The Chicken Man #2

We’ve already talked a bit about the Chicken Man of Chicago, but he’s worth another post just so I can post this wonderful photo that I got from Joe at Imperial Hardware:

“That chicken did everything but talk!” says Joe.

The Chicken Man’s real name was Anderson Punch, but he went by Casey Jones, after the song he sang most often, for much of his life. Born in 1870, he came to Chicago around 1914 and went to work as a street musician. After his accordion broke, he took up training chickens. At any given time, he had three or four trained chickens, traveling around the city having them do tricks and dancing to his accordion and harmonica. He was a well known figure around the city for more than half a century; when one of his chickens died, there was a public funeral at a vacant lot on State Street. On more than one occasion he was hauled into court for one reason or another (usually obstructing traffic) and got out by having his chickens do their act. In 1971, he was still performing on the south side when he celebrated his 101st birthday. He died in 1974.

One interesting thing to note is that he hit every corner on the south side, but, as of the 1940s, said that his favorite place, financially, was at 63rd and Halsted – only a couple of blocks from the site of the H.H. Holmes murder castle. Imagine standing outside of the castle (which was still standing until 1938) and watching a dancing chicken in front of it – how surreal can you get?

Look for more on the chicken man and other such Chicago icons in our upcoming book – up for pre-order soon!

H.H. Holmes in Wicker Park #1

We’ve dug up more information that makes us feel that we can now confidently say that the Frank Wilde who owned Frank Wilde’s Fruit and Candy Store was actually just an alias for H.H. Holmes, the murder castle builder of newfound “Devil in the White City” fame. The location of the place was variously given as 1151 or 1152 Milwaukee in the Tribune, but other papers went with 1151 and it seems as though 1152 was never an actual address. After the 1909 renumbering, that would put the location of H.H. Holmes’ candy store at what is now 1513 N. Milwaukee.

See where the AT&T building is? It would have been right there. The building itself is, like just about every Holmes’ building, long gone – we’re working on a database of all the buildings he rented, owned, or even worked in, and haven’t found one (with the possible exception of one wall) in Chicago that’s still standing. In descriptions of his buildings, you run across the words “ramshackle” and “rickety” a lot. Not the sort of stuff that lasts a century.

It was at this spot, though, that Holmes seduced -and probably killed – Emily Van Tassel. Not one book on Holmes has quite gotten this story right; most say she worked for Holmes at his murder castle. In fact, she worked at the candy store, having previously been employed by a photographer a few doors down. She lived with her mother at a Damen street home right about where the Pritzker School is now, across from Wicker Park.

Her mother said that she met Holmes four times, and that she accompanied them on a date once or twice, for long walks and ice cream, but that Emily, who was 16 or 17 and taught Sunday School, was a “good girl” and wouldn’t have gone off with him without telling her. She went missing one day, and Mrs. Van Tassel knew what had happened the moment she saw a drawing of Holmes in the papers.

The police questioned her and her neighbors at great length before deciding to believe her, but as of 1895 they were confident that Wilde was a Holmes alias (the 1890 census only exists in fragments, but there’s certainly no one by that name in the 1880 or 1900 ones in Chicago). For a time, it was believed that he had stashed her body in the basement of the candy store, but most decided that it was more likely she was taken to the castle, murdered, and disposed of in such a way that would leave no trace. Even more likely, though, she would have been taken to the house and “glass bending” factory” Holmes was in possession of a few blocks North of the candy shop.

The Murder Castle of H.H. Holmes #2

From our historical files, here’s a political cartoon from the Chicago Daily Inter Ocean the week that they were first excavating the basement of Holmes’ “Murder Castle:”

Other than the Hawaiian annexation part (which I suppose we can now safely say wasn’t the end of the world), a good chunk of this shows that people in the 1890s argued about a lot of the same stuff we do today! You come across the now-archaic spellings “grewsome” and “clew” a lot in this research.

Check out our Murder Castle ebook – featuring maps, diagrams and first-hand accounts that haven’t been printed since the 1890s, including a long-lost interview with Holmes himself. Now expanded to full length!


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Strangers With Candy

Lately, every bit of research I do leads me to some candy store or another. Here are some spooky candy shops (mostly long gone, of course) of Chicago:

1. Frank Wilde’s Fruit and Candy Store – Milwaukee Ave. Though different addresses were given for this place, I’m reasonably confident I’ve figured out where it was – it was certainly on Milwaukee, between Ashland and Damen. In the 1890s, a teenaged girl named Emily Van Tassel worked here. Exactly who Franke Wilde was is not known for sure, but it’s believed that he did not exist, as such, and was just an alias for the true owner of the store: the murderous H.H. Holmes. She is listed as one of Holmes’ victims, and was thought to be buried in the basement of the store. I’m pretty confident that the building no longer stands.

2. Sorenson’s Candy Store – Elizabeth and Grand. Only a handful of blocks from Frank Wilde’s, this is the candy store we’ve mentioned many times lately that was owned – and burned for insurance money – by Belle Sorenson, wife of the owner, Max Sorenson. Under the name Belle Gunness, Gunness became one of the most prolific murderers in history. The exact name of the candy and stationery store has not been determined.

3. Terry’s Toffee – 1117 W. Grand. This current AWESOME shop happens to be in the site once occupied by Rose’s Sandwich Shop, where Richard Cain, an FBI/mafia double agent who is sometimes said to have been involved in the Kennedy assassination, was murdered in one of the mob’s most public hits in 1973. Joey “The Clown” Lombardo is thought to have been behind the hit. Right down the road from the Sorenson’s site – be careful buying candy in River West!

4. 63rd and Wallace – In the days when H.H. Holmes ran his “murder castle” in Englewood, one of the other businesses in the building was a candy store. The other day I saw an article that named the owner, but now I can’t find it again! I want to say the name was something like Mrs. Gloomis. I’ll post an update if I can find it. EDITED TO ADD: Found it! It was buried in the midst of our hundreds of files on holmes. The candy store owner was named Mrs. Barton.

5. 321 E. 43rd – here stood a candy store run by Nathan Higgins, who was accused of murder in 1965.

The Murder Castle of the Consummate Villain: Holmes!

This week’s research topic for me has been H.H. Holmes, one of Chicago’s most prolific serial killers. Getting to the bottom of this story is just about impossible; when you get right down to the old files, you find entire storylines and characters that never turn up in any of the books nowadays, and some stories that changed a lot after 1895. The fact that Holmes had countless aliases makes it even trickier to find his trail.

Take, for instance, the case of Emily Van Tassel, one of his supposed victims. Most things written since 1896 say that she was an employee (usually a secretary) of Holmes who worked for him at the murder castle. However, prior to 1896, every mention of her said that she worked at Frank Wilde’s fruit and candy store on the North side and disappeared after meeting Holmes three or four times. At the time, it was suspected that Frank Wilde may not have existed, but, in fact, that candy store was actually run by Holmes, but this is tough to confirm, especially in that the tribune gave two slightly different addresses for the place. I hope to have an update about this north side candy store – and the Van Tassel residence – very soon!

While digging through the archives, I finally found a good, legible copy of the Murder Castle map.

Sorry about the watermark, but a certain person has been ripping us off a lot lately.

update: for several more diagrams, drawings, and everything else you need to know about the castle, right down to the combination to the soundproof vault, check out our Murder Castle ebook, newly expanded for 2014:



Just 3.99 on Kindle!
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