Shadows at the Body Dump?

Some interesting shots from the tours lately.  First of all, for you Hull House fans, the last tree in the adjacent courtyard (subject of much ghostlore and superstition) fell down some time in the last week:

The garden / courtyard area is the subject of a lot of real nonsense stories that go around – people like to say that it was an Indian burial ground, an abortion graveyard, or any number of thoroughly debunked stories.  But not every story about it is untrue, and we do have some weird nights there on the tour. 
On the Saturday tour, Amanda K. picked up a shot at the HH Holmes “Body Dump” site, where he had a building he claimed was a glass bending factory (we’ve talked about this place a lot here; it was well north of the famous “castle,” but very near the homes of about half his known Chicago victims, and, well, there’s a short list of things a known multi-murderer who didn’t really know how to bend glass would have been doing with a 150 foot long furnace). We get pictures of shadowy figures here quite a bit – look in the background of this one, back behind me and to the right:
This is a detail of a larger shot, with the exposure turned up a bit. My guess would be that the figure in the background was just a person on the tour that the photographer didn’t notice (though she was certain that there was no one there). The fact that it casts a shadow is certainly a mark against it being ghostly, but when I tried to reproduce the effect on the 10pm tour I couldn’t quite find a way to stand in that area that would make my shadow go in quite the same direction (it’s all artificial light).  You know what I always say: there is no good ghost evidence, only cool ghost evidence. 
And hey, while I’ve got your attention, we’ve been re-releasing all the Smart Aleck’s Guide ebooks this week, including our guide to Grave Robbing, which features several Chicago grave robbing stories:


Everything you need to launch YOUR career as a 19th century Resurrection Man, the Smart Aleck way! A complete history of one of the oldest professions, with tips and tricks of the trade. Fully illustrated, with an active table of contents. 2.99 on kindle

There’s more on Holmes, the “body dump” and Hull House in our Ghosts of Chicago book (Llewellyn 2013),  and our newly revised and greatly expanded Murder Castle of HH Holmes ebook

Ghost pic in the alley?

I only occasionally post “ghost” pictures here, partly because I rarely see any thing I think are all that interesting. You know what I always say – “there is no good ghost evidence, only cool ghost evidence.” Well, here’s some of that. One of my most common tour stops is the alley behind the site of the Iroquois Theatre, which the Tribune once called “The Alley of Death and Mutilation” (look at the clip from the paper on the right if ya don’t believe me!). Like any place, we go in and out of periods where people seem to be seeing ghosts there. For a month or two, someone will think they saw something every night, then it’ll quiet down for a long while.

In any case, countless people died here during the great Iroquois Theatre fire of 1903, some were trampled, some died of burns, and some were shoved over the rails of the useless fire escapes (there were fire escapes, contrary to common stories).

But, anyway, dig this pic from the tour, with a vaguely humanesque form back behind the woman on the right’s head. All I’ve done to edit it is blur the faces:

This was taken on the tour and emailed to me immediately, so I can at least say he didn’t photoshop it in later, and it doesn’t look much like one of of those “ghost app” shots (after all, those apps paste ghosts over your image, and this one is overlapped by the woman’s head).

The most obvious explanation here is that it’s a trick of the light, but I can certainly a detect a humanesque form. In fact, it almost looks like Nelly Reed, the trapeze artist who was killed by the fire (see image on left), though one could also connect it to any number of women who were killed in the tragic fire. Nellie is one of the women most frequently said to haunt the place, though she’s usually said to appear as a silhouette on the wall, particularly the garages on the opposite side of the alley from the theatre (more commonly back when they were painted blue). 

More on the theatre and its associated ghostlore is in the new GHOSTS OF CHICAGO book!

Tune in tomorrow for a neat new discovery from the archives.

Some recent “ghost” shots from the tours

Kiersten, a tour passenger on Friday night, snapped this cool shot – it was the hit of the tour when shown off on the bus! While I’m generally inclined to think of these “stairs” shots as reflections and smears (reflected ears are a common culprit), this is a really nifty one appearing to show two vaguely humanesque forms. I’ve adjusted it just a tiny bit to make it more visible:

Cool! As I always say, there’s no such thing as good ghost evidence, only cool ghost evidence. But sometimes I don’t even care about the fact that there’s probably a more “rational” explanation, because the photo is cool enough on its own terms, even if it IS just an optical illusion. 
As far as “women on the stairs” at Hull House go, there was a woman on the tour recently who told me she was a clairvoyant, and that there was a ghostly woman who came to the stairs to say hello to me every night. I always take these things with a grain (if not a whole shaker) of salt, but stories about a woman haunting the place go back well over a century; Millicent Hull died there around 1860, and a number of other women quite likely did during the 1870s, when it served as a home for the elderly run by the Little Sisters of the Poor. 
While we’re on the subject of recent Hull House shots, a number were taken like this recently:
On phone screens, in particular, it can look like a feminine form in the window. Having seen a few lately, I took this one myself in attempt to reproduce the effect, and confirmed that it was just the fireplace. A picture frame on the mantel forms the “head.”

