On a recent walk through Rosehill Cemetery, looking for new stories to tell on tours, I came upon the gravestone of Albert H. Dainty, whose epitaph read “Until the day breaks and the shadows flee.” This was a line from The Song of Solomon in the Bible. Translations vary, but the full line is something like “Until the day breaks and the shadows flee, turn to me, my beloved, and be like a wild elk among the rugged hills.” Go, Albert H. Dainty, go!
Some research showed that this epitaph would have certainly been chosen by his second wife; his first, Laura, left him to go on the stage, ignoring his pleas to come home for a decade before he finally obtained a divorce. She was a fairly well-known elocutionist in her day, and turned out to have connections to any number of other people in Rosehill (though she herself is in Forest Home). Later in life, she was very active in the Hull House theater, where she directed a performance of a play called Hazel Kirk in 1917 as benefit to raise money to get a retired actress named Kathryn Evans into the Episcopalian Home.
Kathryn M. Evans
I was delighted to find the connection to Evans, whose nondescript gravestone on the north side of the cemetery is one of Rosehill’s many little-known treasures.
Evans was an actress, and a fairly popular one in her day, though what earned her a place in history was her role as Mrs. Sharpe, a housekeeper, who had the first line in a comedy she later said “Wouldn’t be considered very funny today.” That comedy was Our American Cousin, and Ms. Evans appeared in it at Ford’s Theater the night Lincoln was assassinated there in 1865.
The details in the story she told of that night – over and over for the rest of her life – seem to change a bit in the telling, but she gave a particularly vivid description to a Chicago Daily Inter-Ocean reporter in 1914. “I was in the green room,’ she recalled, “chatting with Maggie Gourlay, the ‘Skillet’ of the play, and waiting for my cue, when I heard the shot ring out…. I knew when I heard the shot that it couldn’t be a part of the play…. A moment before young Booth had leaped to the stage. I heard someone shout ‘Stop that man!'”… I looked up and saw Lincoln unconscious, his head drooping on his breast, his eyes closed, but with a smile still on his face.
“After the tragedy I ran upstairs to the dressing-room. The stage was filled with secret service men, who seemed to have gone crazy. They had arrested ‘Peanut Johnnie’ (the peanut vendor who held Booth’s horse) as an accomplice – poor ‘Peanut,’ who did nothing more than hold Booth’s horse. They were looking for Ned Spangler, our stage carpenter, who had innocently held the door open for the assassin. My husband was also under suspicion, as he had had a drink with Booth in George Harry’s cafe next door before the play began.”
Evans went to a dressing room, where she wiped the makeup off her face, certain that any second a detective would knock on the door to arrest her, too. Eventually the property manager assured her that she was safe, and she walked into the empty theatre, which wouldn’t see another audience in her lifetime. Her husband was arrested, but released. The property manager was held in the federal jail in the capitol building for a time, and his frantic wife lived with Evans for a bit. In the heady hours after the assassination and Booth’s seemingly easy escape, everyone in the theater was under suspicion.
She had worked with Booth a little bit before, and thought him the perfect gentleman. She had even seen him that day, and said that he betrayed no nervousness regarding what he was about to do. “My last glimpse of him,” she said, “was as he stood with his arms outstretched at the entrance to the theater, facing the stage. We all liked him.”
“It was an unhappy season for us,” she recalled. “The theater was closed, and we, who had been favorites a week before, were out of work. We were all more or less under suspicion because Booth was an actor… my husband died shortly after. It was a sad year for me.”
Years later, visiting Washington for the first time since 1865, she visited the federal prison and was appalled to see a guard prodding an elderly prisoner with a bayonet. She loudly protested, until the guard said the prisoner, was “Still a rebel at heart; he told me he was glad the blankety-blank old rail splitter had been killed. “Give him an extra prod for me, then,” Evans said.
Evans remained an actress for years, eventually retiring in Chicago. In 1920, a play about Lincoln was performed at the Blackstone Theatre (now the Merle Norman), and Evans viewed the play from a box, where she sat alongside Sgt. A.W. Boggs, who’d been in the audience at Ford’s Theatre that night, and W.J. Ferguson, who’d been in the cast with her that night. They hadn’t seen each other since, though Ferguson was still a working actor; he was currently appearing in the The Little Whopper at the Studebaker, and had recently played Lincoln in a silent film.
I’m indebted to Dave Taylor and Kate Ramirez, Booth family scholars who told me about Evans; we located her grave at Rosehill over the summer when they came through town on their “Boothie Road Trip.” Check out his site boothiebarn.com!
In 1898, rumors swirled around Englewood that HH Holmes had survived his execution and was now off growing coffee in San Paranarimbo, South America. No such place showed up in maps, but, hey, maybe it was one of those “It’s not on any chart; true placed never are” situations.
Over the summer, I appeared on four episodes of American Ripper, the History Channel’s HH Holmes series, and served as consulting producer (which mostly means I sent them a lot of data, a lot of the historical graphics they used, etc). Early on in the filming, they told me they were working on something Jeff Mudgett, Holmes’ great great grandson, had been trying to do for years: Exhume the remains of H.H. Holmes to see if it was really him in that concrete grave. I kept suggesting they shave it down and try to make him look like Han Solo in carbonite.
Now, it should be pointed out that there was never much mystery about who was in that cement-filled Philadelphia grave; Holmes’ execution was witnessed by dozens of high-ranking witnesses, including several people who knew Holmes pretty well and hated his guts (as we covered in more detail than any normal person would want to hear in our post, The Hanging and Burial of HH Holmes). The idea that he faked it was a two day story in 1898, buried in the back of a now-defunct Chicago paper. It was easily debunked at the time; the alternate story of what happened didn’t come close to lining up with known facts, and had Holmes off in hiding in a place that didn’t even exist.
It also wasn’t a widespread or common belief; the story was syndicated in a few dozen papers, though none seemed to take it seriously (one Akron paper’s headline simply read “Pretty Thin”). Most of the articles from papers around the country are just reprints of the Chicago story, though some added a line or two at the end debunking it, noting that the way Holmes was hanged in the story wasn’t anything like the way criminals were hanged in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Inquirer, whose reporters were in attendance at the execution, said that there was not the least doubt Holmes was dead, and noted that “authorities here laugh at the absurd story.” A Reading, PA paper, in an article entitled “A Foolish, Fake Story,” noted that ex-Sheriff Clement, who officiated at the hanging, thought it was hilarious.
The 1898 story seemed to have been based on a pamphlet, Hanged By Proxy, published by L.W. Warner, a novelty dealer who bore the distinct pedigree of having been one of the twenty-seven victims Holmes confessed to murderering (though he was alive and well and living in Newton, Iowa). But the pamphlet itself attracted very little notice; it’s only known of now from a copyright listing and a small town Missouri paper than ran an excerpt of an article on it from an even smaller paper that seems not to even to exist on microfilm anymore.
