WBEZ | Folklore http://www.wbez.org/tags/folklore Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en We ain't afraid of no (Chicago) ghosts! http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/we-aint-afraid-no-chicago-ghosts-111017 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/174477845&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=true&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><a href="https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&amp;ion=1&amp;espv=2&amp;ie=UTF-8#q=haunted%20chicago" target="_blank">Search &ldquo;haunted Chicago&rdquo; online</a> and you&rsquo;ll get a list of websites and articles, each clamoring to be your number one source for all things ghost related. The lists are long enough to occupy you for an eternity.</p><p>Which makes sense, given that Chicago <a href="http://chicago.curbed.com/archives/2012/10/29/map-haunted-places.php" target="_blank">has a reputation for being terribly haunted</a>. The city is the home of America&rsquo;s <a href="http://harpers.org/archive/1943/12/the-master-of-the-murder-castle/">first serial killer</a> (reference to &ldquo;murder castle&rdquo; included), as well as <a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1916/10/the-devil-baby-at-hull-house/305428/" target="_blank">the cloven-hooved &ldquo;devil baby</a>.&rdquo; And, don&rsquo;t forget the swanky, downtown nightclub that once served as the morgue for victims of the <a href="http://www.eastlanddisaster.org/history/what-happened" target="_blank">Eastland disaster</a>.</p><p>Fibbed or fact-checked, these stories and dozens of others have been told and retold, spun into ghost-tour monologues and stamped into scary story books.</p><p>Well, we&rsquo;re taking our turn in re-spinning two of Chicago&rsquo;s spookiest stories, but this time in service to two <a href="https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.614491515325495.1073741829.207340619373922&amp;type=3" target="_blank">Curious Citizens</a>. The first wanted to meet the local specter who has (allegedly) been seen the most often. The second asked to find the location that ghost census-takers say is crawling with spirits.</p><p>To ease into this, let&rsquo;s consider what good can come out of a ghost story, especially if you&rsquo;re on the skeptical side. For this, we turn to folklorist Sue Eleuterio, who says these stories fulfill a number of psychological needs. Among them: Supernatural stories transform real-life dangers into ghoulish monsters. In theory these tales spook kids away from sneaking out after dark.</p><p>&ldquo;We know there are risks associated with certain behavior, so being out alone when it&rsquo;s dark, or you know, after a certain time, is dangerous, or can be dangerous,&rdquo; she says.</p><p>Ghost stories can also make it safe for young people to experience uncomfortable emotions. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s something thrilling about being afraid, especially if it feels controlled,&rdquo; Eleuterio says. &ldquo;One of the things I love about folk culture is we still have that need. We have all those needs to be afraid, we have those needs to be reassured, we have those needs to be warned and protected.&rdquo;</p><p>With this in mind &mdash; and with help from an antique dealer and a couple of ghost experts &mdash; we pursue two ghost stories that answer our Curious Citizens&rsquo; questions. Along the way we learn how ghost tales can not just haunt us, they can help us, too.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Legitimate ghost?</span></p><p>For both questions we enlist the help of <a href="http://www.adamselzer.com" target="_blank">Adam Selzer</a>, the author of <em>The Ghosts of Chicago</em> and a local ghost tour guide. Selzer traces his interest in the supernatural back to his childhood, which was spent watching <em>Scooby Doo</em>. That detail, though, doesn&rsquo;t mean he&rsquo;s light when it comes to comparing legends to facts.</p><p>&ldquo;If you&rsquo;re interested in ghosts you deserve better,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;You deserve proper backstories.&rdquo; For him, that translates into &ldquo;digging through old newspaper archives, old 19th century books, stuff from the property records, the legal archives occasionally, contacting relatives when possible.&rdquo;</p><p>Alright ... but for the record: Does our ghost expert believe in ghosts?</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ve seen some strange stuff,&rdquo; he says, &ldquo;but not necessarily anything that I would swear in front of a panel of scientists was really a dead person. But certainly some things that I can&rsquo;t explain.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/part 1 topper.jpg" title="Anna “Mary” Norkus, above, died on the night of her 13th birthday in 1927. Ursula Bielski holds that Norkus is the inspiration behind Resurrection Mary ghost story. (Image courtesy Ursula Bielski)" /></div><p><span style="text-align: center;">Ok. Onto our first question, which comes from Chicagoan Ben Albers, a self-described history buff and ghost enthusiast:</span></p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>Which is the most legitimate ghost story in Chicago?</em></p><p>And ... here&rsquo;s his caveat: He&rsquo;s looking for evidence. &ldquo;Anyone can make up a ghost story,&rdquo; Ben says. &ldquo;A new bar owner, in order to get publicity, they could say that Al Capone used to sit in that booth and eat his lasagna. It&rsquo;s just [that] you need the evidence to back it up in order for it to be legitimate.&rdquo;</p><p>Whew. Well, Ben meets Adam Selzer and producer Katie Klocksin at Resurrection Cemetery in Justice, Illinois, a southwest suburb. Selzer explains that, for him, evidence &ldquo;is primarily first-hand accounts, actual stories of somebody seeing the ghost.