The Courthouse and Gallows – Continued!

Even decades after the Chicago courthouse building had stopped being used as a court, after the jail was torn down, and after its days as the “Hotel Hoover” were over, this pile of lumber still sat in the basement:

It was the old city gallows. The shot above is how they appeared in 1950; they would remain there more than twenty-five years after that (though they were moved to the new jail at some point)

There was a reason they had to be kept around: one criminal, “Terrible Tommy” O’Connor, had been sentenced to hang before making a daring escape shortly before his scheduled execution. A few years later the city switched to the electric chair, but O’Connor’s sentence specified that he had to be hanged within the vicinity of the courthouse and jail, and if they ever caught, they were going to have to do exactly that!

Lawyers and other such geeks enjoyed arguing about what would REALLY happen if O’Connor were caught up through the 70s – few believed that they’d actually hang him in what was, by then, a parking lot. A judge finally ruled that O’Connor was probably dead and that the gallows should be sold to the highest bidder.

O’Connor was never caught, but a picture of him is now up in the lobby of the courthouse building!

For more on the courthouse/gallows in Chicago, see

Fatal Drop: True Tales from the Chicago Gallows by William Griffith(Click for ordering info!)

and check out the courthouse/gallows episode of our podcast

We’d like to thank you, Herbert Hoover…

We’re still working on the podcast from out investigation of the old courthouse building , but, for now, here’s an interesting factoid. After the courts were moved, the old court building became a transient shelter for depression-era hobos. You could sleep on the floor for nothing or on a cot for a dime. The hobos named the place the Hotel Hoover. Here’s a shot of it:

Poor Herbert Hoover. He was among the most admired men in the world before he became President – the British even offered him a seat in parliament. His efforts to keep most of Europe from starving to death during WWI led people around the world to call him The Great Humanitarian. And he did act immediately when the depression hit; trouble was, his policies just didn’t work very well, and FDR beat him in the biggest landslide ever – the second biggest being the margin by which Hoover had been elected in the first place.

In the wee small hours of the morning

Back from our late-night investigation of the old courthouse and gallows site. Very cool old building – most of the original woodwork is intact, and the vaults are still there. So are many old jail cells, though they’re used for kitchens, storage rooms, and that sort of stuff now.

We took a lot of pictures and recorded a podcast, and have enough information for another ebook, so stay tuned! I’ll need a good nap before I can start compiling everything.

A Short Drop and a Sudden Stop: The Gallows, Part 1

Sure, this LOOKS like a regular old pile of wood….

In fact, this is the Chicago gallows as they appeared in 1950.

This particular set was first assembled in the 1880s to hang three guys who had murdered a lemon-cart operator (the kind who are always getting knocked over in urban car chase movies), stuffed his body in a trunk and mailed him to Pittsburgh. A couple of years later, it was expanded to handle to the Haymarket anarchists. It remained in service for decades; inhabitants of the old jail would say that they heard the sounds of it being erected in the middle of the night – even when no workmen were present.

The method of execution was switched to the electric chair in the 1920s, but the gallows had to be kept in the basement of the old courthouse on Hubbard street for half a century, because one man, “Terrible Tommy O’Connor,” had escaped from the jail with a death sentence on his head. They had to hang on to the gallows because O’Connor’s sentence specified that he be hanged, and if they ever caught him, then by God, they were gonna hang him!

Eventually, in the 1970s a judge ruled that O’Connor was probably dead anyway and ordered that the gallows be sold off. They were sold to a Wild West museum who sold them to Ripley’s Believe it Or Not Museum last year. But rumors have persisted that some of the gallows are STILL in the courthouse – along with a handful of ghosts. Stay tuned for more!

For more on the courthouse/gallows in Chicago, see

Fatal Drop: True Tales from the Chicago Gallows by William Griffith(Click for ordering info!)
and check out the courthouse/gallows episode of our podcast

Murder Castle Ebook Outtake!

While we endeavored to cram every contemporary eyewitness account, drawing, and diagram into our Ebook on the H.H. Holmes Murder Castle, we also had to keep it short enough to print out. Some things just didn’t fit in – here’s the first of our outtakes, on Davis, who ran a jewelry shop n the castle. He had always insisted that there would be bodies found in the basement, but seemed a bit amused by the whole affair.

During the excavations, The Chicago Daily News reported the following exchange:

“The morbid novel writer was also abroad in the shape of a pretty young woman of about twenty summers. She dropped into the drug store with her pencil and pad and began to question jeweller Davis.
“There’s Holmes’ brother,” said the jeweller, pointing to his roommate, who was standing near. The young lady novelist opened her eyes wide with amazement. She tried to speak to the man, but almost went off into hysteria with excitement. As the man passed out, Jeweller Davis said “Good by, Holmes.”
“So long, Davis,” was the quick reply, and young lady novelist almost fainted.

This speaks volumes about the reliability (or lack therof) of many of the firsthand accounts. Some tenants who hadn’t seen a thing probably wanted to get into the story as it caught national news, and other bits of made-up gossip by annoyed residents probably got passed around as fact.

Davis was back in the spotlight in 1905, when Johann Hoch, a bigamist/murderer not unlike Holmes, was on trial in the old Courthouse on Dearborn and Hubbard. Papers had been reporting that Hoch had been a regular at the castle in Holmes’ day under the name Jacob Schmitt, and Chappel, the skelton articulator Holmes employed, swore that it was true. Davis swore that he’d never seen Hoch in his life, at the castle or otherwise.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to pick up your copy of the Ebook!