The story was completely forgotten within a week, and no later retelling of the Holmes story suggested that the hanging may have been a hoax – I can’t think of a single time any article or book on Holmes between 1898 and about 2010 even alluding to the idea. Now and then someone would suggest that there was something odd about the fact that Holmes’ heart was still beating after fifteen minutes, but if you read a lot of accounts of 19th century hangings (and boy, do I ever), you’ll find that that was totally standard.
It wasn’t until Jeff’s novel, Bloodstains, suggested in 2011 that someone else had been hanged in Holmes’ place that anyone started to suggest it was a mystery again. And when theory began to spread through the internet, the 1898 stories weren’t a part of it; I don’t think anyone knew about them at all until our blogpost and podcast about them in 2015. By now, though, the story actually seemed more plausible to people than it did in 1898, as the legend of Holmes has grown a lot in the last decade. Even in academic articles, people have accepted the 1940s pulp version of Holmes as fact- every book on him in recent decades has taken a lot of stuff that Herbert Asbury invented outright as gospel. Holmes was a very audacious swindler and trickster, but he wasn’t really all that GOOD of one in reality. He managed to stay out of trouble by dragging cases out, but he tended to be very sloppy in his schemes. He was sued constantly; merchants and insurers that he swindled almost always figured out that they’d been had, often very quickly. I wouldn’t put it past him to have TRIED to fake his death, but there’s no way he could have pulled it off.
Those articles were a large part, as I understand it, of how the crew convinced the judge to let the exhumation go through. When the news about it broke in late Spring, I was suddenly being quoted in The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and a slew of other major papers. I had to turn down a lot of requests for interviews at the time, since I was affiliated with the show to some degree, though I wasn’t (to my chagrin) sent out to Philadelphia to see what happened.
Even though I thought there was no reason in the world to doubt it was Holmes down there, I was fine with them doing the exhumation. Hey, I’m the guy who runs Grave Robbing 101 tours in Chicago, and wrote The Smart Aleck’s Guide to Grave Robbing ebook. I thought it’d be fascinating to see what they found in the grave, to actually see the chunk of cement, and see what kind of shape the body would be in (it was hard to predict; a great deal depended on what kind of filler material was in the cement). And Holmes, for his part, was too dead to care. I’m relatively flippant about the rights of dead bodies, really. They’re just dust and bones.
The producers of the show wound up keeping me out of the loop on what was happening with the exhumation, so I didn’t have any new info for people over the summer, while the show was airing, except that I could already say it looked like Holmes’ skull to me in the previews of the season to come that they showed after the first episode. I’m not such a forensic expert that I could just look at a skull and say “That looks like him” or anything, but it didn’t seem to have any teeth that should have been missing. There are photos of dental casts in circulation, and from a quick glance it looked like a match to me.
I’ll summarize the excavation and findings here, since I try to make this site a go-to destination for all things Holmes, though of course you’ll want to see the excavation footage for yourself – you can watch American Ripper on Amazon Video.
Matching the skull to the teeth was a relatively easy matter. While Holmes was in prison, he was examined by Dr. Eugene Talbot, who conducted a physical examination and interviewed him, then published a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This being 1896, he spent most of his time talking about the bumps and ridges on Holmes’ skull, and the physical signs that he was a “degenerate.” But the article included two particularly useful tidbits: one is a stray line that Holmes “Sexual organs” were “unusually small,” and the other was a mold of his teeth:
Here are pictures of the molds next to modern shots of the skull:
So, I only know about what happened on the dig based on some second hand accounts from reporters who were spying on things (the rumor at the time was that they dug in the wrong place and didn’t find anything), but based on the show, the findings weren’t much different than what one would expect based on the stories of the hanging and burial that appeared in Philadelphia papers. Papers differed slightly on details, as we noted in our exhaustive post, but what they found just about lined up with what I’d expect.
About six feet down, they started to find a bunch of cement (note: the claims on the show that Holmes own a cement factory are a bit disingenuous; he borrowed a few thousand dollars from a guy who did, and the two went back and forth suing each other throughout 1891, and there’s been some vague speculation that maybe the other guy wasn’t real, but it’s wild speculation, at best). This cement turned out to be a solid block of it encased in wood; they refer to this wood as an empty “decoy coffin,” though I’m not sure that’s what it was. My guess would be that it was just a wood liner they put into the grave as they poured more cement down, helping to keep the cement in place as it hardened.
Beneath that was a coffin lid, which was a minor surprise – a number of news reports mention that the lid was removed before the coffin was lowered into the ground. No mention was made of what became of it, though, so the idea that they’d toss it into the grave before adding the second layer of cement makes sense. After all, what else were they gonna do with it?
Below the lid was the coffin, filled with cement, just about as described. There was a cavity inside, filled with water. But the water was pumped out, the cement was drilled into (not shaved down to make him look like Han in carbonite – nuts) and there, inside the cement, was the skeleton. Not as well preserved as some had suggested it would be, but still in fairly good shape, really. It could have rotted to dust in other conditions. And, hey, it DOES sort of remind me of that scene in Return of the Jedi when Leia, disguised as Boushh, activates the mechanism to melt the carbonite.
The bones were eventually extracted, cleaned, and laid out in a lab:
So there we have it: the skeleton of H.H. Holmes (though a couple of front teeth seen during the exhumation are missing from the layout). DNA samples were taken, which a title card at the end of the last episode revealed came back to confirm a match to Jeff Mudgett – the dental casts and hanging reports had already made it fairly clear to me, but now it was official. And I was glad the show said as much; I was afraid they’d try to say it was “inconclusive” or something.
Of course, I’m still seeing people suggesting that it somehow may not have been Holmes down there. Perhaps they think it was one of his children? (I keep looking for a gif of Gob Bluth saying “I will be buried in my father’s place…because he loved magic so very much…”).
One mystery does remain to me – a number of newspapers indicate that a silver cross with Holmes’ name, provided by one of the priests who served as his spiritual advisors, was placed on top of the body before one of the layers of cement went on. The clothing and sheet certainly disintegrated, as would probably be expected, but was the cross in there? (edit, Nov 2017: They did find it. NBC Philadelphia showed a picture here)
In any case, I think it’s neat that it all happened, and we get some new data on Holmes in the bargain. As they say in Stranger Things, you should open every “curiosity door” you come to!
We have a couple of Holmes tours coming up this fall (2017); see the homepage or the sidebar. Saturday, 9/9, I’ll be at The Reservoir on West Montrose at 11am, talking Holmes with Ray Johnson, who also appeared on the show.
