WBEZ | Folklore http://www.wbez.org/tags/folklore Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en 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