Chicago Ghosts


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The latest version of my Chicago Ghosts presentation, prepared for Cyphan 3, July 27-29, 2012. Covering some of my favorite Chicago area ghostly tales!

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  • Great Chicago Fire\nThe Water Tower had been built in 1869, of Lemont limestone, and stands 154 feet high. One of the few buildings to survive the fire, many people have reported seeing a body swinging from the upper portion of the tower, a hanged man reappearing to some visitors. The tower itself is closed to the public (only the first floor, which is set up as a tiny art gallery, is open to the public), and no records have been found to substantiate any possible hanging happening in the structure, but the rumors abound. \n
  • December 30, 1903, saw many women and children headed to the theatre for Mr. Blue Beard starring Eddie Foy, in the brand-new Iroquois Theatre (only open 5 weeks at this point). The theatre had the latest in safety equipment, including an asbestos curtain. During the second act, a light flashed and set a drape on fire. The fire spread to the backdrops above the performers. One actor's costume was set on fire, and this led to the actors trying to escape. Opening the stage door added fuel to the fire. Eddie Foy tried to calm the audience, but to no avail. The "fireproof" asbestos curtain jammed while being lowered, then the stage collapsed and the lights went out.\nThe Iroquois had 27 exits, but many of these had been locked to prevent non-paying customers from entering. Other doors had been covered with curtains for aesthetic reasons. All opened inward. When firefighters finally entered the building, the main entrance was blocked by a seven-foot-high wall of corpses. More than 500 bodies lay inside the ruined theatre. \nThe alley behind the building was another devastating scene. Over 125 bodies lay there, from people who were engulfed by flames shot up from lower doors, or others who fell while trying to cross a makeshift bridge to a neighboring building. The alley was dubbed "Death Alley," and is the alley that runs behind the present-day Oriental Theatre. It is in this alley where reports of ghosts come from, mostly a feeling of dread, sadness, or sheer discomfort, but there have also been reports of voices heard whispering on the wind.\nThe final death toll from this fire was 600 people. There are two memorials to them – a lovely marble monument in Montrose Cemetery, at Pulaski & Bryn Mawr, and also the laws requiring exits be clearly marked, open outward, and unlocked.\n\n
  • Marshall Fields\nIn 1902, soon after opening, an elevator car plummeted from the 9th floor to the basement, killing the elevator operator & injuring a passenger.\nAfter the Iroquois Fire, the 8th floor became a makeshift hospital, with towels from housewares being used as bandages and sheets from bedding being used to wrap the bodies of the dead.\nReports of employees committing suicide from the 8th floor atrium, having mentioned a feeling of depression or heaviness.\nIn 1972 a car slammed into the store, killing one & injuring seven others. In 1973 a woman jumped to her death from the 9th floor, leaving a suicide note in housewares.\nAfter the sale to Macy's in 2004, more issues. In 2007 a man entered near closing, bought a white suit, hat, shoes, and gloves then rode the elevator up to 8th and leaped to his death from the atrium rail, landing in the Coach handbag display. \n
  • Chicago's own Titanic story happened July 24th, 1915, on the Chicago river between the Clark and LaSalle Street bridges. The Eastland steamer was set to take a number of Western Electric employees and their families to a picnic in Michigan City, Indiana. The crew had emptied the ballast tanks to allow for more passengers, more than the ship could really safely accommodate. When a passing ship aroused interest, many of the passengers ran to one side of the ship, overbalancing it and causing it to topple over. All told, more than 800 passengers, including 22 whole families, perished. Bodies were laid out in a number of temporary morgues for identification, including the 2nd Regiment Armory. The victims were buried in many different cemeteries, but Bohemian National Cemetery on Pulaski at Bryn Mawr boasts a section that is known as the "Eastland Section" for the number of Eastland victims laid to rest there.\n\n
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  • Eastland continued :)\nSince then there have been reports of cries of horror along the river where the disaster happened. More well-known and reported are the apparitions and manifestations in the Armory, which has since become Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Studio building. Oprah herself has even admitted to witnessing ghostly happenings. The apparition of a woman in a long flowing gown & ornate hat has been spied on security cameras, and spotted by guards wandering the halls. \n