In 1895, as the Chicago police dug through the building now known as the “Murder Castle of H.H. Holmes,” Inspector Fitzpatrick was asked about new rumors linking Holmes to the murder of Mrs. Kron, a Wilmette neighbor of Holmes who’d been brutally murdered a few years before. Fitzpatrick brushed it off. “That theory is ridiculous,” he said. “The murder of Mrs. Cron was done in too crude a manner for Holmes to have had anything to do with it. He was a scientific criminal and would never think of engaging in a burglary or shooting a person in cold blood. You might as well connect him with the Cronin murder as that of Mrs. Cron, or even with the ‘Jack the Ripper’ horrors in London, England.” (“Tell Tale Letter,” Chicago Evening Journal, July 27 1895)
Little could he have guessed that a century or so later, people would be being talking about Holmes as a ripper suspect! This was the main premise of The History Channel’s American Ripper, on which I appeared in several episodes and served as “consulting producer,” which basically means that I provided them with a lot of data. Some of it was used in the show, some of it wasn’t.
Quite a few people have emailed me asking about the parts of the book that place Holmes in the United States during the Ripper murders, and now that the show is ended, I think I can put this post up laying out what evidence I’m using.
A bit of background: In Autumn of 1888, a number of prostitutes were brutally hacked to bits in Whitechapel, a rough neighborhood in London. Though the killer was never identified, he went down in history under the name “Jack the Ripper,” based partly on a letter received by the police (which was likely written by a reporter, not the killer). There are dozens of theories as to who the killer was and what motivated him, and no one is totally sure how many murders could really be attributed to him. The five “canonical” victims, the ones that are generally agreed on, were Mary Ann Nichols (Aug 31, 1888), Annie Chapman (September 8), Elizabeth Stride (September 30), Catherine Eddows (September 30), and Mary Jane Kelly (November 8).
Other possible “Ripper” victims are spread between about February, 1888 and well into 1889 and beyond. But going just by the canonical five, the most important question is: can we tell where Holmes was between late August and early November, 1888? You often hear that Holmes disappears from the record during this period, which was true if you only go by the data that shows up in a google search or a couple of 20th century Holmes books, none of which really talk about where he was in that period. But those books, and particularly the hundreds of blog posts summarizing his career, are based on incomplete data. During most of that period, he would have been working in the drug store of the “castle’ building (which was built earlier than most sources say, from Aug-Oct 1887), and dealing with lawsuits over its construction.
Though I’ve never found a true smoking gun like, say, a signed promissory note taken out at the Bank of Englewood during those dates, there is abundant documentary evidence that Holmes was in the United States during that whole period. Indeed, though there are lots of stories and rumors about him going to England or South America, there’s little or nothing on record to suggest that he really ever left North America in his life. The only real thing suggesting he did is a letter he wrote to District Attorney George Graham in May, 1895, mentioning that the New York Herald was hard to find in London as of a year before. And we know that Holmes could not have been in London in Spring/Summer 1894, when he was busy in Fort Worth, Denver and St. Louis, so he was either going on something he’d been told by someone else, or just making things up.
So, as to the evidence we do have about Holmes in Fall, 1888:
Holmes’ daughter, Lucy, was born July 4, 1889, in Englewood – likely in the Castle building. This isn’t exactly hard data for this sort of thing, but, well, we know ONE thing he was doing in Autumn of 1888.
Holmes registered to vote in Englewood on October 9, 1888, giving “701 Sixty-Third St” (the castle, in pre-1909 renumbering) as his address. The registry notes that he didn’t vote in the election, but he did register. This would be THE smoking gun if it was in his handwriting, not a clerk’s; as it is, though, it’s just a hard one to explain away, as a clerk wrote all of the names in the registry.
Detail of voter roll dated Oct 9, 1888. It’s a clerk’s handwriting, but that’s definitely the same Holmes. It’s the pre-1909 address of the castle.
In November of 1894, when Holmes was first arrested as a swindler and became a media sensation, several Boston newspapers sent reporters to interview the Mudgetts, his family in New Hampshire. Holmes had just made a surprise visit there himself a couple of weeks before, so his long absence was fresh on their minds. Both Clara Mudgett, his first wife, and Levi Mudgett, his father, said that prior to his arrival there in early November, following a letter to his brother some weeks before, he’d last visited them in October, 1888. The Boston Herald, speaking with Clara, said “In October, six years ago, he came to see her for the last time.” (Boston Globe Nov 21 1894). Days after he left in 1888, according to his father, he wrote his brother from a New York hotel. A New England trip in late October would explain why he didn’t end up voting in Chicago in November.
Holmes was dealing with at least three lawsuits in Chicago during the summer/fall of 1888; he was being sued by Simon Waixel (a drug store supplier), George Kimball (a glass dealer) and Aetna Iron and Steel, who had provided construction and materials for the “castle” the year before. And one meeting with his attorney clearly took place in late September or early October.
The Waixel and Kimball suits, looked at from a certain angle, could actually strengthen the idea that Holmes was in England from August to November. He was a no-show in court in late October when the Waixel case was called (after having shown up for it in late July), and the September paperwork in the Kimball suit saying no property could be found and Holmes hadn’t paid up as ordered may just mean that Holmes wasn’t around; there’s no mention of the deputy actually searching the place.
However, that could also back up the stories of him going to New Hampshire in late October, a timeline of the suit with Aetna Iron and Steel places Holmes far more clearly in Chicago right in the middle of the London murders.
The facts of the Aetna lawsuit are these: In Spring of 1887, Holmes entereded into contracts with Aetna Iron and Steel, as well as will Berger and Gallouner, architects, to design, supply materials, and build his new building at Sixty-Third and Wallace, the one we came to know as the castle. Construction began that August of 1887 – details of it are pretty well enumerated in the lawsuit that Aetna and the architects launched the next summer when they hadn’t been paid (many relevant portions of the suit are in the ebook companion to my Holmes book, Very Truly Yours HH Holmes, which includes over 100k words of letters, articles, depositions, etc by Holmes and his various associates, many of which have never been published).
It’s harder to place him in a courtroom during the first few months of the Aetna suit, but a few things in the pile of paperwork that survives make it seem clear that Holmes was around Chicago that Fall. On the surface, the most damning is this filing, stamped Sept 18, 1888, stating “Now comes Lucy T. Belknap, Harry H Holmes…” etc:
However, this piece alone isn’t quite the smoking gun it looks like – Holmes didn’t necessarily have to be present for his attorney to enter his appearance.