&rdquo;</p><p>By this metric, the winner for most legitimate ghost story is that of Resurrection Mary, sightings of which began in the early 1930s. Selzer has encountered a few dozen first-hand accounts. &ldquo;So a few dozen is a lot more than we&rsquo;ve got of everything else, really,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>According to Selzer, Resurrection Mary sightings usually go like this. First, someone will be driving near Resurrection Cemetery &mdash; our ghost&rsquo;s namesake. Then, they&rsquo;ll see a girl. &ldquo;Now and then you&rsquo;ll hear a story of somebody dancing with her, but mostly it&rsquo;s just they see her by the side of the road crying,&rdquo; Selzer says. &ldquo;They offer her a ride home, and then she disappears outside of Resurrection Cemetery.&rdquo; Sometimes she&rsquo;ll jump out of the car near the cemetery, but &ldquo;usually they just look over at the passenger seat and find that she&rsquo;s gone.&rdquo;</p><p>The disappearing act happens one of two ways: Mary either gets out of the car the old fashioned way or ... she just vanishes. Selzer recalls a story from a man who believes he encountered Resurrection Mary when he was a high school student in the &lsquo;60s. The man thought he recognized a girl sitting by the side of the road crying, so he pulled over and offered her a ride. &ldquo;And when she looked up he saw that it wasn&rsquo;t the girl that he thought it was,&rdquo; Selzer says. Still, the driver still felt like he had to make good on his offer of a ride.</p><p>&ldquo;So she got into the car and just kind of pointed him down road. They were only about a block away from Resurrection Cemetery. Then, when he looked into passenger seat she was just gone,&rdquo; Selzer says.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Was there really a Mary?</span></p><p>Ghost experts have tried to link the Resurrection Mary legend with actual people who died around the time the sightings began. One theory involves Mary Bregovy, a girl who died in a car accident in 1934, according to Adam Selzer. &ldquo;And we like to talk about her as a possible candidate,&rdquo; he says, &ldquo;mainly because she fits the template so well: died on coming home from a dance.&rdquo;</p><p>But Selzer notes that the Resurrection Mary sightings had already begun by the time Mary Bregovy died. Also, Resurrection Mary is usually described as a blonde, which Mary Bregovy was not. According to Selzer&rsquo;s research, there are 60 to 70 young Marys buried at Resurrection Cemetery, all having died during roughly the right time period to be candidates. &ldquo;And even then, we&rsquo;re really just making the broad assumption that it&rsquo;s actually a girl named Mary at all,&rdquo; Selzer says.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/ressurection%20cemetery%20flickr%20pklza.jpg" style="float: right; height: 422px; width: 280px;" title="Resurrection Cemetery is the resting place of Resurrection Mary, Chicago's most legitimate ghost story. (Flickr/pkize)" />Another candidate for the Mary ghost is a girl named Anna Norkus. The case for this &ldquo;Mary&rdquo; is described by historian and author <a href="http://chicagohauntings.com/bio.html">Ursula Bielski</a> in her book <em>Chicago Haunts</em>. Bielski writes that Norkus began using Mary as her middle name because of her &ldquo;devotion to the Blessed Mother.&rdquo; Norkus did have blonde hair. Also, Norkus died in a car accident after going out dancing on the night of her 13th birthday on July 20, 1927.</p><p>In Bielski&rsquo;s account, Norkus was scheduled to be buried at St. Casimir Cemetery, near Resurrection. But there may have been a problem. Bielski cites fellow ghost lore researcher Frank Andrejasich, who noted that grave-digging in the 1920s was difficult manual labor and strikes were common. Andrejasich discovered a man named Mr. Churas, who was in charge of the gravediggers at the time Anna Norkus died. During strikes, Bielski writes, Churas would retrieve unburied bodies in wooden boxes and temporarily bury them at Resurrection until the strike ended. This practice was necessary, &ldquo;because of poor coffin construction and the lack of refrigeration,&rdquo; Bielski writes.</p><p>If grave diggers at St. Casimir were striking when Norkus was scheduled to be buried, her body may have been temporarily buried at Resurrection. &ldquo;If the strike dragged on, identification at the time of relocation could be gruesomely difficult,&rdquo; Bielski writes. She concludes: &ldquo;The result? A mislaid corpse and a most restless eternity, if only one is willing to believe.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Vanishing hitchhikers: a broader trend</span></p><p>Sue Eleuterio says folklorists consider Resurrection Mary a vanishing hitchhiker story, variants of which appear all around the world. &ldquo;There are legends in China, there are legends in Korea,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;As immigrants have come to the United States they&rsquo;ve often brought these legends with them.&rdquo;</p><p>For example, a vanishing hitchhiker story told in Northwest Indiana has elements of the traditional Mexican story of &ldquo;La Llorona,&rdquo; the weeping woman, she says.</p><p>While there&rsquo;s often discussion about whether or not urban legend style ghost stories are true, Eleuterio says &ldquo;what&rsquo;s more interesting to me is that it always has a pattern, and then there are variations in the pattern. ... A vanishing hitchhiker story is always going to have some aspects of a ghostly figure that appears, and then disappears,&rdquo; and the stories are always connected to a specific place.