Elsewhere in town, we’ve had a number of nifty shots at the “alley of death and mutilation” behind the site of the Iroquois theatre.  There was one woman on my tour on Saturday who said that she felt like a hand was touching her face in the alley, and in one picture of her, it does look as though there’s a handprint on her face. This calls to mind all SORTS of folklore motifs, like the story of the “banshee’s hand” leaving permanent marks on people’s faces, or stories of handprints never fading away, which show up all over the world, including Chicago’s Frank Leavey story.

Now, one thing worth noting is that sometimes it’s been said that women or are pregnant or new mothers feel as though a kid is holding their hand in the alley. If the woman in question now finds out she’s expecting, that’ll be one heck of a story!

A New Hull House Ghost Shot

You know what I say, folks: there’s no such thing as good ghost evidence, only cool ghost evidence. Well, here’s a cool one for you. This was taken on one of my tours this past weekend, and shows what looks like a baby on the staircase at Hull House:

A close-up, with the contrast adjusted very slightly:
My first instinct when she showed it to me was to look for an ad at the bottom of the screen – usually, when someone shows me a picture that seems this clear, it turns out to be one of those “ghost capture” iphone apps that insert ghostly images into photos. It’s always a bit of a dilemma for me, because you can’t go around accusing your customers of fraud or anything, but the most logical explanation when you see one of those “too good to be true” ghost pictures is to assume that someone is trying to trick me.  However,  none of the “ghost apps” I have include a baby quite like this one, and I’ve no reason to think that the photographer, Jean Marie Andersen, was faking it. She seemed genuinely surprised by the shot; I think her friends noticed it before she did.  
And it’s not TOTALLY clear – there’s a big missing chunk where the mouth and chin ought to be, and that won’t usually be the case with fakes. Beyond that missing bit, though, it seems very well proportioned; our brains are wired to see faces in random noise (one usually uses the words “matrixing” and “simulacra” here), but one’s brain sure doesn’t have to put in much effort to make one see a baby’s face – and possibly arms and body – in this one. 
So, COULD it be fake, or COULD it just be a light or smear on the window that happens to look a lot like a baby? Well, sure! That’s ghost hunting for you; there’s a MILLION possible explanations. That’s why I always refer to things like this as “weird shit,” not “paranormal activity.” But in several years of taking people to Hull House, I’ve never seen another light or smear look so baby-like. Since this one was taken I’ve tried to figure out a place where you could stand that would get  a street light to reflect on this spot, but I can’t reproduce anything like this yet.
Now, there was at least one baby who died at Hull House – Jane Addams wrote about how upset the neighbors were when they found that they planned to have a newborn abandoned baby who died in the nursery buried by the state, not with a proper religious funeral, a case in which they misjudged the culture of the neighborhood and lost some trust with the neighbors for a while. That would have been about 1898. However, it was in the building next door (where the garden is now), and I think that baby was younger than the one in the picture above appears to be. If a baby died inside the house, it would be news to me (though not a surprise).
What do YOU think? Just a trick of the light? A real ghost? I often mention the baby story here, and of course this time of year there are 2-3 busloads of people hearing about the “devil baby of hull house” rumor from 99 years ago nightly. Have our brainwaves MADE a ghost on the spot?

For much more on the devil baby and Hull House:


The “Glinda Orb”

I suppose that on any website that deals with ghostlore, we have to deal with “orbs” from time to time. Orbs are little white or grey balls of light that often appear in photos, and some say that they’re ghosts. Most of the time, they turn out to be something else – dust, the result of a camera dealing with low light, light refraction, or such like. I seldom mention them on tours, though on many tours I’ve had people who’ve heard of them elsewhere getting excited to get photos of them. I don’t want to spoil their fun or anything, though I also don’t want people going around posting orb pictures and saying “Adam Selzer says these are ghosts.”