Far more damning, though, is the fact a few days later (probably Sept 24th), Aetna Iron and Steel put in a lengthy affadavit telling the story of their dealings with Holmes; so did Berger and Gallouner, who were made parties to the suit only on September 21. On September 26, 1888, Berger’s lawyer filed a notice to Maher that he’d obtained a ruling for Holmes to answer their charges within twenty days.
Wrapper from the lawsuit paperwork of the answer to a creditor’s claims Holmes gave in late sept/early Oct, 1888.
Maher seems to have tried to get out of it; he answered with a demurrer (a legalistic way of saying “so what?”), but on October 3 the court denied the demurrer. Hence, in accordance with the ruling, Holmes’ answers were filed with the courts on October 12, 1888. From the detailed answers in the paperwork, it’s fairly clear that Maher met with Holmes to speak to him, and this meeting probably would have had to have happened between Oct 3 and Oct 12, and couldn’t have been before the late September date on the affidavit he was answering.
So, to sum up, the data is pretty clear that Holmes was in Chicago, dealing with the lawsuit, in late September and Early October, 1888, which would make it impossible for him to have committed the Jack the Ripper murders.
But, again, these aren’t necessarily smoking guns if you’re really determined to believe Holmes was in London at the time. The October, 1888 date in the 1894 papers talking about his New Hampshire trip never comes from a direct quote, just a summary of what the relatives were saying. They could have been a bit off. And theoretically, Holmes could have sent a someone else to register him to vote, and brought Myrta with him to London (or some have suggested that perhaps he wasn’t really Lucy’s father). Maher could have written the answers all on his own (though how he knew the answers to some of what Aetna and the architects claimed is hard to explain). And if Holmes never spoke of the trip, well, one could say that a trip to kill prostitutes is the sort of thing you’d want to keep quiet about.
But these seem like stretches to me, to say the last. In particular, sending someone to register to vote for you would be a lot of effort, and a big risk – individual voter fraud has always been a high risk, low reward sort of swindle, which makes it a very rare crime.
And that’s just the documentary evidence placing Holmes in Chicago. Stronger still is the fact that Holmes doesn’t really make that good of a candidate for the Ripper to begin with, as he just wasn’t the sort of killer who went around hacking random prostitutes to bits. Though he is often portrayed that way these days, as a killer who used gas chambers, hanging, and stabbings stories of him being that sort of killer have more roots in tabloids and pulps than from more reliable sources. There are only a handful of known victims (plus some “maybes,” see my list), and none were random. None were stabbed to death – in all cases where there’s much to go on, he seems to have favored poison.
Newspaper writers of the early 20th century found lots of amusing euphemisms for LGBT couples – enough that one sees references to a young woman and her “aide” and it’s tempting, at least, to wonder if they were more than friends. Jeanette Hoy and Katherine Davis don’t seem to have been a couple, exactly (to Hoy’s chagrin), but papers referred to their “odd friendship” and used the word “chum” in scare quotes after Hoy shot Davis, then herself, in 1921.
Davis told reporters that she met then-20 year old Hoy in 1919, when she was living in an apartment of her own in the Eleanor Club (a chain of women-only rooming houses that survived until the 1990s) on Indiana Avenue. The two struck up a friendship, going to the theater together regularly (and, in some accounts, rooming together), before Davis decided she didn’t want to see Jeanette anymore, presumably after Jeanette declared that her love was not platonic. Jeanette didn’t take it well, continuing to show up at the Eleanor Club and sending gifts and money. And then she sent one with a bullet enclosed, threatening to kill Davis and herself. The letter reportedly read, in part, “You probably don’t understand how a girl can love another girl as I do you.”
Jeanette, in an undated photo.
A few days later, April 28, 1921, Jeanette appeared at the Madison and Wabash L platform. When Davis got out of a train, Hoy shot her, then ran down the stairs and into the alley (I’m thinking the one behind the Chicago Athletic Association, though there are a couple of alleys around there – it may just be wishful thinking on my part because I love that place so much!), where she shot herself three times. Both young women were taken to St. Luke’s Hospital, where they recovered. The Tribune story was headlined “Girl Shoots Her Chum, Tries to End Own Life – Bullets Reveal Strange Friendship” and spoke of Hoy’s “unusual attachment.” The case made national news, including a write up in the New York Times.
Hoy was naturally taken to court, but Davis eventually waived the more serious charges against her former friend, and Hoy was only fined $100 and costs (and eventually had to pay Davis $5000). However, two years later, Hoy was back in the news after threatening to kill an 18 year old woman named Anna Melbuhr, after circumstances that papers described as nearly identical to her case two years before. The last I’ve seen of her in the news is from the day after her threat to Anna, when she was reportedly taken to a “psycopathic hospital” for observation. Though there are a few people named “Jeanette Hoy” who appear in papers decades later, I’m not sure yet whether any are the same person. I’ve only just started looking, but so far I’m not sure whatever happened to Jeanette after 1923. It’s a mystery in progress. There might be some records on her in the state archives, and surely more first-hand accounting in the Chicago papers that I haven’t checked yet. I ran into the story in the Evening American archives on microfilm while researching a whole other story; the other papers of the day (Daily News, Herald Examiner, Journal, etc) probably covered it as well.
What’s interesting now is simply to read the way papers described the relationship between the two. The Evening American spoke of Davis as a victim of a “Girl Love Shooting,” and the Tribune said that Hoy “fancied herself the victim of unrequited love.” Elsewhere there’s talk of “strange friendship,” and a “weird love affair.” Somewhat remarkably, though, I haven’t seen any that editorialize much. Other than words like “weird” or “unusual” showing up now and then, they pretty much treated Jeanette the way they’d treat any other jilted lover.
It’s easy now – and certainly tempting – to see Hoy as a victim of her times, when lesbianism was far less understood and sometimes treated as the sort of thing that, all by itself, could get you sent to a psychopathic hospital. But it also important to remember she shot a person and threatened to do it again; she clearly needed some sort of help, at the very least. Given the times, though, it’s unlikely she would have gotten the sort she really needed. There’s a chance that after 1923 she simply got married and changed her name, but the fact that she seems to vanish from the record after being sent for observation is ominous, to say the least.
If you’ll recall, the story in those articles, as told by former Holmes employee Robert Latimer, was that they brought Holmes out to the scaffold, lowered the rope down behind a partion where no one could see, then hanged him by yanking him back upright – but what was REALLY on the rope was a guy who’d already been dead for a while, while the real Holmes slipped away. Hangings like that, raising people up instead of dropping them, weren’t unknown; we tried it in Chicago a few times. Being able to prop a dead guy up like that, or manipulate him around after rigor mortis set in, might be a whole ‘nother thing, but otherwise it does sound like the kind of switcheroo any decent stage magician could pull off.
