My next poetry collection, The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes, will (hopefully) be out in a few weeks! Dr. Holmes and I can’t wait to welcome you into our nightmares…
But for now, I thought I’d list some of my favorite “fun facts” about Holmes that inspired a few pieces in the collection. Holmes is a tricky case — many of the “facts” we assume were actually tall tales that morphed into a kind of accepted truth; however, playing around with those blurred lines and blending historical horror with fictional interpretations was deliciously morbid and fun for me to do in this collection.
1. Holmes was “married” to three women at the same time. Only the first marriage to Clara was legal. He would later go on to “marry” Myrta Belknap and Georgiana Yoke though he had never divorced Clara. Holmes killed several women, including a few mistresses, but he never killed any of his three wives. This inspired my poem “Three Wives Dressed in Black,” which makes an appearance toward the end of the collection as Holmes sits in his jail cell before his public execution.
2. While the rumors and ideas linking H.H. Holmes and Jack the Ripper as the same person are amusing and intriguing to think about, I’d never buy into it. Logistically speaking, from what we know of Holmes and where he was in the states and when, I think he would have had to been able to teleport to truly commit the Ripper’s acts. While some may be able to speak around this, the number one reason I would never credit them as being the same is because of how different their killings were.
The Ripper was vicious and intimate. He literally reached inside of his victims and had his fun with their organs or slicing off women’s breasts (I imagine the Ripper is a deeply fascinating case to all the Freudians out there). Holmes was never that intimate or messy. In my head I imagine his neatness likens to that of NBC’s Dr. Lecter on Hannibal. Holmes was cowardly in his approaches though, using chloroform or gassing victims to their deaths. He was more fascinated by the psychological approach, by seducing and charming before quietly extinguishing lives rather than tearing someone apart into a gooey bloodbath. I have two “Holmes vs. The Ripper” poems in my collection, and they were two of my favorite to research and write.
3. While in prison, Holmes wrote two notable texts. One was a rather idyllic memoir that he crafted in hopes to gain public sympathy and to try and convince people that he was
Georgiana Yoke, Holmes’ last wife, at his trial.
being falsely accused of all these crimes. After that failed to work and he was convicted, Holmes wrote a rather odd “confession,” in which he wrote of murdering people who were in fact proved alive. There are some really interesting analyses out there that go through who he may have actually murdered vs. who he, for some reason, claimed to have killed but did not. I found access to both the memoir and confession, which easily inspired the voice I use for Holmes within my collection, and inspired many poems toward the end within the sections where he’s in prison. What struck me the most was Holmes’ undeniable intelligence and merits of literacy within his writing. An articulate madman with a pen, wielding words with expert manipulation, is truly a frightening thing.
4. Appearance wise, Holmes was considered handsome at the time. His blue eyes get noted often, but I also came across in my research that he may have been cross-eyed, which inspired my poem “Strabismus,” and a few others in the collection. One eye on the victim, one searching elsewhere…studying the shadows…looking for the devil.
5. After leaving Chicago, Holmes eventually went to Texas where he engaged in more money schemes and fraud, as he did in Chicago and elsewhere. He also attempted to construct the Fort Worth Castle, a building similar in strangeness and massiveness to the famed “Murder Castle” in Chicago. By this time, numerous lawyers, unpaid workers, and members of law enforcement were trying to find Holmes to get some answers for their missing payments. Holmes would leave Texas, soon after embarking on the wild chase across the states that would lead to his arrest, but of course not without a few more dead bodies along the way. I have a section of poems in my book that go through this chess board pursuit, and I can’t wait to take you along for the ride.
So wait patiently. Buy your train ticket. The good doctor is already there, seated quietly in first class, drinking his tea and eyeing you as you walk past…one eye on you, the other on the shadows…searching…waiting…