  • In 1979, one of the more famous aviation disasters happened right here in Chicago. American Airlines Flight 191 was headed for Los Angeles. The McDonnell Douglas DC-10 had logged thousands of hours of flight time, and so had its pilot. Just after takeoff, one of the engines lost power. It then tore away from the wing and took the pylon with it. The wing stabilized, and the plane continued to ascend, but then at a height of 300 feet the plane banked left and dove. It crashed in a huge explosion, killing all 271 passengers and crew on board, along with two residents of a nearby trailer park. It was the deadliest air disaster in American history. \nShortly after the crash, residents in and near the trailer park began receiving phantom visitors knocking at their door, insistently rapping until the door is opened to the sight of no one around. Over several weeks the police received a number of these reports, which stopped around the time the accident site was fully cleared. \nIn the years since, wails and moans have been heard from the field where the plane landed. Mourners at Rest Haven and St. Johannes cemeteries (both located on O'Hare property, and until recently, open to the public) have felt unseen hands on their arms and shoulders. Inside the airport, a man has been seen wrapping up a conversation at a pay phone, then turning toward the gate that Flight 191 had departed from, before vanishing. \n
  • Alexander Robinson, aka Chee-Chee-Pin-Qua, was the earliest resident of what is now the Norridge/Harwood Heights area. He was the son of an Ottawan woman and a British officer. At the time of the Chicago Fire, Robinson was the one person happy to see the city leveled, as he could see across the lake as he once could in his youth. \nUpon his death in 1872, he was buried on his property, at what is now the intersection of Lawrence Avenue and East River Road. Legend has it that every Halloween eve, Robinson emerges from his grave to have a look around at the villages he resides in. Investigators and forest preserve visitors have heard the sound of Indian Tom-Toms being played near Robinson's grave, and seen unusual lights down a small trail nearby. The sound of a tree being chopped down by an ax has also been heard, and occasionally in the dead of winter there have been reports of the smell of lilacs or violets near the Robinson grave. \n
  • Al Capone\n
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  • Congress hotel\nBuilt for the Columbian Exposition of 1893. The South Tower was added later. Many Presidents & other famous figures have stayed here.\nThe Florentine room was a roller rink originally, guards have heard organ music & the sound of skate wheels coming from inside locked doors.\nThe Gold Room is a hotspot for wedding photos, which often have people missing from the photos.\nRoom 905 in South Tower has constant phone static.\nNorth Tower's fifth floor passenger elevator has a phantom, moaning heard by guests.\nRoom 474 (North) a judge who lived there changes channels on the TV\nRoom 759 a man pulls the door shut from the inside. Supposedly he was refusing to be put in a nursing home, mustering the strength to keep his son & security away.\nAnother room has pictures that will rotate 360 degrees as people watch\nA room was fled by two Marines at 3 am in their boxer shorts when a black figure entered from the closet and approached their beds\nRoom 1408 was the partial inspiration for Stephen King's story of the same name. Is said to remain on the haunted twelfth floor of North but it has been boarded up & only the door frame remains.s\n
  • Captain George Wellington Streeter squatted the land along what is now Michigan Avenue after his boat The Reutan beached itself on a sandbar several thousand yards east of Pine Street. The land was not on the map or in legal documents, and Streeter claimed it was "The District of Lake Michigan." He lived on his sandbar with his wife as the city built up around him. Before he died in 1921, Streeter cursed the land and all of the people involved in trying to evict him. An interesting fact is, there are no church or other religious properties in Streeterville. \n
