Return of the Shadow?

Back in November, we presented the now-famous Shadow Picture from the Florentine Ballroom, which has, thus far, held up to scrutiny. And this week, after months of inactivity (nothing’s active all time; places go in and out of active periods), the ballroom has seemed active again. We’ve heard footsteps in the room more than once, and the guards have heard it, as well (one has even heard a person humming in there).

It almost seems only natural that we’d get another shot remarkably similar to the one from November – this was taken by Krissy M, a guest on the tour:

As with most pictues of a back wall in a darkened ballroom, the light quality isn’t great. But, given the size of the silhouette and the position of the flash, it DOES seem like the shadow must be of someone standing right in front of the wall (this is the other side of the same wall from the November shot) My initial thought when seeing the pic on a camera lcd screen was that turning up the exposure, brightness, etc, would reveal it to be just a person from the tour standing against the wall. But this wasn’t the case. While it’s not as clearly defined as the November shot (it’s a mixture or red and black), it doesn’t seem to have been a person. After all, the flash should make a person look front-lit, not backlit. And, even more unusual, while his does seem to be the torso, neck and head of a person, it looks, in the closeup, as though it may not be a FULL silhoutte – there’s some space between the shadow and the table. Here’s a close-up (with the exposure turned up:

It’s tempting to look for faces or shapes in it (like, say “it looks like a woman looking up” or “the red and black makes it look like a person in a red hooded cloak” or “it kinda looks like Admiral Ackbar”), but I don’t really recommend that. In a shot this vague, trying to assign a gender or personality to the thing is just letting your imagination go nuts (nothing wrong with that, normally, but we’re doing SCIENCE here, folks!)(sorta).

So, is this a ghost? Is it the SAME ghost as the last one? Could this still be a person’s shadow? Obviously, there’s no one standing between the photographer and the wall. The flash on the wall COULD come from another camera held by a “second shooter” who was taking a picture of a person standing to the side, but I don’t think this is the case.

As always, we’re not saying this is truly a ghost – there is no such thing as good ghost evidence, only COOL ghost evidence. BUt this is shockingly similar to the November shot, and was noticed during the tour (albeit not until a few stops later), so it’s pretty much impossible for the photographer to have faked it digitally.

The Hand of Drywall Dave – Update!

This is the infamous “Devil’s Hand” at the Congress Hotel, which is visible through a hole in the wall in a back closet at the congress hotel. We found it on an investigation of the place back in 2006.

We first blogged about it over a year ago.

Since then, while we’ve joked that it was a mysterious, ghostly hand of Drywall Dave the (probably mythical) worker who was walled up inside the place, or supposed-resident ghost Teddy Roosevelt carryin’ a big stick, or (Willie the Driver’s favorite) Jimmy Hoffa, we always assumed it was, in reality, a glove that got plastered over by a construction worker with a weird sense of humor.

The other night, though, I went to take a look at it for the first time since 2006 (it’s out of the way and a pain in the neck to get to). It’s deteriorated a bit since then – enough that we can see that it was never a glove. We’re not sure what it IS, or why it looks so much like a hand (it does seem to have four fingers and a thumb). It probably isn’t anything paranormal, but it’s certainly not an old glove!

Ghost Sightings on the Tour

TWO possible ghost encounters on the tour last night!

At the location of H.H. Holmes’ Sobieski St. factory (which was a smaller-scale sort of murder castle; probably the location of the murder of Emily Van Tassel and presumably others), where a great many things have been reported this spring, most of the people on the tour heard wailing, moaning sounds coming from someplace around the footprint of the old factory. I first thought it was a coyote or something, but what one of those would be doing in Bucktown is beyond me. We also considered that maybe it was the wind or the sound of a vehicle on the nearby interstate, but if it was something like that, I should have heard it before. Why, this may be my first encounter with a ghost that goes “whooooooo” – just like on Scooby Doo!

