So, last month I was finishing up a book on Abraham Lincoln ghostlore, and found myself in the old familiar microfilm room at the Harold Washington library, digging through old issues of the Chicago Times, the Copperhead anti-Lincoln paper whose editor, Wilbur F. Storey, would have made a great cable news loudmouth. While combing through the April, 1865 issues from the time when Richmond was taken back from the rebels, I found this fantastic ad for a clothing store. It’s like something you’d see on The Simpsons.
Well, gosh. It’s been a few weeks since we had an HH Holmes story to tell. But here’s a nifty one: in 1899, the Philadelphia Inquirer told an interesting ghost story about Holmes. It was in Phillie that Holmes had been imprisoned, tried, hanged, and buried, and the Inquirer covered the story very well (they were not, as is often claimed, a Hearst-owned tabloid).
|Philadelphia Inquirer engages in a
bit of whimsy, March 26, 1899
According to the story, one young newspaperman in Philadelphia who attended the trial took a liking to Holmes – he knew he was a murderer and all, but found him impossible to dislike personally.
“One day,” said the man, “just a few weeks before his last day, we were discussing the theory of metempsychosis – the passing of the soul after death into another body. Holmes believed in it firmly. Before I met him I would have laughed at such a thing as being highly ridiculous. Under the influence of his voice….I felt willing to believe well-night anything.”
” ‘I know,’ said he, ‘as well as you do, and everybody else, that on the 7th of May I shall be hanged until my body is dead…moreover, I feel the same confidence in the fact that my soul will immediately transmigrate to another animal. Do you believe me? I will prove it. At 12 o’clock midnight of of the 7th I shall in all probability have been dead thirteen or fourteen hours. If you will stand in the middle of City hall court, just at the stroke of the hour, I will appear to you…just as the clock ceases to strike, a little yellow dog will run into the court and up to where you are standing. The dog’s body will contain my soul. Now it is barely possible that a dog of that sort might happen along just at that time. In order to prove that there is no mistake, you must throw a stone at me. I shall come up to you in spite of it, and after barking three times will lick your hands. If it is not, the dog will assuredly run away when he is hit.’
“Well, fellows (the reporter went on), I felt rather queer until (the date of the execution). At five minutes of 1 I took my post in the center of the court. I felt foolish and frightened alternately, and as the minutes passed you could have heart my heart beating. After what seemed an hour, the strokes of the clokc began. One, two, three…and just on the twelfth, I saw a little yellow dog come running half sideways into the west corridor. It came straight toward me, and I remember that I was shaking all over with excitement, and I made two or three fumbles at a stone I reached for before I got it. Almost as carefully as I could, I shied it at the dog, which was then about twenty feet off. It hit the cur square on the head, and with an almost human yelp, he turned and ran.
“And the thought struck me square in the head that no matter how much Holmes amounted to as a man, he certainly wasn’t cutting much ice as a ghost.”
Whether any of the story is true, not just a tall tale the young newspaperman liked to tell, is probably anyone’s guess. It may be that Holmes knew that a dog was in the habit of running into the center of the court when the clock struck and wanted to mess with the guy. It may have been that the whole thing is pure bunk. But I’m sure there are those who believe that HH Holmes really did come back as a dog, only hours after his death!
As the holidays roll around, let’s consider a REALLY weird piece of Chicago history – the snowman that allegedly came to life in Logan Square in 1958. According to legend, the snow man became sentient after children placed a mysterious black hat on his head, and, after beginning to dance around, he ran away through the square, disobeying traffic cops and threatening to come back again someday.
Some insist that the story was true, but evidence is slim. Olga Durlochen’s “Good Grief, More Chicago Spooks” lists three eyewitnesses, but census data indicates that at least two of them never existed. Newspapers of the day don’t seem have picked up the story, leaving us with very little documentary evidence beyond the usual hearsay. Researchers, who note the similarities between this story and the Jewish legend of the Golem, generally believe it to be little more than an urban myth, but some people can still be found poking around soil samples in Logan Square, trying to find “proof.”
Others wait for the day when “Frosty” fulfills his own prophesy and returns, but there have been no sightings in the last half century.
Happy Holidays from the Weird Chicago gang!