Some paperwork with the History Channel prevents me from going into my thoughts on exhumation itself right now (though I’ll repeat my usual request that they at least shave the cement down til he looks like Han Solo in carbonite), but I thought I’d talk about the hanging in more detail, just to show how eyewitness accounts differed from the 1898 stories. I cover the execution, and the hoax rumors, at length in HH HOLMES: THE TRUE HISTORY OF THE WHITE CITY DEVIL (out now from Skyhorse Publishing), but here it is in even MORE detail.
Accompanying their drawing of the “Death March,” the NY Journal had the best headline: “Lived a monster, died a mystery.” Purchased by Hearst six months before, the Journal became synonymous with “yellow journalism,” and had published Holmes’ “confession” a month before, but their take on the execution distinctly lacked sensationalism. Library of Congress
The hanging was covered in a number of Philadelphia papers, and a couple of New York ones sent reporters in as well. Of these, I’ve collected accounts from The EveningItem, Inquirer, Times, Press, Public Ledger, and Record from Philadelphia, and the Journal, Herald and World from New York. Some of these papers were better than others, but all were more or less in agreement about the hanging details. There’s more conflict, though, in how they report on order of events between taking the body down and the burial the next day.
Crowds began to gather outside the prison early on May 7, 1896 – papers estimated the crowd at four or five thousand strong. Sheriff Clement had received thousands of requests for passes to witness the hanging, but turned almost all of them down, issuing only about 50 (which presumably included the 12 man jury he was required to invite). An extra 20 or 30 were brought in by prison inspectors, to his chagrin, though he decided to just get on with things rather than fight for them to be removed. Including the various officials present (jailers, doctors, priests, etc), this puts the number of witnesses at 80-100. Fewer than Moyamensing usually had, according to one or two of the papers, though a quick check of other reports doesn’t back this up for me; an 1890 double hanging had only about 30 witnesses, according to the Inquirer. The previous hanging at Moyamensing, that of William Moore (alias Scott Jennings) in 1893, was apparently limited to the jury, physicians, and press.
The names of the jurymen for the Holmes hanging were given by a few papers: William H. Wright (a deputy sheriff), Dr. Benjamin Pennabaker, JJ Ridgeway, Councilman Robert R. Bringhurst, Samuel Wood (who was also on the trial jury), Dr. Joseph Hearn, Dr. WJ Roe, AB Detweiler, Dr. MB Dwight, Dr RC Guernsey, James Hand, Dr. John L. Phillips.
Philadelphia Times sketch of Holmes on the scaffold, tucked into the Library of Congress copy of his autobiography (thanks to Kate Ramirez)
A few papers also published roughly the same list of other notables who’d received passes: L.G Fouse (president of Fidelity Mutual Insurance, who’d met with Holmes many times), Detective Frank Geyer (who also knew Holmes a lot better than he cared to), Solictor Campbell (Fidelity’s lawyer), Deputy Sheriff Bartol, Dr. Scott, ex-sheriff Connell, Coroner Ashbridge (who’d worked with Holmes identifying the putrid body of Ben Pitezel), Dr J.C. Guernsey, William Edwin Peterson, Medical Inspector Taylor, I. Hoxie Godwin of the board of health. City Property chief A.S. Eisenhower, William A. Cole, Dr. William Roe, Dr JC Da Costa, Dr. Frank Monahghan, Capt of Detectives Peter Miller, ASL Shields (Clement’s lawyer), Lt. Ben Tomlinson, Prof. W Easterly Ashton and Prof Ernest Laplace of Medico-Chirurgical Hosptial, Dr. JS Miller of St Joseph’s, Col J Lewis Good, Asst Dist Attorney Boyle, S.R. Mason (Baltimore Sheriff who told the Inquirer he had five men to hang), deputiy sheriff John B. Meyers, prison agent Camp, inspector Hill, and Major Ralph f. Culinan.
The Record described Holmes being awakened at 6am by Jailkeeper Weaver and saying “I’ve had a dream. I dreamed I was a boy again, up among the New Hampshire hills.” No other paper noted this, though, and it’s hard to imagine that the Record really saw it. At 7am the watch was changed, with Weaver relieved by Jailkeeper Henry. One of the keepers asked Holmes how he felt, and Holmes held up a hand to show he wasn’t shaking, and saying something like “Look at that. Pretty good, isn’t it?” The exact quote was different in the papers describing the scene – probably none could actually hear what he said, and they may not have seen it either (doors to cells were wooden, with a narrow window). Most likely, a jailer filled reporters in on it.
Breakfast, all papers agreed, was boiled eggs, toast, and coffee, all of which Holmes ate, and beefsteak, which he didn’t touch.
Samuel Rotan, Holmes’ attorney arrived, and the Philadelphia Times described Holmes doing the same thing of holding up his hand, saying “See if I tremble.” They also said Rotan and Holmes discussed the plan to bury him in cement, and Rotan noted that he’d turn down a $5000 offer for it, from a man who he thought wanted to exhibit the skeleton in carnivals. Holmes said “Thank you. I’ll see that no one gets my body, either by buying it or stealing it.”
Between 9 and 10 am, the men with permits gathered in the vaulted entrance to the prison, and were eventually ushered into an office while the gallery was prepared. The sheriff’s solicitors, Graw and Shields, were at his elbows making sure all legalities were followed There was a roll call of the jury, each of whom were sworn in by solicitor Graw the oath: “Gentlemen of the jury, you and each you do solemnly swear that you will witness the execution of Herman Webster Mudgett, alias H.H. Holmes, and that you will certify truthfully as to the time and manner of such execution according to the law, so help you God.”
The gallows sketched by the Philadelphia Press
Meanwhile, the men made casual small talk. The New York Journal noted that they kept their hats on and smoked, and that “what they said was not particularly characteristic of the commonly entertained idea of execution talk.” The Philadelphia Times described the talk a bit more: “Witnesses moved restlessly about from the stone roadway in the center of the main entranct to the reception room, aksing each other if they had ever seen a hanging beofre. Most of them had not. The gathering was a very curious mixture of youth and old age, the juvenile newspaper reporter on his first assignment of the sort rubbing elbows with a the gray-haired physician who had seen more executions than he had time to talk about just then.”
At various times, Inspector Cullinan, Superintendent Perkins, and a few others made visits to Holmes’ cell. Holmes had decided that he would like to make a speech, and reportedly threatened to “make a scene” if Samuel Rotan was not allowed onto the scaffold with him. Both requests were granted. Requests to make a speech almost always were.
