Halloween is upon us. It is my favorite Holiday for many reasons. The costumes, the children trick-o-treating, and of course, the horror. I love scary movies and I love ghost stories. If you are a fan of them too, then please enjoy these true stories based in Chicago (my hometown).
Congress Plaza Hotel:
- The hotel was built in 1893 during The World’s Fair. The first story I’m sharing is actually my own. I have been inside this hotel, and I will tell you I am 100% sure I saw a ghost in the elevator bank as the elevator door was closing. There were no opening or closing of doors, no voices, no footsteps, just a female figure that walked past the elevator. I unfortunately could not make out anything else other than a female figure as the elevator door shut. But the hotel was VERY odd. It looked straight out of The Shining. Loose doorknobs, open hotel room doors, doors that led to nowhere, narrow hallways, random furniture, strange smells. It was all extremely eerie.
- The ghost of a six-year-old boy running around the 12th floor has been reported for decades. During both World Wars, The Congress Plaza housed refugees from war-torn countries. A young mother from Czechoslovakia was staying at the hotel with her two sons, while waiting for her husband to send money and return. While awaiting his arrival, her fears of deportation and/or being evicted worsened and she took matters into her own hands. She threw her two sons from their 12th floor window, and then jumped herself.
- Al Capone’s ghost has been reported in the hotel bar and lobby by guests for years. And, I can’t talk about crime in Chicago without mentioning Capone. He was known to frequent the hotel during his life in Chicago. Some of his early meetings took place at the Congress, and the corridors beneath the hotel were used for all kinds of smuggling of goods (alcohol). Several of Capone’s friends and business partners lived at the hotel during the 1920s and ’30s, establishing the Congress as the home to some of the century’s most dangerous and corrupt criminals.
- Room 441 on the fourth floor of the South Tower is considered to be the most haunted room in the hotel. Many people call security because they see a woman standing or hovering over their bed, pushing or tugging on the bed, or pushing or tugging on the covers. Nobody knows exactly who this woman is or what her story is, but a lot of hotel guests have reported seeing her.
Serial Killer H.H. Holmes:
Dr. Henry Howard Holmes or more commonly, H. H. Holmes, was a prolific serial killer who operated in the late 19th century. Reported to have killed as many as 200 people, he only confessed to 28 murders, but only nine could be confirmed. After medical school, he went to work at Holton’s drugstore at the southwest corner of South Wallace Avenue and West 63rd Street in Englewood. Dr. Edward Holton was a fellow Michigan alumnus, and Holmes proved himself to be a good employee and eventually bought the store. He then purchased an empty lot across from the drugstore, where construction began in 1887 for a two-story building, with apartments on the second floor and retail spaces, including a new drugstore, on the first. After construction was complete in 1891, Holmes placed ads in newspapers offering work for young women and advertised the building as a place of lodging.
In 1893, Chicago was given the honor of hosting the World’s Fair. The huge event was scheduled from May to October and attracted thousands of people from all over the globe. During this time, Holmes opened up his building as a hotel for visitors. The list of missing women when the Fair closed was a dreadfully long one and for most, foul play was suspected. Holmes’ murder spree of killing mainly women and children finally ended when he was arrested in Boston on November 17, 1894.
The second floor of Holmes building was a maze of around 35 small windowless rooms, stairs, and doors that led nowhere, false partitions, trap doors, secret passageways, and a staircase that opened out over a steep drop to the alley behind the house. There were also trapdoors and dumbwaiters that enabled him to move the bodies down to the basement. Some rooms were soundproof and had peepholes allowing Holmes to watch his victims. Others were connected to a gas line where his victims could be asphyxiated. The basement held a crematorium, a dissection table, vats of acid, surgical implements, various jars of poison, pits of quicklime, and torture devices attached to the walls. His building soon became known as the “Murder Castle.”
The names of his victims, who deserve recognition:
The Eastland Sinking:
In the summer of 1915, the Eastland capsized in the Chicago river, resulting in the tragic deaths of around 844 people. The ship was set to transport employees and some entire families, to a company picnic in Michigan City, Indiana. The S.S. Eastland boat, built in 1902, had the capacity for only 500 people, by the morning of the disaster, over 2,500 passengers filled the ship. Just 58 minutes after boarding had ended, the Eastland rolled over on its side settling into the shallow river bottom.
Reports that the place where it capsized was haunted have circulated ever since. Some Chicagoans have reported seeing dead bodies floating in the areas of Chicago’s Clark and LaSalle streets. People walking past the disaster site, report hearing sounds of loud splashing often accompanied by horrifying screams and moans.
I personally have never heard or seen anything, but you never know, I just may one day.
Iroquois Theater Fire:
On December 30, 1903, the Iroquois Theater (currently Nederlander Theatre) caught on fire and around 2,200 people were trapped inside. The poor architectural design created mass hysteria as the theatergoers struggled to get out of the burning building through a single entrance. Droves of people attempted to exit through the fire doors, but found them locked. 602 people died inside the theater. Their bodies were stored in a makeshift morgue in the back alley of the building that became known as Death Alley.
Strange paranormal activities and ghost sightings started soon after the disaster. People using the alley report seeing figures and hearing terrifying cries and screams. Other encounters include being touched by invisible hands, and some people have even been pushed by an unseen force.
I have been to Death Alley (during the day) and did not encounter anything, but again, maybe I will someday.
The Great Chicago Fire:
The 8:30 pm fire on the night of October 8, 1871 killed 300 people and burned over three square miles of Chicago. One-hundred-thousand people lost their homes. There was a three week long drought prior to the fire that made it worse, and the city buildings were not built to withstand fires. The night after the fire began, rain started to fall and the fire began to put itself out. To this day, people still do not know how exactly the Great Chicago fire happened.
There have been many ghost sightings of the fire victims around Chicago. An example is of a brave city worker who manned the Tower water pumps so the fire fighters could combat the fire. When the fire eventually engulfed the area where he was assisting, rather than burn to death, the man hanged himself from the top floor. Pedestrians have reported seeing his shadow hanging from the window of the top floor.
I know these disasters and stories are rather morbid and disheartening, but they are all a part of Chicago’s history. Now, whether you believe the sightings or not, is up to you. Don’t let these stories scare you away from Chicago though! It is one of the liveliest, friendliest and cleanest cities in the world.
Here are some books that talk about other ghosts and crime stories in Chicago if you would like to read about more!
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