</p><p>Ursula Bielski suggests a psychological cause for some vanishing hitchhiker sightings, rather than restless ghosts. &ldquo;Night travel along cemeteries may encourage the unwitting creation of phantoms to inhabit these curiously and suddenly empty lengths of highway,&rdquo; she writes. &ldquo;The dreamlike state imposed by lonely late-night driving could be the culprit in so many of these cases.&rdquo;</p><p>Our questioner, Ben Albers, got this investigation started with his question about a legitimate ghost story. Adam Selzer&rsquo;s strongest evidence for Resurrection Mary is several dozen first-hand accounts.</p><p>How does this sound to Ben?</p><p>&ldquo;I think this is the most convincing case, just because there&rsquo;s been so many sightings of her and first-hand accounts,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;This is definitely the most convincing and legitimate ghost story I&rsquo;ve heard in Chicago, and I think your evidence backs it up.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/part%202%20topper.png" title="" /></div><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: left;">Our next Curious Citizen with a penchant for the supernatural is Paul Vaccarello, who says he loves two things: being afraid, and being afraid during Halloween.</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: left;">Little wonder, then, that he submitted this question to Curious City:</p><p><em>What&rsquo;s the most haunted place in Chicago?</em></p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: left;">But how the heck should you quantify &ldquo;most haunted&rdquo; in this case? Expert ghost guide Adam Selzer had offered up these options:</p><blockquote><p style="text-align: left;">A. The place with the most number of ghosts.</p><p style="text-align: left;">B. The place with the most frequently seen ghosts.</p><p style="text-align: left;">C. The place with the best quality of ghosts.</p><p style="text-align: left;">D. The place you&rsquo;re most likely to get sucked into the netherworld.</p><p style="text-align: left;">E. The place you&rsquo;re most likely to get possessed.</p></blockquote><p style="text-align: left;">With help from Paul, we settle with: &ldquo;<strong>A. the place with the most number of ghosts.</strong>&rdquo; That is, we settle for <em>quantity</em> over quality.</p><p style="text-align: left;">&ldquo;My goal is to see a ghost,&rdquo; Paul says. &ldquo;To experience something supernatural, you know? See something that I can&rsquo;t explain.&rdquo;</p><p style="text-align: left;"><span style="font-size:24px;">&lsquo;The alley of death and mutilation&rsquo;</span></p><p style="text-align: left;">Luckily, Selzer knows just the spot for Paul to maximize his chances for otherworldly experiences &mdash; or at least hear accounts about them.</p><p style="text-align: left;">On the night of October&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.space.com/27358-total-lunar-eclipse-blood-moon-complete-coverage.html" target="_blank">blood moon</a>, we meet in front of the Oriental Theater on Chicago&rsquo;s Randolph Street. We then curve around the corner into an alley. There, we see a ghost segway tour. (That&rsquo;s right. Selzer says he&rsquo;s seen them before.) A guy takes out the trash. It kind of smells like pee. (Something Selzer says he&rsquo;s noticed many times.)</p><p style="text-align: left;">&ldquo;Right now we are in an alley that the <em>Chicago Tribune</em> once called the alley of death and mutilation,&rdquo; Selzer says, as he pulls out a news clipping to prove it. He scrolls through his iPad to show this:</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/alley%20of%20death%20and%20mutilation%20chicago%20tribun.jpg" title="A Chicago Tribune illustration published December 31, 1903, the day after the Iroquois Theater fire, depicts the alley before the flames were extinguished. " /></div><p style="text-align: left;">Selzer tells us we are standing right in the spot this illustration depicts &mdash; just about where that lady on the bottom left is falling to her death.</p><p style="text-align: left;">The image depicts a tragedy that happened in this alley on December 30, 1903. The building, then known as the Iroquois Theater, had caught fire and 600 people perished inside the building and in this alley. (It&rsquo;s safest to say &ldquo;about 600 people&rdquo; died, as figures run between the high 590s and a tad over 600). The blaze was the deadliest single-building fire in United States history until the World Trade Center towers were destroyed in 2001. While the Iroquois Theater fire eventually led to monumental leaps in nation-wide fire code improvements, it also led to the reason why Adam Selzer says the alley behind the Oriental Theater is the most haunted spot in Chicago.</p><p style="text-align: left;"><span style="font-size:24px;">The Iroquois Theater: &lsquo;Absolutely fireproof!&rsquo;</span></p><p style="text-align: left;">The Iroquois Theater was built in the summer of 1903 and opened around Thanksgiving that same year. It had 1,600 seats, three main thoroughfares, and enough French-Renaissance architecture to rival the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuileries" target="_blank">Tuileries</a>. A program distributed on the day of the theater&rsquo;s opening boasted its &ldquo;many avenues for exit&rdquo; and called its interior the &ldquo;most majestic in this city or in this country.&rdquo;</p><p style="text-align: left;">On the day of the fire, the theater was packed beyond capacity. The crowd, mostly women and their children, had arrived to watch a matinee of a show named Mr. Bluebeard (If you&rsquo;re not familiar, this is a French folktale about a wealthy guy with a blue beard who murders his seven wives, and nearly kills his eighth. It was considered a children&rsquo;s Christmas show. This song,&nbsp;<em>Let Us Swear It By The Pale Moonlight, </em>was&nbsp;playing as the theater fire began to spread. <a name="song"></a>(Special thanks to <a href="http://bluepolicebox.com/">Andrew Edwards</a> for his performance of <a href="http://digital.library.ucla.edu/apam/librarian?VIEWPDF=NSO012003PDF">the sheet music</a>).