Florentine Room “gunshot” VIDEO and investigation

Yes, we do occasionally have weird, ghostly things happen on our tours!

The “gunshot” noise we heard a few weeks ago in the Florentine Ballroom came from the service hallway outside of the ballroom. But on Friday night, October 10, we were hearing several loud noises in there – some were big “boom” noises, others sounded like footsteps above the ceiling; it sounded as though someone were walking around on the ceiling dropping heavy objects. It’s not exactly the same as the “gunshot,” but it’s a pretty good example of what’s been happening in there. You can hear an example in this video clip – listen to the people think that Hector, the driver, must be playing a prank. The “boom” comes about six seconds in:

Even after talking to security, who said the surrounding area was deserted, I assumed that there must be someone on the floor above the place doing construction, or that perhaps there was some sort of issue with the pipes. Water heaters and furnaces can make noises like that, and I sort of thought something like that must be above the room (though the furnace is actually a couple of floors below it). The next night, though, one of the guards took us up to see exactly what’s above the Florentine Room. Here’s what’s on the other side of the arched ceiling:

We’ll ignore the “orbs” and focus on the fact that it’s an airshaft – there’s nothing above the ballroom but sky. We went back down to the ballroom so the guard could bang around on it, making as much racket as possible. His best efforts sounded like dull footsteps from the ballroom – nothing like what was heard the night before, or on the night of the “gunshot.” The pipe-like things visible are actually ladder-like things; you can see in the video where there used to be a hatch in the ceiling (at least, we think that’s what it was – it’s not a door at all now).

So, well, it’s a mystery. This isn’t exactly the same sound I heard the night we heard a “gunshot” noise in the hall – there were actually a dozen or so noises this particular night of varying intensity. Some sounded like footsteps, some sounded like someone dropping something really heavy onto the ceiling – but we now know that dropping something heavy on the ceiling wouldn’t make anything LIKE this noise. I never say flat out that something is actually “paranormal” in origin, but no theory explaining the noises has really held up.

NOTE: In the video, I mention that, according to security, the piano in the room has been known to play itself. Only one of the guards ever claims to have seen that happen, but almost all of them have heard music coming from the room in the middle of the night.

Tour Report!

We interrupt this month of historical posts for a report on tonight’s tour….

An interesting night – the loud noise in the Florentine Ballroom was back, but it wasn’t the same noise I heard before – it was coming from the ceiling, and sounded like someone dropping hammers and tools on the roof. However, there was no construction going on, and the only thing above the domed ceiling is a blank space. Security told me “You think that’s scary? Come here at three a.m.! There are footsteps, noises, cold chills, you name it!” They’ve been telling us this since we started investigating the place two years ago, but I never experienced any of it until a couple of months ago.

There was also some weirdness going on outside the location of H.H. Holmes’ glass bending factory (which was thought to be used more for cremations than glass bending) – which has had its share of strange nights lately. Last week we pulled in to find three hawks with dead birds in their mouths outside of the place.

But most interesting to me tonight was the crowd – a good portion of the group was composed of senior citizens. One of them had her high school prom in the Gold Ballroom in 1936. Another grew up near the murder castle sight (while it was still standing – it stood until 1938) and told us that she always got spooked walking by the spot, but never knew why until she read Devil in the White City.

We filmed part of the tour tonight for an upcoming youtube commercial, so we actually DO have recordings of the noises in the Florentine Room tonight!

The Strangest Thing at the Congress Hotel?

And one more entry on the Congress before we move on…

In the closets behind the balcony o the Gold Ballroom, on the first investigation we ran of the place in 2006, we came across something that looked like a hand jutting out of the all. There was too much debris in the way for us to get close to it, but we took several photos and found that the thing actually didn’t just look like a hand, there were actually four fingers and a thumb!

Now, there are several theories here:

1. This is The Hand of Drywall Dave, a worker who was walled up inside the place (an apocryphal story that we’ve never been able to verify)
2. It’s Jimmy Hoffa (this is Willy, our driver’s favorite theory)
3. It’s the ghost of Congress Hotel regular Theodore Roosevelt, carrying a big stick.
4 (and most likely). It’s a glove plastered over by a contractor with a weird sense of humor

Gangs at the Congress Hotel

Few of the older hotels in town have never had a murder – most of them have played host to at least one. The Drake had the “woman in black” murder that we wrote about here a month or so ago. There was a really grisly stabbing at the Palmer House in the early 70s that remains unsolved.

But the Congress has played host to a really inordinant amount of killings. We find out about more of them all the time – in fact, we’re always finding out strange things about it. One time there was a big party in the Gold Room in which a woman spoke at great length about how apples are evil. Another night in the 1920s something called a “Pagan Ball” was held there. And one time, Jane Addams of Hull House made a speech about Archer Avenue, home of Resurrection Mary, in the haunted Florentine Room – a regular Tic-Tac-Toe of Chicago ghosts!

Today, we’re reading up on how the Congress figures into gangland history. It was not, contrary to what some websites say, ever owned or lived in by Al Capone. Oral tradition has it that he played cards in a room near the Florentine Room, though, and a mysterious phone call made to him in Florida from the Congress Hotel half an hour after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre shootings led to some arrests in the case. Capone certainly held meetings there, and once even had a guy held prisoner there for awhile, though guarding him was the sort of work he farmed out to others.