  • It sits on land that was once Captain Streeter's, and years before its construction, founder of the First Church of Satan, Anton Levey, was raised on this very property. During construction, there was one death, and since then there have been many others, including a person who fell from a top story window, and comedian Chris Farley. Twice a year, tens of thousands of spiders climb up one side of the building and down the other. Employees of radio station WLUP have reported cold spots and spirits in their studios, including one spirit that a security guard chased while another guard watched him seemingly chasing thin air on the monitors. \n
  • Kwa Ma Rolas Totem Pole\nLocated along Lake Shore Drive near Addison, the totem pole was presented to Chicago in 1929. Forty feet high and five feet in diameter, it was carved from a single yellow cypress tree. In the early 1970s, discussion about the totem pole moving on its own began. Comparing photographs taken at different times seemed to show parts of the totem pole in different positions, particularly the steel-headed man. In November 1972, the totem pole was damaged by red paint and the bottom figure set on fire. In May 1986, a new identical totem was dedicated. Ghost hunters keep an eye out for the figures moving, or disappearing all together. \n
  • The Field Museum is one of the older museums in Chicago, dating back to the 1893 Columbian Exposition. Among the museum's collections are two exhibits that have exhibited some paranormal activity.\nThe Man-Eating Lions of Tsavo were donated to the museum by the man who shot them. These lions are well known for turning to eating humans after their food supply dried up. The lions are stuffed and displayed in the Field, where people have reported seeing movement out of the corner of their eye, the lions shifting position between viewings, and sometimes even disappearing all together. Noises have also been heard coming from the lions' area.\n
  • The other restless figure is a mummy called Hawrar. He is one of the many mummies who live in the Field's expansive Egypt area. Overnight guards have reported hearing a loud, gunshot-like noise coming from the Egypt area after hours. When they arrive they find Hawrar's case laying on the floor, several feet from where it belongs. There have also been reports of screams coming from the Egypt exhibit. Rumor has it that Hawrar not only moves his sarcophagus but he also wanders the museum, though no one has actually seen him outside of the Egypt exhibit. \nOutside of the Field, there is a mysterious patch of bare ground amid the green lawn. This dates back to 1956, when the resident curator was working with an assistant in the unheated basement of the Field. The day was quite cool, but the assistant complained of being uncomfortably warm. He went outside to cool off, lay down on the grass, and had a heart attack. He recovered from the attack, but as late as 1962 that spot was barren. Even removing soil to a depth of a few feet did not help grass to grow in the spot. \n
  • The paranormal activity around MSI has mostly been connected to the Clarence Darrow Bridge, behind the museum. Clarence Darrow was a lawyer, best known for defending Nathan Leopold, Jr. and Richard A. Loeb after they murdered Bobby Franks in 1924. After Darrow passed away in 1938, his ashes were scattered across the Osaka Garden and Wooded Island of the Jackson Park Lagoon, behind the Museum of Science and Industry. Since then, people have caught glimpses of a man dressed in suit, topcoat, and fedora standing on the back steps of the museum. Some have positively identified the figure as Darrow after looking at photographs of him. He's also been spotted inside the museum, usually near the doors that overlook the lagoon. \nAnother haunted area of the museum is the Burlington Zephyr rail car. Inside the train are a number of animatronic robots, who represent passengers who had ridden on the train during its heyday. According to museum employees, these robots have been seen moving on their own, at times when they haven't been activated by tour guides. On October 2, 1939, the Zephyr had been in an accident which resulted in the death of the engineer and one other person, so there is a possible reason for the haunting.\n
  • The third area of paranormal activity in the museum is the U-505 submarine. According to history, the Commander of the sub, Peter Zschech killed himself in 1943 during an attack on the sub by British forces. The First Officer took over and evaded the ship, returning the sub safely to port, but it seems the Commander has not left. \nOne museum employee was turning on the lights inside the sub before opening one morning when he felt a presence try to "enter him." Another employee felt someone behind them while straightening the Commander's bunk, but when he turned around there was no one there. One woman made an insulting joke about the Commander, and a steel door slammed down on her hand, injuring her. Another woman felt a hand on her shoulder, when there was no one else around. These reports come from before the major renovation to the U-505 exhibit, so it remains to be seen if the ghost decided to stick around through the sub's renovation work. \n
