Hull House Ghost Pictures

To celebrate the new Ghosts of Hull House ebook that will be released tomorrow, if all goes well, let’s take a look at a few of the more notable Hull House shots I had on my tours over the years. I’ve tried to get in touch with the photographers – if one of these is yours and you want it down, please let me know. I’ve come up with explanations for most of them by now, but I let myself keep wondering about a few. The house HAS been rumored to be haunted for over a century, even if most of the myths are just that.

Watch this space tomorrow for a new podcast on the mythology of Hull House and a link to buy the new Hull House book! It won’t hit itunes until the book is out, but you can preview the podcast right here!

A “Little Girl with a doll” on the stair shot – one of few “stairs” pictures that aren’t reflections of ears. It could still be smears, though.

A particularly interesting shot that looks vaguely like a girl in a hoop skirt, photographed from behind. A couple of squiggly lines probably give this away as a weird camera malfunction – but one so weird that it counts as a weird photo all on its own!

Maybe the coolest reflection shot ever. I’ll go ahead and play devil’s advocate by pointing out that while this is fairly obviously a reflection, it doesn’t seem to resemble anyone present when the photo was taken.

Taken, if I remember correctly, by the same woman who took the “hoop skirt” photo, this is probably another example of the “monk ghosts that are really people’s ears” phenomenon.

A shot from the garden. Don’t ask me what this is!

This is the window in which kids often told me that they saw a a woman in a white bonnet. Some claim to see a weird humanesque form behind the curtains (which were moving strangely the night this was taken. They usually just rustle a bit from the vents). I don’t assume that this is really a ghost or anything, but I’m not sure what it is.

As with all “ghost pictures” I put here, I make no claim that any are actually supernatural, even when I can’t explain them myself. There is no such thing as GOOD ghost evidence, only COOL ghost evidence.

The most info ever published on the ghosts and legends of Hull House:

A True Tale of Hull House (for once)?

UPDATE: the biographical sketch I read was wrong – Charles Hull didn’t have a daughter named Louise at all. From his autobiography, it’s clear that he actually had a son named Louis. So the “little girl” ghost remains a mystery.

Original entry:

Snot-nosed skeptic that I am, today I went on a search to see if it’s true that Charles Hull’s wife died in her bedroom at Hull House. I fully expected to find out that she actually died in Baltimore or something. Of all the haunted places in Chicago, nowhere – not even Bachelor’s Grove – has inspired as many made-up stories as Hull House.

However, while I haven’t found a smoking gun, what I’ve found not only backs up the story, but may actually provide a clue to ANOTHER ghost story.

An old biographical record of Hull from the University of Chicago states that he moved out of the Halsted Street homestead “after the death of his wife and children, it had ceased to be a home.” His wife, Melicent A.C. Hull (nee Loomis) died around the age of 40 in 1860 – just a few years after the house was built. I’ve yet to determine how she died, exactly, but it wasn’t in any sensational enough way to make headlines. Dying in bed seems to be the most probably scenario.

Two of Hull’s three children also died young – one, Charles M. Hull, died during a cholera epidemic in 1866. He had graduated from the University of Chicago a short while before, so whether or not he would have been at his dad’s house is sort of an open question.

However, as I’ve mentioned on the blog, and in my books, in 2006 there was a veritable outbreak of sightings of the ghost of a little girl at Hull House – a handful of the pictures and sightings STILL haven’t been fully explained to my satisfaction (and I’m pretty easy to satisfy with this stuff). However, no story was forthcoming on who it might be the ghost OF, exactly.

Until now.

Louis Kossouth Hull, Charles and Mellicent’s youngest daughter, was born in 1852. She died in childhood – I’m not certain WHEN, but she doesn’t appear alongside the other family members in the 1860 census report. I can’t be certain that she lived even until 1856 yet, but the language in the biographical sketch seems to suggest as much (she would have spent the first year or two of her life in Cambridge, while her father was at Harvard, and come to Chicago at the age of two or three – the house was built when she was four).

So, there we have it – I set out to debunk a story and end up backing up a couple. I still have no smoking gun showing that either Mrs. Hull or poor Louis actually died inside of the house, but signs point to yes.

Of course, whether this means that they’re really haunting the place is a whole other question 🙂

Some of our other Hull House posts:
The Reading of Charles Hull’s Will: Lost Scene From Clue?

Hull House False Positives

The Devil Baby: Myths, More Myths, and a bit or Reality

Murderous Superstitions


In 1888, the Tribune had a great article about strange superstitions that were widely believed by muderers. These included:

“The Corpse Candle” – some murderers (primarily in Germany) believed that if you made candles from the body of a murder victim, the light would make the murderers invisible. It was also thought that it could turn the body into a sort of sleep-walking zombie, like in “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.”

