Do you believe in monsters? Thanks to Professor Ramos and Jeffery Jerome Cohen I can answer this question intellectually with research and evidence to back up my claims. Monsters do existence weather they are made up and fictitious or weather they are living among us. Some monsters we assign to people or things, some we make up as symbols of deeper-rooted fears unaddressed. Some are violent killers and abusers living among us. Although not living anymore, H. H. Holmes is one such monster.
Herman Webster Mudgett later known as H.H. Holmes is one of America’s first known serial murderers. Holmes enjoyed performing extreme forms of torture and mutilation on his victims after luring them into traps. Perhaps Holmes is best known for his creative place of residence, dubbed “The murder Castle”. Located in Chicago this structure was two story, engulfed an entire city block and contained numerous trap doors, hidden passages, torture chambers, and dissection rooms. It was in the basement where he disemboweled and stripped the flesh from his victims with powerful acids then using his crematorium which was disguised as an oil furnace, he burned the bodies of his victims. The construction of the castle was completed in 1892 and took four years to complete. (Brown, Jerrod, et al. “HH Holmes.”)
A year after the castle’s completion the World’s Fair opened in Chicago. Holmes advertised vacancies and employment openings at the fair as a lure to victims. The hustle and bustle of the fair and the large number of out-of-towners provided Holmes with plenty of victims. After the Fair ended Holmes and an associate, Benjamin Pitezel left Chicago to commit insurance fraud across the country. He was then arrested for attempting to swindle a St. Louis pharmacy. During his stint in prison he met fellow criminal Marian Hedgepeth. Conspiring once again to commit insurance fraud by faking Pitezel’s death. Holmes decided to kill Pitezel and his family instead and cut Hedgepeth out of the deal. Holmes scored $10,000 from the scam but was forced to go on run when Hedgepeth found out and alerted authorities. (Brown, Jerrod, et al. “HH Holmes.”)
Holmes was attractive and charming and would use this tool as the favorite on his belt. In 1878 Holmes married the daughter of a wealthy farmer, Clara Levering. He left her right before enrolling at the University of Michigan Medical School where he would use her money to pay his tuition and after which he would create his alias of H.H. Holmes. Swindling woman out of their money was yet another of his useful skills. At one point he had three wives in different cities and made sure they were none the wiser, they knew nothing about each other. With each mistress he concocted elaborate stories explaining why they left him. Holmes was very handsome, charming, and persuasive, he would also convince woman to take out life insurance policies naming him as the beneficiary. Holmes earned the label of Bluebeard for his habit of luring in and taking advantage of multiple woman such as mistresses, girlfriends, and random strangers most of whom he subsequently killed. (Brown, Jerrod, et al. “HH Holmes.”)
Near his childhood home he found creatures to dissect, starting with reptiles and later moving on to rabbits and dogs. These acts were a psychological facilitator for his obsession with human anatomy not to mention they provided him with flesh cutting skills at a young age. In Medical school Holmes began to personally procure cadavers for his own research in which he would study and dissect them. He was also a grave robber. Holmes began robbing graves and morgues to sell the cadavers to Medical Schools. (Brown, Jerrod, et al. “HH Holmes.”)
One of his cons was to Insurance companies. Not only would he con woman into naming him the beneficiary to their life insurance policies he would create pseudonyms for himself naming himself as the beneficiary of a life insurance policy taken out on a fictitious individual using a cadaver, he rendered unrecognizable. In November 1884 Holmes was arrested in Boston Massachusetts. He was charged with conspiracy to cheat and defraud The Fidelity Mutual Life Insurance company and was sent to Moyamensing Prison in Philadelphia. Upon his capture and the discovery of “The Castle”, his house of horror. Newspapers gave him the moniker of Arch fiend, The devil incarnate, Monster of 63rd Street, and the Torture Doctor. (Brown, Jerrod, et al. “HH Holmes.”)