Here’s an example – one that backs up the pet theory I joke about sometimes: that orbs aren’t ghosts, they’re ghost farts:

All that said, though, now and then we’ll go through periods where we get one particular one over and over. In that same basement above, we used to get a couple where the visual noise in the center kept looking like two specific faces (one looked like the former owner of the building, and the other looked like the guy on the Quaker Oats box). I remember that some years back we used to get one oversized one at the Eastland site that we called “Sherman.” (I’m sure we had a good reason for this, but damned if I remember what it was!) Both of those things went through a brief period of showing up often, then stopped showing up altogether. 
In the last few months, we’ve had a lot of shots of a really, really big one in the courtyard next door to Hull House. We call it “Glinda,” because it looks like something the Good Witch of the North might float in on. Here’s one example, in a shot by Josh Finehan:

Now, I always assume that orbs can be explained away easier than most ghost photos (and there’s no such thing as a “million dollar photo” that will truly convince anyone who didn’t take it), but I’m amused by the Glinda orb. In seven years of taking tour groups there I can’t think of any other time when we were getting this specific shot over and over. Did something in the environment change? Is it a quirk of the cameras that are popular this year? Or COULD it be something else? Between the closing of the Hull House foundation and some of the political stuff going on this primary season, there have been few months in history when Jane Addams’ rest would have been more disturbed.

Ghouls of the Eastland Disaster

Robbery of the dead does not seem to have been as major an issue after the Eastland Disaster as it was following the Iroquois Theatre fire. This may be due to the fact that people didn’t carry as many valuables or as much cash on a boat trip, or it may simply be that Western Electric company employees didn’t have as much as to carry as theatre patrons did.
But that’s certainly not to say that there were no incidents.

Above: the “floating morgue” beneath the Wells Street bridge

One victim was Mrs. Mary Puts, 1210 Addison. More than $2000 worth of jewelry was found on her person after her body was recovered from the interior of the boat – a lavaliere containing three diamonds, several diamond rings, a pair of earrings containing two diamonds each, a cameo pin and ring, and a gold wedding band.  The jewelry was taken by two patrolmen and given over to the DeWitt Cregier, the city custodian, just as it should have been (the police seem as though they may have been more careful to handle valuables found on victims in this manner after what had happened with the Iroquois victims).  But when Joseph, her husband, went to the office to retrieve them, they couldn’t be found. I don’t know if they were were.

More common that this seems to be a particularly dastardly form of robbery – ghouls would go right into the homes of the bereaved families of the victims. This type of thieve, known as a “mourning raffle,” would go into the homes of victims during their wakes, kneel beside the mourners, and approach the coffin, then deftly steal the jewelry from the coffin. if they had the room to themselves, the sometimes also stole furniture, pictures, and anything else they could get their grubby hands on. The Tribune reported at least a score of these “raffles” were operating in the Cicero area, and the police began to station guards at the homes of the grieving families.

One Tribune article did refer to there being ghouls caught stealing from victims as they were pulled from the hull of the ship or as they were laid out in the improvised morgues.

Heres a photo of the disaster site taken by Lynn Peterson on one of the tours just last week – some see the image of a person trying to climb out of the river in the photo.

Another Shadow at the Body Dump?

Odd shadows at the north side spot where H.H. Holmes once operated a “glass bending factory” (read: probably body dump, as covered in our recent podcast and many posts) have been in no short supply lately. Here’s one shot by Lexie Manke. Here’s the unedited version:

And a lit-up close-up on the odd shadowy figure on the left:

My first thought is that it was just ME back there – the figure appears to be in a long coat and either a newsie hat or a bowler, and I often wear outfits like that. But on this tour, I was bare-headed and wearing a different coat (my usual one was being mended). I never “certify” any ghost shots), but who knows?

Some other recent shadows from the same spot.

All posts on the site.

Ghosts at the H.H. Holmes body dump?

My, but there’ve been a lot of ghost shots here, lately, haven’t there? I’ll have to get some historical stuff going soon just to balance it out!

I started taking people to the HH Holmes “glass bending factory” site (click for podcast and more info) in 2008 as a historical curiosity on Holmes tours – but so much weird stuff went on there that I had to start adding it to the ghost tours, too!  Chris Hannigan, a recent tour passenger, sent these shots taken by Erin Brink. What do you think?  There’s SOME motion blur in the first one, but I don’t think it’s enough to account for the stuff on the center right that looks like a humanesque form, or the smaller one in the second shot.