A bit before 10, an officer called out “Hats off, no smoking,” and the crowd was marched, two by two, into the “gallery,” a long hallway with cells on either side (including Holmes’ own). In the center of the hall stood the gallows, painted so dark a green that most papers called it black. There was a screen or partition hanging below the back of the scaffold, and the men walked through a partition in it to get the the other side, where they’d turn to face it. The men, therefore, had to walk right past the scaffold, and each had a chance to check out the mechanism. Most scaffolds that I’ve read of from those days had a single trap door that fell back; at Moyamensing they used two trap doors that fell sideways.
As they stood facing the gallows, (which had no partition on the other side; the dropped body would be in full view), there was little attempt at conversation.
The “Death March” in the Philadelphia Press
At 10:08, per the Record, there was a sound they said was “scarcely more pronounced that the droning of bees on the air of a midsummer’s afternoon.” Most of the reporters described this sound – as it got louder, they realized it was the priests singing “Miserere.” (Holmes had been meeting frequently with Fathers Dailey and McPake, though whether he’d officially become a Catholic was the subject of conflicting accounts in the papers) The “death march” had begun.
Though one paper noted that only a couple of reporters could see the march through the partition behind the scaffold, all of them described it, and a few drew it. Sheriff Clement and Superintedent Perkins came first. Holmes and the priests followed, with Rotan and the other officials behind.
Holmes was wearing a vest, a suit, and dark gray trousers with light shoes. The shirt he wore had no collar, as those got in the way of the noose. Instead, as most papers pointed out, he wore a silk handkerchief around his neck as a sort of substitute collar.
By most accouts, he was as calm as anyone present, but didn’t look good. The Journal called him pale beyond the ordinary jail pallor. He looked miserably small and slight… he loked like a consumptive in his weakness, but the weakness was only physical. there was no trembling of the lips or dropping of the eyes. Whatever else may be said about him, Holmes was not afraid to die.” The Times said “he looked dead already.”
The group walked the 13 steps up to the scaffold, and Holmes stepped to the rail on, spreading his arms out across, it, looked to the crowd, and made his final speech:
Holmes on the scaffold, sketched by the New York Tribune. The partition behind it is clearly on view here.
“Gentlemen, I have very few words to say; in fact, I would make no statement at this time except that by not speaking I would appear to acquiesce in my execution. I only want to say that the extent of my wrongdoing in taking human life consisted in the death of two women, they having died at my hand as the result of criminal operations. I wish to also state, however, so that there will be no misunderstanding hereafter, I am not guilty of taking the lives of any of the Pitezel family, the three children or father, Benjamin F. Pitezel, of whose death I am now convicted, and for which I am to-day to be hanged. That is all.”
(The two women, based on letters Holmes wrote the night before, were Julia Conner and Emeline Cigrand. The letters don’t survive, but what’s known of their contents is in Very Truly Yours HH Holmes, an ebook supplement of Holmes’ letters and writings).
All reports agree that he stepped back and knelt with the priests to pray after the speech. According to the Record, while he was praying the sun passed a skylight on the roof and a beam of light hit the scaffold for a second. The Public Ledger had him saying “Good-bye, Sam, you have done all you could” to Rotan before he knelt, though others had him saying it (or something like it) after rising from the prayer.
Richardson, the jailor, nudged Holmes a few inches over so that his feet were on either side of a crack in the floor, then got to work with the basic tasks of preparing a man to be hanged. He let Holmes button his coat a bit, then bound his hands behind his back, removed the handkerchief, added the noose, and put the black hood over his face (which was absolutely standard at all judicial hangings). There’s a little variation on the order in which this was all done among the reports, but only very minor details (noose first or hood first, etc).
Holmes said something to Richardson, but no papers quoted it quite the same way. The Record recorded it as “What’s your hurry, there’s plenty of time.” The Public Ledger had “Don’t be in a hurry, Aleck. Take your time.” The Inquirer said it was “Take your time old man,” and the the Times said “Take your time, Richardson, you know I am in no hurry.” Many out of town papers quoted it as “Don’t bungle” or “Make it quick.” Most likely, since Holmes was above the heads of the reporters and speaking only to Richardson, through a hood, no one could hear exactly what he said clearly.
When everything was set, Richardson asked, “Are you ready?” Holmes said, “I am ready. Good-bye.” Some reporters had him adding “Good-bye, everybody.”
There are also very minor variations in reports of the exact time the trap doors fell – some papers said 10:13, others said 10:12 and thirty seconds. But now we’re really nitpicking.
But the two doors of the tap fell with a sound that the Record described as a crash “which within the stillness of the prison walls sounded like a blast of artillery, as the two sections of the platform fell to either side.” Some papers specified that he dropped five feet.
The rope stopped with a fierce jerk, and the body swayed and moved about for several minutes, the hands behind the back opening and closing convulsively and the back and chest heaving, as was standard at these things, the sort of twitching that happens. Most of the time hanged men also wet or messed themselves, and some reports would mention it, but in this case I don’t think anyone did, though I assume it probably happened. It usually did, either right at moment of death or shortly after, as the muscles relaxed. Papers a generation earlier had been more apt to mention it than the late Victorians were.
At 10:18 after three minutes, Dr. Benjamin Butcher, one of several doctors present, came and listened to the heart beat, timing the beats with his watch. He announced that it was still beating, but only due to reflex actions. Holmes was dead. Doctors. La Place, Ashton, Da Costa, and Miller examined the body as it hung there as well, and concurred. The heart was still beating, but slowing down, and Holmes was dead.
At 10:30, the Times said, Lt. Tomlinson brought in sergeants and patrolmen to look at the body as it hung there, and they were very jovial about the whole thing. The Times said “It made one shudder to hear the comments.”
Undertaker O’Rourke removing the body out the back (plenty of spectators were waiting there, too, by all accounts)
Around that time, 10:30, the doctors all agreed that the heart had stopped. Some books have made a great deal of the fact that it took 15 minutes, but if you read a lot of 19th century hanging accounts, this was very common. It doesn’t indicate that Holmes was superhuman or anything.
At 10:45, by all accounts, the body was taken down and lowered onto a rolling cot. The jury made a quick examination, probably just looking at the hooded body lying there, then went off to the office to sign their statement that the hanging had been done according to the law.
It’s at THIS point that accounts of what happened start to differ a little more, likely because not all of the reporters stayed beyond this. Similar to the accounts of what had gone on in Holmes’ cell that morning, a lot of the reporters were now covering things they probably didn’t actually witness first hand.
By all accounts, officials had a lot of trouble getting the rope off of Holmes’ neck; it was on tight and had dug into the skin. The hood came partway off, at least, as they tried to wrestle it off. One man tried to cut it, but for some reason Superintendent Perkins told them not to, though in at least one account they had to cut part of it to loosen it before they finally managed to get it off. When they did remove it, the hood was removed as well, and the Record said “the dead man’s face was a thing too ghastly for description, and even the doctors turned from it.” The NY Herald, though, said “face was composed and peaceful.”