&nbsp;<iframe frameborder="no" height="450" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/174565688&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;visual=true" width="100%"></iframe></p><p style="text-align: left;"><a href="http://chicagology.com/PDF/IroquoisProgram.pdf" target="_blank">The show&rsquo;s playbills</a> advertised the theater as &ldquo;absolutely fireproof.&rdquo; At the time, this was an admirable (and profitable) attribute, considering the Great Chicago Fire just 32 years before.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/iroquis%20playbill%20screenshot.PNG" title="The playbills at the Iroquois Theater had advertised building as fireproof, even on the day a massive fire killed 600 people. (Image courtesy of chicagoalogy.com)" /></div><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: left;"><p>And, as Selzer likes to say, most of the theater <em>was</em> fireproof. It&rsquo;s just the things inside it that were not.</p><p>He cites the theater&rsquo;s ornate wood trimming and hemp-stuffed seats as obvious examples of the theater&rsquo;s flammability. Selzer also points out that the asbestos fire curtain required of all theaters had, in this case, been blended with cotton and wood pulp.</p><p>The Iroquois Theater wasn&rsquo;t an anomaly in this. A lot of theaters at the time were just as flammable, says Judy Cooke, an antique dealer in Elkhart, Indiana. Years ago, while liquidating the estate of a descendant of William J. Davis, the Iroquois&rsquo; owner, she found a trunk full of documents that sparked her interest in learning more about the Iroquois tragedy.</p><p>One popular narrative, she says, is that Davis cut corners trying to open the Iroquois before the busy holiday season. She says there&rsquo;s truth in this, but there&rsquo;s more to the story, too.</p><p>&ldquo;I can&rsquo;t make any excuses for the man because he simply wasn&rsquo;t paying attention to details,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;But what is sad, and not ever communicated in books and newspapers is that that theater was his crowning achievement. He&rsquo;s a bit of a Horatio Algers story.&rdquo;</p><p>Davis came from modest means, Cooke says, and the Iroquois Theater was his chance to prove to the world what he could do. While she says Davis ultimately bears responsibility for that day&rsquo;s deaths, she adds that it&rsquo;s not enough to say the Iroquois was a death trap; instead, she prefers to say the theater experienced &ldquo;a perfect storm&rdquo; on the day of the fire. The circumstances included a flammable &ldquo;fire curtain,&rdquo; bad ventilation, as well as locked or unmarked fire exits. Cooke says the large presence of women and children in the crowd didn&rsquo;t help, either, because women wore floor-length skirts that prevented them from running or climbing over seats.</p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/theater panorama.png" title="The Iroquois Theater after the fire. (Photo courtesy Library of Congress)" /></div></div></div><p>In the alley behind the former Iroquois, Selzer can point to another detail, one just a few dozen yards above our heads. That&rsquo;s where the Iroquois&rsquo; single accessible fire escape used to be. Selzer says the fire escape couldn&rsquo;t hold all the people fleeing the theater that afternoon, so many, many people simply fell over the rails. Or ... they were shoved over them. In one account, the pile of bodies rose six feet high.</p><p>Like it or not, Selzer says the grim details pertain to Paul&rsquo;s question. Death by sudden and traumatic head or spine injury, he says, cause the dead to enter a spiritual no-man&rsquo;s-land.</p><p>&ldquo;Imagine you&rsquo;re getting shoved off a fire escape and what&rsquo;s going through your head the last split seconds before you hit the pavement,&rdquo; Selzer says. &ldquo;That kind of heightened state of emotion, some people say, is where ghosts come from &hellip;. the reeks and fumes of your puddled brain.&rdquo;</p><p>If you subscribe to this theory, it wouldn&rsquo;t surprise you to learn that several hundred ghosts roam the former Iroquois Theater and the &quot;alley of death and mutilation&quot; behind it.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Wouldn&rsquo;t <em>you</em> want to haunt them, too?</span></p><p>But there&rsquo;s another reason that makes this alley a candidate for the most haunted place in Chicago: Nobody was ever punished for cutting the corners that made the fire so deadly.</p><p>In the trials after the disaster, the jury recommended Davis&rsquo; arrest and the arrest of seven others &mdash; including the arc light operator, William McMullen (the fire was caused by this light shorting out, and the sparks igniting the closest curtain). Five of those men were charged with manslaughter for negligence, but none was convicted.</p><p>The only person to serve any jail time, Selzer says, was a man who stole a wristwatch off a corpse in the alley. And even by graverobbing standards, that&rsquo;s pretty basic.</p><p>&ldquo;Some of the first people inside of the building were not rescue workers or firefighters,&rdquo; Selzer says. &ldquo;They were people yanking necklaces off dead bodies&rsquo; necks, cutting off women&rsquo;s fingers because it was faster than shimmying the rings off.