Earlier, Tanya Savard snapped this shot of the infamous Florenting Ballroom at the congress hotel – note the thing on the left:

Here’s a closeup on the anomaly:

No one was walking past at the time, and it showed up on the LCD screen, so I know it wasn’t photoshopped in. It COULD be something like a camera strap, or some other camera whatzit, I suppose. It’s worth noting that the Congress was being renovated – one of the few things ghost hunters DO agree on (every ghost hunter thinks most of the others are quacks) is that renovations tend to lead to more sightings.

Our usual disclaimer applies: we haven’t analzyed this much yet, and are NOT saying that it’s definitely a dead person in the picture. But we’re at least sure that this one isn’t dust. The thing on the right is, though!

A Forgotten Gang: The Genna Brothers (part 1)

I’ve always had a fascination with the Genna Brothers, an early 20s gang that is nearly forgotten today, though they were known as particularly viscous hoods back in their time. Tony, left, was murdered half a block from my apartment. A couple of them were given funerals on my block, as well.
The Genna Brothers were a refined bunch of gangsters – the kind who had a dozen front row season tickets to the opera. Using loophole in prohibition laws that allowed the manufacture of rubbing alcohol, they paid people all over Little Italy very good money to set up stills in their houses.

In those early days of prohibition, the city was divided into neat lines: The north side was run by, well, the North Siders, led by Dean O’Banion. On the South Side, Johnny Torrio hired some thugs to kill the boss of the area, Big Jim Colosimo, in order to move into the liquor racket. Peace between the two was kept by Mike Merlo, a poltician.

The Gennas were on Torrio’s side, but on the very northern end of it. Having made more liquor than they knew what to do with, they wanted to expand up into O’Banion’s territory, and often told Torrio they’d be only too happy to kill him. Torrio got a taste of O’Banion’s blood after O’Banion double-crossed him in a liqour sale (he told Torrio he wanted out and offered to sell him his business for 500K. He got the money, but the whole thing was a set-up that landed Torrio a short jail term). Two days after Merlo died, a trio led by Mike Genna assassinated O’Banion in his flower shop. The great gang war of the 1920s had begun.

Three of O’Banion’s men (Vincent Drucci, Hymie Weiss, and Bugs Moran, two of whom lived at the Congress Hotel, where Tony Genna also lived in a $100 a night suite) attacked and nearly killed Torrio (after the trio pumped his guts full of lead, Moran fired right at his head point blank – but was out of bullets). Torrio wisely got the hell out of Chicago and turned his operation over to Al Capone, his young lieutenant.

Things were just about to get rough for the Genna brothers…. Three of the brothers would be killed before 1926 was out, and the rest were out of business.

Florentine “Shadow Ghost” analysis!

We’ve now had time to analyze the heck out of the Florentine Room shadow ghost picture that was taken during a tour a few weeks ago – most of the early theories going around revolved around the presence of a “second photographer” taking a picture that cast either my shadow or that of the photographer against the wall. Here’s the shot (edited version):

And here’s the original, unedited version. The camera malfunctioned on the shot, apparently causing the flash to go off very weakly, or perhaps out of sync with the shutter. The exif data of the photo says the flash did go off, but at a power level of “20/100.”

And, just for comparison’s sake, a shot from the same night, from about the same spot, with the same camera, when the flash DID go off correctly – and with someone standing about where I was in the “ghost” shot, but casting no shadow on the back wall:

From the edited picture, we can see that the part of the wall and chairs illuminated by the flash in the two photos are consistent, and the shadows from the lighting fixtures are cast at just about the same angle – and angle that strongly suggests that the source of light hitting the wall is coming from the camera. The shadow definitely isn’t me – I’m lit from entirely the wrong angle to be casting a shadow, especially one that strong, in that direction. And it’s not the photographer himself, since A: the shadow clearly isn’t a guy holding up a camera, and B: there’s no shadow of him on the table. Therefore, we can surmise that whatever is casting that shadow ought to be standing directly between the photographer and the wall – and, as you can see, nobody is.