There was a very quick examination, with all the doctors agreeing that the neck had broken and Holmes had probably been dead instantly, without even a fleeting second of pain before he lost consciousness. But Rotan wouldn’t let them take the body away, or do a more thorough examination, even though the doctors really wanted to do an autopsy, just like a lot of other doctors around the country did. Coroner Ashbridge was noted particularly for being frustrated here by the Philadelphia Evening Item.
The Item, though, didn’t didn’t cover much of what became of the body afterwards – they were an evening paper, so they had to get going. While other reporters were still following the body to the cemetery, they were getting their stories ready, as they had to be on sale just a few hours later. Instead of following the body, they left the scene and got a few quick quotes from Frank Geyer, the sheriff, Rotan, etc, who all said about what you’d expect them to say – the hanging was done neatly, that Holmes died “game” (bravely), and that they were glad it was all over. Rotan said he still wasn’t convinced Holmes had killed Ben Pitezel, though from other comments he made I do think he believed Holmes had killed some of the other known victims.
Holmes’ body was on the rolling cot for at least an hour; sources are a bit unclear about what time PJ O’Rourke, the undertaker, showed up. Sources are also a little unclear as to whether there was already a few inches of cement in the coffin he brought with him. The Philadelphia Press described a rough pine box, with a mix of sand, water and cement poured in to a depth of 4-5 inches. Holmes was wrapped in a sheet, with a silver cross bearing his name and the date on his chest, still wearing his clothes, then taken out to he cemetery, with a stop on the way to pick up a permit, where more cement was added. Their report makes it look like much of this happened right in the prison.
The Times, though, said that the body was placed in an ordinary pine box, then taken out to O’Rourke’s backyard (right by the prison), where it was put in a larger box to which they added five barrels of cement and sand, ten inches deep. Holmes was laid in this, a handkerchief was put over his face, and then more mortar was added before they screwed on the lid and took it the cemetery.
From the next day’s Evening Item
The Record concurred that some cement was already in the coffin, but it had the rest of the prepartion taking place at the cemetery, not the yard. Everyone agrees that they’d neglected to pick up the burial permit, and the officials at the cemetery wouldn’t put the body in the vault without it, so O’rourke had to send someone back to town to pick one up from the cathedral. According to the Record, it was while they waited that the rest of the cement was added, though their description of what was done with the body otherwise matches the one in the times and the Press.
The Record gave a lurid description of what the body looked like when they unscrewed the lid to pour the cement in:
“The body lay on the bed of cement covered by a white sheet, which was taken off for a moment. The face was discolored, of a saffron hue, and the eyes were half open, staring upward in a ghastly way. the mouth, too, was open, showing the yellow teeth, and the brown hair was slightly disarranged, as though the dead man had just run his hand through it. A wide red line was visible on the neck, where the rope had chafed it.”
The sheet was replaced, in their account, along with the silver cross that others mentioned, which was a gift from Father Dailey. Grave diggers mixed up the cement and sand, and o’rourke p packed the coffin with it. 12 men, mostly reporters, were enlisted to haul the thing into the receiving vault, where it would stay over night, guarded by two men named Charles Fulmer and David P Mason.
The guards Fulmer and Mason at the vault at Holy Cross, from the Philadelphia Record. I’ve been unable to figure out whether this vault is still there!
The Journal didn’t cover this part in detail; their reporters were probably rushing home to New York. But they did state that lime was in the mixture, and that “the body will be absorbed by the lime and sand in the cement.” This might have been a guess on their part.
The next day the body was brought out to be buried; it took even more people to get the coffin back OUT of the vault, as it weighed about a ton. Rotan, the priests, and a bunch of people who’d been hanging around, waiting, watched the body be lowered down – they removed the coffin lid, lowered it into the 10 foot grave (and one source specifies that Holy Cross usually used 8, which is interesting – the commonly-given figure is 6 feet, though 5 is actually a bit closer to industry standard these days). More cement was mixed up and poured in, then he was buried. The grave was unmarked, but several hundred people came to check out the site over the next few days.
It’s worth noting here that some papers gave a different section of the cemetery than others as the burial site; at least three Philly papers that I checked gave the section number where he was buried, and aren’t in total agreement. But a few published an account of the burial service, which was attended by several curios spectators, most notably including Rotan.
The Inquirer was on hand for the burial; getting the body back OUT took two dozen men.
So, that’s the story of the execution and burial of HH Holmes. There are some descrepencies, probably based on the fact that not all of the reporters were actually witnessing everying they described; some were just swapping data second hand and may have been mistinterpreting. But as to the details of the execution, the part they witnessed for sure, they’re in as close an agreement as you get from half a dozen people witnessing the same thing. And it’s worth noting that many of the people present (Geyer, Fouse, Clement, the jailers, Ashbridge, etc) knew Holmes pretty well and hated his guts. And that many others were public officials or otherwise “pillars of the community.” If it was a hoax, they probably all would have had to be in on it, at huge personal risk. It’s unlikely that Holmes could have afforded the amount it would have taken to bribe all of them, even if any could be bought.
It’s also worth noting that this sounds nothing like the hanging in the 1898 stories that Robert Latimer was spreading around Englewood. But in research for my book, I found a reference in a copyright catalog to an 1897 book called Hanged By Proxy: How HH Holmes Escaped the Gallows. All that really survives of it is the title and publisher name in a copyright listing. BUT, I did find that there was an article in a Paris, MO newspaper where LW Warner talked about writing a pamphlet about Holmes faking his death. The original article may not survive at all, I don’t think anyone has the Paris Mercury even on microfilm, but it was excerpted in another small town Missouri Paper. Warner was a traveling salesman who was living in Newton, Iowa at the time – and shared with Latimer a distinction that Holmes had confessed to murdering him. Though he, like Latimer, was still very much alive. My guess is that Latimer had seen the pamphlet, and that it would tell the same story, but we won’t know for sure unless we find a copy. And we still could! You never know what people have in their drawers and boxes.
So, that’s what I have on the execution and burial of HH Holmes, in more detail, perhaps, than any normal person would want.
Holmes is lowered into the ground, as sketched by the Philadelphia Record. Not QUITE like Han Solo in carbonite, but….
At this time I have no data on how the exhumation went (or will go, if the digging is still going on). But I’ll repeat my request: please, shave the cement down and make him look like Han Solo in carbonite. I’ll keep saying it til they do it!
In the middle of researching HH Holmes: The True History of the White City Devil, a podcaster asked me if I’d found everything, or if research was just for completism. If I remember right, I said I was mostly looking for minor details at this point, but you never know what you might find.