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/ghouls.jpg" title="A newspaper clipping describes one event involving grave robbers after the fire. The newspaper refers to them as ghouls. (Image courtesy Judy Cooke)" /></div><p>The combination of traumatic death and lack of political accountability &mdash; especially on such an enormous scale &mdash; Selzer says, makes the alley a breeding ground for ghost stories. And there&rsquo;s one more factor to consider, too: lack of commemoration.</p><p>&ldquo;You know, ghost hunters don&rsquo;t agree on much,&rdquo; Selzer says. &ldquo;We all have our own theories about everything and think everybody else is a quack. ... But one thing that everyone seems to agree about is when there&rsquo;s some kind of lack of commemoration there do tend to be more ghost sighting there.&rdquo;</p><p>At least on the numbers of dead, he&rsquo;s got a point. Roughly twice as many people known to have died in the Great Chicago Fire died within 15 minutes during the fire at the Iroquois. Yet, there are only a handful of easy-to-miss monuments to the event.</p><p>Shortly after the fire, a memorial sculpture was dedicated to the victims and placed inside the Iroquois Hospital, which was demolished in 1951. The memorial then spent nine years in City Hall storage until it was moved to <a href="http://chicago-architecture-jyoti.blogspot.com/2011/09/city-hall-county-bldg-iroquois-memorial.html" target="_blank">its current location near the building&rsquo;s LaSalle Street entrance</a>.</p><p><a href="http://graveyards.com/IL/Cook/montrose/iroquois.html" target="_blank">A couple of cemeteries also have plaques or small monuments dedicated to the victims</a>. But you won&rsquo;t find anything about the fire in the spot where it occurred. Not even the Oriental Theater, built over the Iroquois&rsquo; grounds, bears any visible reminder of the tragedy.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Ghost story as &lsquo;a people&rsquo;s history&rsquo;</span></p><p>Simply put, the story of the Iroquois fire barely permeates the city&rsquo;s public memory unless, of course, you count the people showing up for ghost tours.</p><p>On that count, Selzer says <a href="http://www.mysteriouschicagoblog.com/2014/02/ghost-pic-in-alley.html" target="_blank">he&rsquo;s got some pretty weird photographs</a>.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/alley%20ghost%20courtesy%20adam%20selzer.jpg" style="height: 372px; width: 620px;" title="(Photo courtesy Adam Selzer)" /></div><p>Above, the ghost of what Selzer says may be Nellie Reed, a trapeze artist who died in the fire, appears on the top right of the image &hellip; or it could always be a trick of the light.</p><p>&ldquo;I have occasionally been pretty freaked out here,&rdquo; Selzer says. Occasionally, he&rsquo;ll see a silhouette of a woman in a tutu that he can&rsquo;t explain, or strange, human-like shadows zipping across the walls.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/nellie%20reed%20funeral2.png" style="float: left; height: 401px; width: 300px;" title="Nellie Reed, a trapeze artist in a show at the Iroquois Theater, was the only cast member killed as a result of the fire. Figures similar to the one above sometimes appear in photos people take in the alley. (Image courtesy Judy Cooke)" />Paul, though, sees no ghosts during our visit evening to the alley. But, he says, that&rsquo;s okay.</p><p>&ldquo;When you think of a ghost story you don&rsquo;t really think of the actual events that occurred to cause this ghost story to happen,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;You normally just think: &lsquo;Oh, ghost! Cool!&rsquo; ... But hearing all these facts makes it a lot more real.&rdquo;</p><p>We turn to Selzer, to see whether the Iroquois fire is even really a ghost story at all.</p><p>&ldquo;You don&rsquo;t have to exaggerate it too much,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;Sometimes, it&rsquo;s the ghost stories that&rsquo;s all that&rsquo;s really keeping these stories alive.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">A postscript</span></p><p dir="ltr">After leaving the &lsquo;alley of death and mutilation,&rsquo; we thought we&rsquo;d see how Adam Selzer&rsquo;s insight into ghost storytelling and history sits with Judy Cooke, who, again, has researched the Iroquois fire. She feels ghost stories aren&rsquo;t enough to satisfy true historical curiosity, and she prefers a vertical route &mdash; diving deep into individual stories. So far, <a href="http://www.iroquoistheater.com/" target="_blank">she&rsquo;s researched and written nearly 300 accounts of people affected by the fire on her website</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I want every single person that was at that fire to have something said about them,&rdquo; Cooke says, referring to herself as a genealogical completist. &ldquo;If you start going into a deeper exploration per person, you turn up more information. You turn up family histories in the geneology.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">And many of the family histories she&rsquo;s excavated often don&rsquo;t align with newspaper stories or even coroners&rsquo; documents at the time of the fire. Many immigrants&rsquo; last names were misspelled, for example. She also found accounts in which people were documented as dead, but were very much alive. Conversely, she says some of the dead were left off the list of victims.</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/fbook%20page%20screenshot.PNG" title="A screenshot from Judy Cooke's facebook page, where she documents the stories of people affected by the Iroquois fire." /></p><p dir="ltr">And consider the perspective that ghost tours might leave out. Cooke mentions a particular detail that sticks in her mind. The son of Iroquois owner Will Davis wrote the following in his father&rsquo;s obituary: &ldquo;He never recovered after the fire.