Now, I make it a point never to say that anything is definitely a “paranormal” photo, but this one has certainly defied all explanation. The only thing left is that there’s always a chance that it’s faked, but if so, the photographer’s doing a HECK of a job of tricking me. This is one reason why I often say “there’s no such thing as GOOD ghost evidence, only COOL ghost evidence:” even when all normal explanations are exhausted, we still have to take everyone at their word that it wasn’t a hoax. Having spoken with the photographer, I don’t think he’s a hoaxer.

So,assuming it’s NOT a fake, who is the ghost? There IS a “shadowy figure” ghost that is thought to be that of a guy named Captain Lou Ostheim. And there’s always been a rumor that Teddy Roosevelt haunts that particular ballroom – it DOES look like a Roosevelt posture, eh?

These aren’t the only possibilities – certainly the room was popular with gangsters in the 1920s – they were known to hold banquets there from time to time, and rumors persist among the staff that there was a hit in the general vicinity at one point or another. This IS the general area where the “gunshot” noise has been heard.

So what we have here is the most we can really hope to find on any given ghost hunt: a mystery! Thanks again to John of, the photographer!

Possible Ghost Shot!

The other night I ran a private tour for a group from No strange noises in the Florentine Room tonight, but we did get a cool picture – that’s me on the left, but the origin of the shadow on the right is undetermined:

I never hold up anything as “good” evidence – there is no such thing as “good” ghost evidence, only “cool” ghost evidence. This is some of that! The picture was actually taken without the use of a flash (hence the brightness/contrast adjustment), and most of the rest of the group was on the other side of the ballroom, about to leave. The light source visible is presumably from the doorway. It’s POSSIBLE that someone else was taking a picture at the exact same second, but the silhouette is much better defined than I’d expect from that sort of situation.

The “Lost” New York Times article

Last week, I was asked to write an article about looking for the ghost of Teddy Roosevelt in teh Congress Hotel for today’s edition of The New York Times. They ended up not having room for it in the end (or maybe they wanted me to come off as more of a goofball), so here it is, for you, the Weird Chicago faithful! Roosevelt’s endorsement in the Weird Chicago Blog isn’t QUITE as big a deal as an endorsement in the Times, but, well, dead guys who want to say their piece have to take what they can get!

by Adam Selzer

During the second debate, Senator McCain said “my hero is a guy named Theodore Roosevelt.” I was a bit annoyed; he seemed to be implying that I wouldn’t know who that was. And I ought to know who Teddy Roosevelt was, since I hunt for his ghost a couple of times a week.

I’m a very skeptical ghost hunter – besides running tours of supposedly haunted places, my real job with the Weird Chicago company is doing hours and hours of historical research, trying to get the facts straight on the history behind the ghost stories that we tell. I also go on plenty of ghost investigations, but I never really expect any dead people to show up.

However, I’ve seen women in black dresses appear and disappear on deserted roads. I’ve heard giggling children in empty theatres, and gunshots in empty hallways. Enough, at least, to make me keep an open mind.

Most of the scientific (well, pseudo-scientific) theories that seek to explain ghosts revolve around the idea of a jolt of energy, usually at the moment of a sudden death, having some sort of impact on the environment that we perceive as a “ghost.”. Teddy Roosevelt didn’t die in Chicago, but, given the man’s legendary energy, perhaps he left ghosts of himself all over the world, like a spooky sort of Johnny Appleseed.

The 1893 Chicago hotel that he’s rumored to haunt is a relic of the days when hotels were the classiest places in town. Two of the gorgeous old ballrooms are still there, but in the 1940s, the hotel stopped hiring guys like Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington to entertain the guests and replaced them with radios. It was the first step towards the era when hotel ballrooms would have all the class and elegance of airplane hangars. In a way, the hotel itself if a ghost now.

But it has plenty of regular ghosts, too. It played host to more than a couple of murders and suicides over the years, and the security guards have all sorts of stories of ghostly encounters. Most of the guards have heard music coming from the old ballrooms in the dead of night.

The ballroom Roosevelt favored – the one where, in life, he announced he was leaving the Republican party – has been especially “active” lately; strange banging noises have been heard at night, like someone banging loudly on the ceiling, or perhaps even firing a gun. Security is baffled, and our customers think we’re faking it.