Only days later, I made a find that went almost beyond my wildest dreams.
In picking out local Philadelphia coverage of Holmes’ imprisonment as he awaited execution, I ran into several articles about a noted criminologist named Arthur MacDonald (or, in some articles, Alexander MacDonald). He made the news by applying for permission to have Holmes be strapped to a kymographion – a device that measure’s one breathing rate – while he was being hanged.
The application was denied, but MacDonald was allowed to visit Holmes in prison, where he subjected him to all of these wonderful toys:
Dr. MacDonald’s wonderful toys – he was well respected in his time, but it mostly looks like Victorian junk science today.
Most of the data he gathered by subjecting Holmes to these was utterly useless today – they’re barely a step above throwing Holmes in the water and saying he was a witch if he floated. However, in a couple of the articles about him, MacDonald claimed that he he had been in touch with more than 200 of Holmes’ old associates asking for anecdotes about his character. Now, those, if they were still extant, would be something to see!
Digging deeper on MacDonald, I found that he had published all or part of about 30 of the letters in a book entitled Man or Abnormal Man, in a chapter called “The Case of H.” He didn’t mention Holmes by name (though it’s absolutely obvious that it’s him), which is probably why nothing written about Holmes before seems to use them as a source. Turning the pages and seeing just how many letters there were, my eyes got wider and wider, and I got so excited that I could barely contain myself. This was the kind of find you dream of making!
And, as a source, they’re an absolute treasure trove. The bulk of the letters came from old colleagues and professors from medical school, and give us a much clearer picture than we had before of his college days, his aptitude as a student, his living situation, and his relationship at the time with his firs wife, Clara, and their son, Robert, who lived with him in Ann Arbor for a while. We learn that his college nickname was “Smegma,” details about a breach of promise suit, what his professors thought of him, a lot about his domestic life, and some gruesome anecdotes about his prowess in the dissecting room.
There was also, perhaps most importantly, a letter from Clara Lovering-Mudgett herself, the clearest comment I’ve ever seen from (there were only a few quotes from her in newspapers, and many of them I don’t really buy as reliable). Elsewhere were letters from Marion Hedgepeth, his old cellmate, a childhood neighbor, Carrie Pitezel’s father, a castle resident, and more.
Of course, 30 letters is not 200. Perhaps MacDonald was exaggerating, but perhaps there are another 170 out there yet. I’ve checked with a university library that has his archives, but the search came up empty.
I wound up quoting them at length and referring to them frequently in HH Holmes: The True History of the White City Devil, but it was too big a find to simply sit on and refer to. Hence, I’ve included all of them (with notes on who the anonymous writer was, when I could identify them) as an appendix in Very Truly Yours, HH Holmes, a new ebook collection of Holmes letters, writings, confessions, affidavits and more. It’s sort of a supplement to the official book, containing 150k words (about 700 pages!) of data, all either primary source material on Holmes or an important contemporary document that helped the legend grow (such as the New York World’s phony version of his forthcoming confession). Most of them have not been republished in over a century, and many of the cross-examinations, legal statements, and affidavits have never been publicly available at all. Check it out!
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Chicago papers published a number of articles about how many ghost stories there were on Sheridan Road. One of them came up just a bit in my HH Holmes research – the legend of a woman who dreamed for several nights that a body was buried in the Evanston Woods, near murderer Holmes’ old house in Wilmette. Upon sending her husband to dig in the spot, a skeleton was found.
I’d never given the story too much though, but further research today finally dug up some news stories from when the skeleton was first found in September, 1896. And checking the microfilms for Chicago papers back then blew the whole story wide open. Give a listen to the podcast to see what happened!
(listen to the podcast above, or see us on iTunes!)
So, here’s a tale for you all:
In the winter, I drive for Lyft, one of those “taxi alternative” apps. And I love it – I always had this secret dream of being a cab driver, living like a character in an early Tom Waits song. Which is exactly what the job is like. I drive strippers to job interviews, get medical students liquored up before their first cadavers, and, fairly often, turn the ride into a historical tour. I end up one on my ghost tour route all the time, and frequently bring passengers to buildings that I talk about on my architecture tours. I have a “passenger notebook” where people add drawings and plug their bands – check out its Twitter page.
On the evening of Sunday, Jan 14, 2017, I picked up a young woman in Rogers Park, on Ashland just above Pratt. A guy who looked like Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite got in with her, sitting behind me. As we drove along I made basic small talk (“So, you two live in Ravenswood? How do you like it?”), and noted that I seemed to be ended up around Rose Hill Cemetery a lot when we passed over the road that leads to the gate. She asked if I’d ever been there, and I talk about how I actually give walking tours there as the GPS took me along a road right beside the gate. It was a very pleasant ride all around.
When I pulled over at the Ravenswood address, she got out of the car – and no one else did.
“Wasn’t there someone else in the car with you?” I asked.
“No!” she said with a laugh. “I wondered why you kept saying ‘you two!'”
This is the sort of thing that can happen in the dark – I must have thought a guy on the sidewalk was getting in with her, but he didn’t. I was focused on looking ahead of me or at the map for the most part, not behind me. I’d brush it off as just pure silliness except that, well, we DID drive right by Rose Hill Cemetery! I immediately pulled over and tweeted out the story – it appeared that we had a new hitchhiker in town to compete with Resurrection Mary: Rose Hill Pedro! If you believe in Rose Hill Pedro, all your wildest dreams will come true…
Now, I’m hesitant even to tell this story, because, having worked in the ghost tour biz for a decade and having written numerous books on ghostlore, I’m the LAST guy you should consider a reliable source – it’s in my direct financial interest to see a ghost. Also, I assume it wasn’t really a ghost – the woman in the car didn’t see anyone else there, after all, and I’m not the sort of person who thinks he can see things that other people can’t (unless I’m talking to people who didn’t like the movie Sing Street, in which case I obviously can). And I’m not holding this up as serious evidence of the paranormal – it’s far more likely this was just the result of my brain playing tricks on me in the dark – except that I’m pretty sure I DID look in the rear view mirror and see the guy once, shortly before we came to Rose Hill.
So, I’m 100% sure that I did not give a dead person a ride home.
And, honestly, having investigated ghost stories for years, I’d say that if I’d collected the same story from someone else, it would be in my top 5% of ghost sightings. It gives me some first-hand insight of where some of these stories come from. Even after figuring out what must have really happened, I’ll admit that I felt spooked for a bit when I got home! If I wasn’t as skeptical as I am, or not as familiar with this sort of thing, it could easily have grown into a much wilder tale, first in my mind and then in my eventual retellings.