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">The bottom line: Cooke finds it hard to believe any story she&rsquo;s read about people who died at the Iroquois &hellip; much less their ghost stories.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Before I was going to start believing in the spook, I&rsquo;d want to make sure that spook was even at the fire, you know?&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;That person might not have even died.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">But she doesn&rsquo;t fault people like Selzer for keeping stories about the Iroquois Theater alive. She says she&rsquo;d just rather ask the ghosts herself.</p><p dir="ltr"><span style="font-size:24px;">We&rsquo;ve got our answers. Who asked the questions?</span></p><p dir="ltr"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/asker-%20Ben%20Albers%201.jpg" title="Question-asker Ben Albers at Resurrection Cemetery in Justice, Illinois. (Photo courtesy Katie Klocksin)" /></p><p dir="ltr"><span style="font-size:18px;"><strong>Ben Albers</strong></span></p><p dir="ltr">For Ben Albers of Chicago&rsquo;s Buena Park neighborhood, history and ghosts are inextricably linked. He&rsquo;s not only interested in the spooky elements of ghost stories, but also &ldquo;the rich history behind&rdquo; these tales. After going on a ghost tour, Ben even did some of his own research into the intersection of local history and ghost legends. Which is not to say Ben doesn&rsquo;t want to see a ghost. He does.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I really want to experience one,&rdquo; he said &ldquo;but I never had the opportunity to go into the field and do it.&rdquo; He&rsquo;s heard creepy sounds, &ldquo;but I never really think that&rsquo;s a ghost. I never get real excited like: &lsquo;Oh, there&rsquo;s a ghost in my house, I need to investigate more.&rsquo;&rdquo; Before Ben, Adam Selzer and producer Katie Klocksin left Resurrection Cemetery, Klocksin asked what should be done if they would come across a hitchhiker. Should they give her a ride? Selzer replied, &ldquo;Absolutely,&rdquo; and Ben seconded</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Yeah. I agree one hundred percent,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;When you have your chance you&rsquo;ve got to take it.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Paul%20Vaccarello%20-%20courtesy%20of%20Paul%20FOR%20WEB_0.jpg" style="float: left; height: 334px; width: 250px;" title="(Photo courtesy Paul Vaccarello) " /><span style="font-size:18px;"><strong>Paul Vaccarello</strong></span></p><p dir="ltr">You might remember Paul Vaccarello from<a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/passing-through-chicagos-union-station-amish-transit-hub-110453"> another question he submitted to Curious City, the one about the Amish at Union Station</a>. We like to think Paul&rsquo;s satisfaction with our answer led him to a heightened state of curiosity when he asked us about Chicago&rsquo;s ghosts.</p><p dir="ltr">But, instead, Paul said asked about ghosts because ... he just happens to like Halloween (in fact, it&rsquo;s his favorite holiday). And that&rsquo;s one of the reasons he asked us this question about Chicago&rsquo;s most haunted spot. The other? He wanted affirmation he&rsquo;s sought all his life: proof of the <em>after</em>life.</p><p dir="ltr">While our investigation didn&rsquo;t quite convert Paul into a (ghost) believer, he said learning about the &ldquo;alley of death and mutilation&rdquo; from a historical perspective taught him something else: You don&rsquo;t have to believe in ghosts to believe in ghost stories.</p><p dir="ltr">Another takeaway? Scope out the fire exits next time you&rsquo;re at a matinee.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Katie Klocksin is an independent producer in Chicago. Follow her at <a href="https://twitter.com/KatieKlocksin" target="_blank">@KatieKlocksin</a>. Logan Jaffe is Curious City&rsquo;s multimedia producer. Follow her&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/loganjaffe" target="_blank">@loganjaffe</a>.</em></p></div></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 29 Oct 2014 19:57:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/we-aint-afraid-no-chicago-ghosts-111017 A Halloween story: The mystery of the ghostly handprint http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2012-10/halloween-story-mystery-ghostly-handprint-103316 <p><p>April 18, 1924 was a Friday. At 7:30 in the evening, a passerby noticed smoke coming from Curran Hall, a massive four-story brick building at 1363 South Blue Island Avenue. The man ran to the corner fire-alarm box and pulled the lever.</p><p>Two miles to the west, at Engine Company #107, fireman Francis Leavy was washing a window. The call came in and Leavy rushed out with the rest of the company. He told the captain he&rsquo;d finish the window when they got back.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/10-31--Chicago%20firemen%2C%201924%20%28LofC-CDN%29.jpg" title="Chicago firemen at work, 1924 (Chicago Daily News)" /></div><p>Five squads converged on Curran Hall. The blaze seemed to be minor. The firemen were getting it under control when one of the outer walls began buckling. Then it collapsed, trapping eight men.</p><p>The falling wall knocked out electrical power at the site. Portable lighting was brought in, while firemen combed the wreckage for their comrades. But all eight men had been killed. Among the dead was Francis Leavy.</p><p>It was later determined that Curran Hall had been deliberately torched for the insurance. The building owners were tried and convicted of the crime.</p><p>Now for the rest of the story . . .