“The Dead Man’s Hand” – apparently, at this time it was popular for criminals to carry a “dead man’s hand” – an actual , dried and withered hand of a person who had died a violent death. It was said that these hands had the power to put people to sleep. A variation of this was to carry a dead man’s hand that was holding a lighted candle, with the belief that the light the candle shed could only be seen by the person carrying the hand. More than once, it was noted, it ended up having the reverse effect, and the light shed on the criminal caused him to be caught.

These were primarily European customs, but Chicago police had to keep an eye out for them, as many of the immigrants around the city who were coming from Eastern europe brought their supersitions with them. Superstitions from all over the world were being thrown together into areas that were heavily populated by recent immigrants, such as the near-southwest area around Hull House. This is part of why the “devil baby” story caught on so quickly in 1913, and gives you some idea of what Jane Addams was up against when she started Hull House. Most of the people had no idea that their superstitions were local beliefs, not facts that everyone in the world grew up knowing. Addams was adamant that clinging to superstitions was a major roadblock keeping these people from succeeding in America, but for many, one of the hardest parts of becoming an American was letting go of some of those folk beliefs – one reason that so many seemed so desperate to believe in the devil baby was that it gave them a new reason to cling to their old superstitions. In a weird way, the story that the devil had been born in the neighborhood gave people hope.

Coming tomorrow: The Ghostly Gunshot in the Florentine Ballroom – caught on film?

The Strange Origin of Hull House

You know those mystery stories that open with a crowd of strange people gathered to hear the contents of a mysterious will in a spooky old mansion? LIke, say, Clue?  This kind of “public reading of the will” is the sort of thing that never happens in real life these days – any lawyer will tell you that it’s just a plot device, not something that really goes on. But perhaps it used to be more common – the reading of the will of Charles Hull, who built Chicago’s infamous Hull House in 1856, was like that.

Mr. Hull had been an eccentric man. Rich, but a good friend of the newsies on the corner. He was frequently seen giving candy to neighborhood children. In 1881, he wrote a rambling book that was little more than a list of his opinions on every matter under the sun.

In 1889, Hull died in Houston. His family and friends gathered in his No. 31 Ashland Street residence (which seems to have been gone by 1909, but would have been where 230 North is now) to hear the reading of the will, which he wrote in 1881. He was in possession of between 1 and 2 million dollars worth of personal property and real estate. But the Ashland residence was no mansion – just a modest brick row house, decorated with a few photographs and a “heroic looking bust” of Mr. Hull that presided over the proceedings. I don’t know that it was a dark and stormy night when the will was read (I assume it was probably done during the day), but I like to imagine it was.

His four nephews, niece, and cousin, Helen Culver, who was also his housekeeper, gathered around for the reading of the will. Most of the relatives believed that the estate would be shared equally among them. Only Miss Culver knew otherwise.

The lawyer opened the sealed envelope and read from the foolscap sheet inside. “I, Charles J. Hull, being of sound mind and body…etc…do give Helen Culver, my trusted friend and advisor for all these years, the whole of my estate.”

The nephews turned pale and the niece wept. Their “great expectations” were over.

“There must be some mistake!” cried one of the nephews.

“No mistake,” siad the lawyer. “It’s a good will. A good will. Miss Culver, let me congratulate you.”

Miss Culver, who had lived with Mr. Hull as his housekeeper for decades, smiled softly.

The very next day, the other relatives began to contest the will in court. But Culver, of course, granted a life-long, rent-free lease on Hull’s 1856 Halsted Street mansion to Jane Addams, who expanded to the property into 13 buildings by 1908, where her social work won her a Nobel Peace Prize. The building was restored back to its original state (or close to it) in the 1960s; the only other building from the settlement still standing is the dining hall, which was moved to its present location when the building was being restored.

I’m doing research today on the history of the garden next door – my hunch is that it wasn’t a garden at the time the “devil baby” rumor went around, and, hence, can’t possibly be the burial place of the baby, as some claim (for the millionth time, it was just a rumor – there was no devil baby). But in 1961, when they started planning to restore the house, they also talked of restoring the Jane Addams Garden, which implies that it went up earlier than I thought – perhaps it was put in after Addams death? But Hull House was a big advocate of gardening – they spearheaded the “city garden” project which leased garden space on the south side to poor families. It’s not impossible that there was a garden there early on, though I sort of doubt they had that kind of space available, since the facilities took up a whole block by 1908.