  • Michigan Avenue bridge - Fort Dearborn\nSightseers have reported seeing apparitions of the Fort Dearborn troops marching in formation across the bridge (which did not exist at the time of the Fort!)\n
  • Another shot of the bridge\n
  • The area around Bachelor's Grove was first settled in the late 1820s through 1840s. There are two legends about the name, one that it comes from the number of single men who settled the area, and the other that it comes from a family named Batchelder. The cemetery was founded in the 1840s, with the first burial in 1844. The final burial in the cemetery was that of Robert Shields, cremated and buried in his family plot in 1989.\nThe cemetery is in a very isolated location, though that was not always the case. There once was a road running right past the front gates that led to 150th & Harlem Avenue, but when the Midlothian Turnpike was built, the road was abandoned. Now the only access is on foot, through isolated woods.\n
  • Once a place for families to come together for picnics and fishing in the nearby quarry pond, the cemetery became neglected and a target for vandals. Rumors of gangsters driving past on the turnpike and dumping bodies of their victims in the quarry pond have been passed down through the years. Reports of satanic rituals, drinking parties, and vandalism became rampant in the 1960s and 1970s. Many taller tombstones were toppled, and some stones were removed from the cemetery or dumped in the quarry pond. It is difficult to determine just how many burials are in the cemetery due to a combination of missing stones and a lack of paperwork.\n
  • Beyond the physical damage, there are many reports of spiritual phenomena in the cemetery and surrounding area. One recurring phenomena is that of a vanishing house, seen in various places in the woods and even in the cemetery itself. Most people describe almost exactly the same house, a white farm-style house, which shrinks into the distance as they try to approach and then disappears entirely. No physical evidence of a foundation has been found anywhere near the cemetery, nor is there any record of a house ever having been built nearby. Regularly seen spirits in the cemetery include a woman with an infant, a farmer & his horse who drowned in the pond, a two-headed man emerging from the pond, and black-robed figures who quickly disappear.\nOther phenomena have included ghost lights, in various colors, seen in the cemetery and surrounding woods. Sometimes the lights are flashing blue, sometimes streaks of red, sometimes white. In the 70s, one photographer neared the cemetery and found his camera come to life, snapping off several shots which developed to show a white mist in the area. This mist has been photographed by others over the years, along with faces and people appearing on film. During an investigation by the Ghost Research Society in 1991, photographer Jude Huff-Felz captured a photograph on infrared film that later showed a woman sitting on one of the toppled tombstones, a woman who was not there in the cemetery when the photo was taken.\n\n
  • Beyond the cemetery gates, drivers on the nearby turnpike have seen phantom black cars streaking up and down the road. These 1930s style sedans appear and disappear at random, or sometimes will sideswipe drivers. Drivers feel the sensation of an impact, even hear the sounds of metal and glass as if they've been hit by another car, but when they stop and get out, no damage can be seen. The theory is these phantom cars belong to the gangsters who reportedly dumped bodies in the pond.\nWith all this activity, Bachelor's Grove certainly does seem to have earned its reputation as the most haunted cemetery in the area. The only visitors to this haunted spot are the brave ghost hunters hoping for a glimpse of the paranormal, as the few souls remaining in their graves no longer have living relatives who wish to visit. If you are determined to visit this location, it is on 143rd east of Ridgeland, in the Rubio Woods Forest Preserve. The entrance is hidden behind a cell tower, and you will have to park across the street.\n
  • Julia Buccola Petta died from complications from childbirth in 1921 at the age of 29. She was buried in her wedding gown, her stillborn infant at her side, in Mt. Carmel. Her mother, Philomena Buccola, began having visions of Julia, who asked her mother to disinter her. After six years of these visions, her mother finally was able to get permission to open the grave. When her casket was opened, they found Julia perfectly preserved, looking as she did the day she died. The body of her infant, buried in her arms, was badly deteriorated. \n