Before the gang wars really heated up in the mid 1920s, members of both the north side and south side gangs were living in the hotel at the same time. Vinnie “The Schemer” Drucci and “Greasy Thumb” Guzik have both been named among the residents, and Tony Genna of the The Terrible Genna Brothers was living in a $100 a night suite at the time of his own assassination.

It is not, however (and we’ve made a mistake here ourselves in the past) the hotel where the Dillinger gang was caught in 1933. That Congress Hotel was in Tucson. Chicago papers didn’t always specify this, which led to some confusion.

The most recent gang story there comes from 1993, when leaders of several street gangs held The National Gang Peace Summit a the Congress. It clearly wasn’t THAT successful, but no one was killed or anything. About 300 gang members gathered there, and the hotel was said to be “unfazed” by them.

So gangs have a long history of influence at the place. That one of them fired the a gunshot in or near the Florentine, the ghost of which we may have heard on two separate tours (so far), is hardly impossible.

And yet ANOTHER Congress Hotel murder story!

Still another murder took place back in 1908, when the Congress was still known as The Auditorium Annex.

This one took place out in front of the theatre at 6 o’clock on the evening of January 3rd, as countless Michigan Avenue spectators looked on. The whole thing was the result of a love triangle involving Mrs. Ruby Rishzak, her husband, William, and Charles Gilbert Brockett, who was a floor walker at some department store on State with whom Ruby was having an affair. Brockett shot Ruby, then shot himself in the head. He died two hours later, but Ruby survived.

Exactly what happened was hard to determine. Some said that the shooting came about because Ruby said she was going back to her husband, but one neighbor said she had claimed that “they would have to ship me away in a box” to get her back to her husband. She had left him some time before, but emerged periodically to say she didn’t have enough to eat until he agreed to pay her $30 a month.

And Brocket had certainly taken steps to make it look like a suicide pact. In his pockets were several notes, including one requesting a masonic funeral (which was granted), and one reading “put Ruby and I side by side. We choose to die together. Our acts are one of love.”

However, Ruby and her husband reconciled while she was in the hospital. The newspapers, meanwhile, had a regular field day talking about “The ruby red blood of Ruby Pishzak.” Outside of a general refusal to talk about sex, taste was a concept somewhat unknown to newspapers a century ago.

Another Congress Hotel murder

The sheer number of people who’ve died in this hotel just baffles me.

This one took place in 1950 and involves the Superintendent of Service at the hotel and the credit manager. The two of them went to a guy’s room to ask him about $104 that he owed the hotel. The gues, 25 year old John Raymond, told them to wait for a moment while he got his credentials. What he actually got was a pistol – he shot both of them to death, then killed himself.

Those who follow the blog remember the “gunshot” that was heard in a deserted hallway during a recent ghost tour that went there. This probably wasn’t a ghostly echo of this particular one, since this was on a regular guest floor, but there have been a LO T of guns fired off in that place. We’ll be examining a bit more of this once-grand hotel’s sordid history over the next few days!

Yep. The “Gun Shot” Was Back at the Congress.

Ken has confirmed that they heard the infamous gunshot noise in the old ballroom. He was running the tour on Friday while I was in Florida.

He says that there was a strange knocking sound in the first ballroom they hit at the Congress, though that could have been any number of things.

They were just leaving the second ballroom when the sound came – at first, everyone seemed to think it was a gunshot, but then, when there were no screams or footsteps, decided that perhaps it was a folded-up table falling onto the ground in the nearby hallway. This is the exact reaction my group had, as well. A thorough checking of the premises revealed nothing that could have made the sound.

Ken had a couple of theories – that it was an industrial oven closing, or that it was the furnace, which is directly below the ballroom. I had speculated that it could have been an electrical shortage, which can cause that kind of noise. None of these theories really hold up, though. The furnace is two floors down, and the noise wouldn’t sound so close. There’s no oven that close by, either, and certainly none were being used on the floor. If there had been an electrical shortage, some flashing lights should have been in evidence, but weren’t.

Now, we’re not saying that this was something in the realm of the paranormal – only that we don’t know what’s causing it, which is usually as far as we can go on these things. If we assume, hypothetically, that the shots are ghostly in origin, why are they showing up when they do? Is it only when the moon is in a certain phase, when the weather is just right, at a certain time of night on a certain day or the week, or what? Could the sound of the gunshot rung so heavily in the brain and energies of a guy who was about to be shot to death in the split second before they were cut off as the bullet hit its target have left some sort of “imprint” on the environment that can still manifest under just the right conditions as a sort of echo? Who knows?

We haven’t found a record of anyone being shot in that hallway, though LOTS of people were shot in the Congress over the years (the listing of strange and grisly deaths there in our book is only a partial listing), and if someone was shot in an out-of-the-way service hallway, the whole point would be so that no one would find out about it. We’ll keep searching!

In the mean time, there should be new posts here daily throughout October. The next couple of days are just “oddball stuff” posts, but they’ll get good and spooky in October, when we’ll discuss The Whitechapel Club, Resurrection Mary (including cool new information that few Mary hunters have ever seen!) and other famous Chicago haunts!