Update: no, the garden was not a garden in 1913; there was a building there at the time. When Jane Addams moved in, there was an undertaking parlor on the spot, and it was torn down to be replaced by the Hull House Children’s Building, which was where they had a nursery/day care center, places for children’s clubs to meet, etc.

Forgotten Chicago Hauntings – The Icebox Ghost

In September, 1902, the Ward family had what must have been one tense family reunion at Mrs. Ward’s house on Polk St near Halsted. Two months before, her son, Thomas, had threatened to kill her and even fired a gun at her, hitting her in the arm. At the reunion, he was up to his old tricks, beating her and threatening to kill her, until his brother pull a gun and shot him in the face.

A couple of months later, his ghost began to be spotted sitting on an empty ice box on the porch, which was visible from Blue Island Ave. Crowds would gather to see it, and, by the time it made the papers, onlookers were simply saying “Tommy’s on the ice box again!”

The sightings had apparently stopped by 1903 – we haven’t found a case of anyone seeing it since then.

Or have we?

The section of Polk and Blue Island where the ghost was seen no longer exists. Currently, the spot where the house stood seems to be right where the student center at the University of Illinois now stands – right next to Hull House.

To Kill a Bull Moose….

In 1912, while campaigning for a third term as the nominee of the Progressive (Bull Moose) Party, Theodore Roosevelt was shot in the chest by a nut who thought the ghost of President McKinley had commanded him to kill Roosevelt in a dream. The bullet was slowed by a fifty page speech Roosevelt had in his pocket, and, ever a badass, he went onstage and gave a 90 minute speech, roaring “it takes more than that to kill a bull moose!” The speech was supposed to be twice as long, but after 90 minutes, Roosevelt had lost too much blood to continue. They put him on a train to Chicago, arriving at the Wells Street station in the loop. There, Roosevelt walked to the ambulance and hopped onto it himself. It drove him through the loop, onto Michigan Avenue, and south to a hospital at 26th and Calumet.

He ended up being in Chicago for eight days of recovery. While there, he tried to campaign for the progressive party even while he was on the operating table. Newspapers covered every tiny detail of his stay, right down to having headlines stating that Roosevelt said the hospital breakfast was “bully!”

The drive down Michigan would have taken him right past the Congress Hotel, which had been his headquarters during both the Republican and Progressive Party conventions that year. He would go on to lose the general election to Woodrow Wilson, but the Progressive Party was a major milestone; prior to 1912, the Republican party had generally been the more liberal of the two. With the Bull Moose Party, Roosevelt lured most of the progressives out of the party, and they never really went back. The party was the first major party to promote equal rights for women (Jane Addams of Hull House seconded his nomination), and had a platform that reads, today, like a prototype for later Democratic party platforms.

Don’t forget to check out the Chicago Anarchy Tour (alias the Chicago Political Tour) available at Weird!

Hull House False Positives

Of all the places I’ve ever nvestigated, it’s Hull House that generates the most false positives – photos that LOOK like a ghost, but actually aren’t, even though some of them are really, really cool. Here are a couple that have been taken on tours that I’ve run over the years, representing what are probably the two most common of them:

1. The “Monk” – a ghostly figure that looks kinda like a guy in a hooded robe. Monks at Hull House are pretty well known:

2. The “feminine form” apparition. Pictures of a little girl were common a couple of years ago, but, like the rest of the hauntings there, they’ve tapered off. Here’s a cool one, which could also probably pass for a monk:

I’m not saying Hull House isn’t haunted – we used to get some GREAT shots there, though it hasn’t been all that active in a while, leading us to avoid it on most tours. But it’s also THE easiest place I know of to get a false positive, and these ones aren’t ghosts.

In fact, they’re probably both the same thing: ears. Reflections of people’s ears in the window through which the picture is taken. The top one I’m less sure about, but that’s definitely the case in the bottom one. I’ve gotten at least one or two good “little girl” pictures at Hull House that I’ve yet to explain away, but every monk on the stairs I’ve ever seen has turned out to be an ear in the end. In many (including one of these, in its un-cropped incarnation), if you look closely, you can also see the nose, which is a dead giveaway.

I’m not saying the place isn’t haunted – on an “active” night, it can be the spookiest place in town – but there’s a LOT of crap going around about the place that ghost hunters ought to ignore. There’s no abortion graveyard on the grounds, no headless ghost that’ll follow you home, and there was never actually a devil baby (though there was actually RUMORED to be one in 1912 or 1913 – I forget which. See the tag to find an earlier entry with a link to an article Jane Addams wrote on it). But there DOES seem to be something weird about the place, and we’ve dug up some information on it for the upcoming Weird Chicago book that hasn’t been widely known before!