</p><p>The day after the fire, one of the men at Engine Company #107 noticed the window that Leavy had left half-washed. In the middle of the window was a handprint. The man tried scrubbing it out, but the handprint stayed.</p><p>From that time forward, so the legend goes, every fireman assigned to Engine Company #107 attempted to remove the handprint. They used water, soap, ammonia and acid; they scraped it with razor blades. Nothing worked.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/10-31--handprint%20%281-11-39%29.jpg" title="The ghostly handprint in 1939 (Chicago Daily Times)" /></div><p>The Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company was called in. My dad was a glazier at PPG, though years later. The way he heard the story, PPG applied their strongest chemical solvents to the handprint&ndash;and still couldn&rsquo;t remove it.</p><p>Was the handprint a ghostly souvenir of the dead fireman? It&rsquo;s said that Leavy&rsquo;s thumbprint was obtained from his personnel records, and compared with the print on the window. They matched perfectly.</p><p>The end of the tale is prosaic. A newsboy threw a paper through the window and broke it. Most accounts say this happened in 1946.</p><p>But one version claims that the window was broken on April 18, 1944 &ndash; 20 years to the day of Francis Leavy&rsquo;s death.</p></p> Wed, 31 Oct 2012 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2012-10/halloween-story-mystery-ghostly-handprint-103316 The quest for Peabody's Tomb http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2012-07/quest-peabodys-tomb-100562 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/07-10--Peabody, 1920 .jpg" title="Mr. and Mrs. Peabody, 1920 (Library of Congress/Chicago Daily News)" /></div><p>On August 27, 1922 Francis S. Peabody suffered a heart attack and died. Though nobody realized it at the time, he had just taken the first step to becoming a Chicago legend.</p><p>Peabody was a 63-year-old coal dealer, a multi-millionaire, and a figure in national Democratic politics. On that Sunday in August, he&rsquo;d invited some friends to his Hinsdale estate for a fox hunt. When the hunt was over and Peabody hadn&rsquo;t returned, a search party was sent out. They found his body near a small lake, with his horse standing nearby.</p><p>Mrs. Peabody decided to have her husband buried at a secret location near where he had fallen. A few years later she sold the property to a group of Franciscan friars. Then the fun began.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/07-10--Peabody chapel.JPG" style="height: 300px; width: 200px; float: left; " title="The chapel: 'Mr. Peabody is NOT in!'" />A tiny chapel had been built near the lake. Wild rumors started to circulate about the mystery of Peabody&rsquo;s Tomb. Mr. Peabody was supposed to be interred in a crystal casket inside the chapel, his body floating in preservative oil like a Du Page County Lenin. Sometimes it was claimed that his infant son was there with him.</p><p>Naturally, such wondrous tales had to be verified. And so, from the 1930s on, whole generations of city and suburban kids went off in search of Peabody&rsquo;s Tomb, usually after dark. Traffic was heaviest around Halloween, and during fraternity initiation season.</p><p>The Franciscans were troubled. Chasing away all those skulking adolescents was disturbing their contemplation. Besides, the kids created a mess and sometimes vandalized the property.</p><p>Now a new rumor spread. The friars didn&rsquo;t just kick out trespassers. If they caught you, they forced you to pray on your knees all night &ndash; and whipped you if you didn&rsquo;t comply. The number of intruders dropped. No one ever proved that the Franciscans had cooked up this latest tale.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/07-10--Peabody%20Mansion.JPG" title="Mayslake Hall--Mr. Peabody's mansion" /></div><p>During the 1990s the Franciscans disposed of the property. Today the Mayslake Peabody Estate is owned by the Forest Preserve District of Du Page County, and anyone may visit the site. There are woodlands, wetlands, a restored prairie and a lake for fishing. The mansion is open for tours, and there are even summer Shakespeare performances under the stars.</p><p>But the exact location of Peabody&rsquo;s Tomb is still a mystery.</p></p> Tue, 10 Jul 2012 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2012-07/quest-peabodys-tomb-100562 Chicago's favorite ghost: Resurrection Mary http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2011-10-31/chicagos-favorite-ghost-resurrection-mary-93531 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-October/2011-10-31/10-31--Res Cemetery.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>I first heard the story at one of the Duke's Halloween parties. That would make it when I was in college, in the late 'sixties.</p><p>The way the Duke told it, this guy he knew had been driving north on Milwaukee Avenue near Lawrence, by the Holiday Ballroom. Suddenly a young woman in a white dress jumped in front of the car. The guy screeched to a halt, the woman got in the car, and asked for a ride.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" height="355" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-October/2011-10-29/10-31--Holiday Ballroom.JPG" title="" width="490"></p><p>Now the driver figured he was getting lucky, so he agreed. The woman told him to head up Milwaukee toward Niles. Other than that, she didn't say much.</p><p>Getting into Niles, they passed the main entrance to St. Adalbert's Cemetery. "Stop the car!" the woman shouted. The driver stopped the car. When he turned to look at the woman, she had vanished.</p><p>Sound familiar? Substitute Archer Avenue, the Willow Brook Ballroom, and Resurrection Cemetery. Now you have Chicago's most famous ghost story, the tale of Resurrection Mary.