Given that these mysterious noises started right around the time of the Democratic Convention, and have gotten louder lately, could it be that this is the ghost of Theodore Roosevelt, trying to say something about the election from beyond the grave?
It’s hard to guess who Roosevelt would endorse this year. Sure, he was a Republican, and might have enjoyed a moose hunt, but it’s difficult to imagine a Harvard-educated New Yorker who felt that big business required big government finding a place for himself in the GOP today.

Furthermore, six weeks after leaving the party in 1912, he was back in the same Chicago ballroom forming the Progressive “Bull Moose” Party, whose platform reads like a template for what the Democratic Party would become a couple of decades later. The guy was a true maverick.

Now, I am normally not the kind of ghost hunter who goes around saying “are there any spirits here who have a message for us?” on investigations. I would feel like a first class ding-dong talking like that. But one October night, as I led a tour group into the dark, empty ballroom, I called out “Colonel Roosevelt, if you’re the one making all the noise in here, can you please bang on the wall once to endorse Obama, or twice for McCain?”

There was a short silence. I was about to tell everyone that this is pretty generally what happens when you try to talk to dead guys: you end up standing there looking stupid. Then, lo and behold, the silence was split by one of the room’s mysterious noises – a single, deafening BANG coming from above the ceiling.

There’s nothing above the ballroom but an air shaft, and we haven’t found a way to reproduce a noise that loud without causing structural damage. As a skeptic, I imagine we’ll find out what’s REALLY causing the noises sooner or later; if every other explanation fails, we can always just blame it on swamp gas. But so far, we haven’t found anything earthly to explain them, and if someone is playing a hoax on us, it’s a good one – this is not one of those “stuff a costume full of deer guts and say you found Bigfoot” sort of hoaxes.

For now, though, it’s about the most you can truly hope to find on a ghost hunt: a mystery. And maybe, just maybe, the ghostly noise is the sound of Theodore Roosevelt, bucking his old party once again to endorse Barack Obama.

Adam Selzer of Weird Chicago Tours is the author of Your Neighborhood Gives Me the Creeps: True Tales of an Accidental Ghost Hunter coming September, 2009, from Llewellyn Press. His recent novel, I Put a Spell On You (Random House, 2008) holds the world’s record for most Richard Nixon jokes ever in a children’s book.


It’s baaaack: The Florentine Noise

Tonight marked the third time I’ve heard the mysterious “BOOM” sound (alias the gunshot) in the Florentine Ballroom. Each time it came from a different place – first the hallway, then the roof, and this time from the back wall, somewhere above the back door.

This time, though, we were accompanied by a security guard. It came loud enough to scare the crap out of people – at least, those who knew it wasn’t me. When I told the guard I hadn’t done it, he looked a bit shocked and ran off to investigate the back wall on the assumption that someone or something must have been there. Nothing was. He came back looking spooked.

“Man,” he said, “I thought you were full of crap the first time you said you heard this!”

The noise came back a couple more times while we were there tonight, loud enough each time to be quite a shock – I think many customers still think we’re setting them up. In fact, a couple of people tonight told me they assumed we were, until they noticed that the guard seemed genuinely freaked out. We don’t have the resources to rig things like this up in commercial ballrooms, folks.

As we left, the guard was telling another guard about and told him to go up to the room for himself.

“$%^& no!” he replied. “I’m not going up there alone! I’m not stupid!”

I’m still not claiming this as proof of the paranormal (I never do that with anything), but something odd is going on in that ballroom. We’ve been coming here regularly for some time now in all seasons, but we’d never heard this noise before, and neither has security. I’m starting to think of that Dickens book where the servants all think the house is haunted because of the noises it makes, but it turns out the house is just falling apart. I really hope that the Congress isn’t doing that!

I’m organizing all the posts about the phenomenon under the tag “gunshot,” although it’s sounding less like a gunshot to me now. I started taking video after the first noise came up tonight, so I got some more examples of it. Not sure it’s worth blogging, though, as it’s not THAT different from the first video.