H. H. Holmes was born on May 16, 1861 in Gilmanton, a small isolated town in New Hampshire as Herman Webster Mudgett. Herman was born to Levi Horton Mudgett and Theodate Page Price. Mudgett’s parents were devout Methodist’s and demanded strict obedience from him. A schoolteacher prior to marriage his mother was described as a cold and distant individual who used religion as a daily guide for parenting. His father was an alcoholic and a strict disciplinarian who physically abused his son. Holmes Parents were both physically and mentally abusive. This was particularly true of his father whose harsh disciplinary tactics included prolonged isolation and food deprivation. Holmes father held kerosene-soaked rags over his mouth to quiet him when he cried. During these instances of abuse Holmes found refuge in the forest near his home. It was in the forest where he started dissecting animals and his fascination with anatomy began. (Brown, Jerrod, et al. “HH Holmes.”)
As we examine the person and behavior of Holmes, we most definitely have the opinion that he is a monster, but what about the facts? How does he relate to a monster by definition? How can we associate him with and label him a monster based on actual thesis and definitions? Well let’s examine some thesis presented to us by Jefferey Jerome Cohen who presents us with seven theses of monsters. Let’s see if Holmes fits the profile?
H. H. Holmes embodies Thesis one of the Seven Thesis of Jeffery Cohen. The Monsters body is a cultural body. “Drive a stake through it’s heart: it will be stuck to the ground at the fork, it will haunt that place that leads to many other places, that point of indecision….”.(Monstrous culture 4) “The Monster is born only at this metaphoric crossroads, as an embodiment of a certain cultural moment- of a time, a feeling, and a place.” (Monstrous culture 4). Was Holmes born a monster? Did he become a monster at some point in his life? Maybe in the midst of his child abuse or maybe during his time in Med School? We may never know.
Holmes also embodies Theses two: The Monster always escapes. “We see the damage the monster wreaks, the material remains…” (Monstrous culture 4) “No Monster tastes of death but once”. (Monstrous culture 5). Even though Holmes is dead and long gone for well over a hundred years there has been and will always be this evil amongst us whether it be his or similar work to his, someone will always embody this Monstrous activity and energy.
Thesis four also applies. The Monster dwells at the gates of difference. “The monster is difference made flesh come to dell among us”…(Monstrous culture 7). The evil that is Holmes is different than us. His gruesome activities are very different than us, well outside of our understanding and well outside of our definition of acceptable.
Thesis Five, The Monster Polices the borders of the possible: “From its position at the limits of knowing, the monster stands as a warning against exploration of its uncertain demesnes”…(Monstrous culture 12). Holmes actions go beyond the line, the imaginary line drawn by people to keep us within a standard. He gives an example of what is possible when we cross that line, reaffirming that we are on the correct side of the line.
Thesis Seven, The Monsters stands at the threshold of becoming: “The thing of darkness I acknowledge mine”. (Monstrous culture 20) “Monster are our children. They can be pushed to the farthest margins of geography and discourse, hidden away at the edges of the world and in the forbidden recesses of our mind, but they always return”. (Monstrous culture 20). This is not literal children in this instance, it is the things we produce. The things Holmes produced were horrid and reprehensible. The things one could produce are hidden away in our minds, we are scared to explore our minds, scared we have hidden evil desires, scared if we cross a line, we will produce something that cannot be undone.
Holmes did gruesome things and fits five out of seven of the monster theses. In my review of him as a monster I do not give him a letter grade, I give him a category. I give him the category of SICK and TWISTED.
Monsters do exist. Holmes is a monster not only by my personal opinion and emotions but by the evidence presented by Cohen.
Brown, Jerrod, et al. “HH Holmes.”
This is an article explaining Holmes life and history. This is from google scholar, so it is reliable.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster culture (seven theses).” Gothic horror: A guide for students and readers (2007): 198-217.
This is the Monster theory Seven Theses. This was given to us by professor Ramos and is listed on google scholar, so it is reliable