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  • A photograph of her laying in the casket was placed in porcelain on the gravestone, with the inscription: "Filumena Julia Buccola aged 29 / Questa fotografia presa dopo 6 anni morti." Roughly translated, it reads "What is this strange photograph taken six years after her death?" A life-sized statue of Julia as she looked on her wedding day was placed on top. \n
  • Visitors to Mt. Carmel have reported seeing a woman in white wandering near Buccola's tombstone. One little boy was accidentally left behind, and when his family returned they found him holding onto the hand of a woman in white, who then vanished. Students from a nearby school, passing by the cemetery after a school dance, spied a girl walking through the tombstones. When they realized that she was perfectly dry, despite the pouring rain, they left in a hurry. Visitors to Julia's grave have also smelled roses, sometimes in the colder months.\n
  • Christmas tree schooner\nIn 1912, the schooner Rouse Simmons disappeared somewhere between southern Wisconsin & Chicago. It was known as the "Christmas Tree Ship" or "Santa Claus Ship". The annual cargo was pine & evergreen trees. \nCaptain Herman Schuenemann, his wife, and a crew of 16 left port near Manistique, Michigan on the afternoon of November 25, 1912 bound for Chicago. Reports are that the US Life Saving Station at Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin saw the ship flying distress signals, and they sent message to the next station to send rescue. The rescuers saw the ship but it was enveloped by a heavy mist and it disappeared forever. A week later, Pentwater, Michigan saw the cargo wash ashore but the neither the ship or crew was found. \nFor several years there were sightings of a ship bearing the Rouse Simmons description on the Lake, and sometimes toward the end of November one can catch the scent of Christmas trees near the Clark Street dock the ship used or along the shoreline. \nThe Rouse Simmons was finally found in 1971 with most of the trees still aboard. In Acacia Park Cemetery in Norridge the grave of Captain Schuenemann's wife has been reported to have the smell of pine needles even in the dead of winter.\n
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  • Read-Dunning Memorial Park\nDunning first opened in 1851\nIn late 1980s a developer was intending to build a residential community on the old Dunning grounds but when digging began they found amazing numbers of skeletal remains. Loyola University archaeologists were hired to excavate, and they found three separate cemeteries on the land, containing unclaimed victims of the Great Fire, orphaned children, penniless veterans of the Civil War, dead of the poor farm, and Dunning inmates who perished as patients. Also found some bodies from the potter's field at the original City Cemetery in Lincoln Park.\n
  • Dedicated December 18, 2001, the remains of the 182 disturbed graves were reburied in an official memorial service to dedicate the new Read-Dunning Memorial Park.\n
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  • The Naperville Public Library began in 1895 with the death of James L. Nichols, who bequeathed the money to build a public library. Three years later, an empty building opened to the public along Washington Street at Van Buren Avenue. Residents donated books to begin the collection. The librarians were not alone in their new home, however. Evenings were rife with activity, books found open on a table or shelving themselves; cold spots, mists and shadows; and sometimes even a glimpse of someone in the stacks after closing. \nFor a time, the ladies book club met after library hours once a week. One evening, the temperature in the room dropped and a man appeared from thin air just outside their circle of chairs. Dressed in the style of the late 1800s, he walked through their circle, headed into the stacks, and vanished. The book club adjourned early and later found a new home for their discussions. \nIn 1986, the new Nichols Library was built just a few blocks away on Jefferson and the original library is now a church. It is unknown whether the ghostly activity continues in the old building, but there have been indications of ghosts in the new Nichols building, now a quarter-century old.\n
  • Chicago Ghosts

    1. 1. Chicago Ghosts presented byGhostbusters: Chicago Division
    2. 2. Archival photo - courtesyof the National Archives
    3. 3. Flight 191 crash
    4. 4. Streeterville
    5. 5. Bachelors grove
    6. 6. Rouse Simmons
    7. 7. "The Christmas Tree Schooner"
    8. 8. Nichols Library