modern architecture is almost equally unconvincingly claimed by Hyatt to be “inspired by a palatial mirage in the desert”, while the walkway to the office block next door “represents the Ancient Silk Road connecting East and West”. More credibly, it “also forms a letter ‘H’ for Hyatt”.

You can find out more about the new hotel and its opening offers at xian.grand.hyatt.com.