I recently read The Devil in the White City, a book written several years ago about the 1893 Columbian World Expedition in Chicago. It's an historical account, and fascinating in that it reveals the people behind the construction of the awe-inspiring fair grounds (where, among other marvels, the first Ferris wheel was introduced). It also tells a gripping parallel story about the demonic Herman Mudgett, who charmed and gruesomely murdered an untold number of people, many of them drawn to Chicago for the six-month fair.
At the end of the book we follow a detective hired by a desperate mother whose three children have been carried off by Mudgett. We hope they are alive, that he simply ditched them somewhere. But he murdered them all, burying two and burning the third. The two found together were sisters, little girls resting in one another's arms in a shallow grave. I read those last chilling pages on an airplane, and then to my surprise I had to fight back weeping. They died nearly a century ago, and they are just three children in a wide sea of human suffering. But I felt heartbroken, even though I knew all along how the account would end.
The image Larson paints in his book evokes a horrible story some of us have heard, about the 9 and 11 year-old girls recently found dead in their foster mother's freezer in Maryland. They were only found because neighbors called the police after their severely beaten sister was seen running through the streets.
I think something is wrong with me. I used to be able to read a story like that and shake my head at the horror of it while keeping it safely at bay. You have to do that to bear the wickedness of the world, I thought. I mean, what would become of us if we wept at every story of a child brutalized by a complete stranger, or by someone he or she trusted? If we let ourselves begin weeping, how could we ever stop? But I think if I read one more story about a child slaughtered in this wicked, wicked world, I will not be able to bear it.
Lord have mercy on us, and on these children most of all.