</p><p>At the time I hadn't heard anything about Resurrection Mary. Neither had any of my friends. We only knew that this was a great story.</p><p>As the years went by, I became better acquainted with Chicago folklore. Then I realized that the Duke had picked up the Resurrection Mary story somewhere, and simply adapted it to his own purposes. That was a habit of his. Last I heard of him, he was a long-term guest of the federal government. Something about counterfeiting.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-October/2011-10-27/10-31--Res Mary.jpg" style="width: 293px; height: 460px;" title=""></p><p>The first sighting of Resurrection Mary occurred in 1939. Since then there have been dozens. The story has been related in newspapers and magazine articles, in books, in songs, and in a movie. In 2011, Mary is all over the internet.</p><p>Who was the real Resurrection Mary? Researchers have nominated a number of candidates. My vote goes to Anna Norkus.</p><p>Anna was born in Cicero in 1914, and later lived in Chicago near Archer and Harlem. On her 13th birthday--July 20, 1927--she rode along with her father and some friends to the Oh Henry Ballroom (today's Willow Brook). After an evening of partying, they drove home.</p><p>Along the way they passed Resurrection Cemetery. On Harlem near 67th Street, the driver lost control of the car and plunged into a deep ditch at the side of the road. Anna was killed in the crash.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" height="356" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-October/2011-10-29/10-31--Res Cemetery.JPG" title="" width="490"></p><p>The dead girl was supposed to be buried at St. Casimir's Cemetery. But because of a grave-diggers' strike there, Anna was temporarily interred at Resurrection Cemetery. Later, when the strike ended, her remains could not be identified.</p><p>That account fits the main elements of the Resurrection Mary story. As noted, there's plenty of information available, and you're welcome to come up with your own theory.</p><p>As for me, I've driven past St. Adalbert's Cemetery hundreds of times, and never had anything unusual happen. But I've never driven by Resurrection Cemetery at night. And I don't intend to.</p></p> Mon, 31 Oct 2011 12:15:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2011-10-31/chicagos-favorite-ghost-resurrection-mary-93531 The Cider House story http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2011-07-19/cider-house-story-89141 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-July/2011-07-15/schmidt_ciderhouse.jpg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-July/2011-07-14/2121 N. Hudson Ave..jpg" style="width: 495px; height: 374px;" title=""></p><p>Chicago history is more than just a fire. But sooner or later, there's bound to be a story of the Great Conflagration of 1871. The house at 2121 North Hudson Avenue is at the center of this tale.</p><p>The Chicago Fire started on the Near South Side. Pushed on by strong southwest winds, it burned through downtown, jumped the river, and continued moving north. Nothing in its path seemed safe.</p><p>By the second evening the fire had passed Center Street (Armitage). Here the buildings were fewer and farther apart. On Hudson Avenue, the only house was a little wooden cottage belonging to a policeman named Richard Bellinger.</p><p>As the fire approached, Bellinger was determined to save his home. He tore up the wooden sidewalk, then collected all the water he could, in whatever bucket or bottle or cup was handy. Then he waited--but not for long.</p><p>Sparks from the fire started to hit the house, and Bellinger quickily doused them. The fire kept coming, Bellinger kept pouring water. He ran around the four sides of the little cottage, he climbed on the roof, he dropped back to the ground. Wherever the flames lit, Bellinger was there to put them out.</p><p>He grew tired. He lost track of time. But he was winning. The fire around him was almost gone. And then--he ran out of water!</p><p>Was all his hard toil for nothing? All he needed was a bucket or two more! Oh, cruel twist of fate!</p><p>But wait! Bellinger remembered the barrel of apple cider in the cellar. He told his wife to draw some of the cider into buckets. And with this bit of liquid, the valiant policeman was able to extinguish the remaining flames, and save his home.</p><p>The Triumph of Policeman Bellinger became a part of Chicago folklore. It was even reprinted in school textbooks. On October 8, the anniversary of the fire, teachers would march their classes to the cottage on Hudson Avenue, and tell the story of how it had been saved by cider. Besides the Water Tower, this little frame house was the only building that had survived the disaster.</p><p>Then one day in 1915, a little old white-haired lady appeared at the door of 2121 North Hudson Avenue. It was Mrs. Bellinger, come back to visit the old homestead. She was invited in and looked around. Then she began to reminisce about the events of forty-four years before.</p><p>Yes, she said, her late husband had worked mightily to save the house. After the fire, they had sheltered 21 people in the tiny cottage. However, that cider business had been invented by some reporter with an over-active imagination.</p><p>"We did have a barrel of cider in the basement," Mrs. Bellinger declared. "But we didn't use it because we were able to get enough water from the dugout across the street."</p><p>That destroyed one myth. And more recently, historians have determined that at a couple of other wooden cottages on Cleveland Avenue also came through the fire. So the Bellinger house is not even unique as a survivor.</p><p>But it still makes a damn good story.</p></p> Tue, 19 Jul 2011 12:15:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2011-07-19/cider-house-story-89141