Digging Rolland Burris’ Grave

Plenty of politicians on both sides of the aisle are out to dig our recenty-appointed Senator Burris’s grave – little do they know that he’s beaten them to punch!

In what may be one of the strangest things in Chicago cemeteries today (which is saying something!), out in Oak Woods cemetery, Burris has already erected his own resting place. Plenty of people buy burial plots before need, and some with family plots already have spots in crypts marked for themselves. What sets Burris apart here is that he’s already had a list of many of his accomplishments carved into the thing. Does the man think he’s a pharoah or something?

The tomb features a seal of Illinois, the world “trail blazer” in big letters, and a bench so you can sit there and contemplate how great Burris was (or IS, if you don’t wait til he’s dead to get started). Something tells me he himself can sometimes be found sitting on that bench.

Pictures are all over.

Podcast Update

It’s been some time since we posted an episode of the Weird Chicago podcast (available on iTunes for free!), but at least a couple will be coming VERY soon, including:

1. Updates
Updates on what’s been going on, ghost-wise and research-wise, at the places we’ve featured on other podcasts. There’s a lot of catching up to do!

2. The Old Criminal Court – in honor of the publication of FATAL DROP: TRUE TALES OF THE CHICAGO GALLOWS, we’re finally releasing our long-delayed podcast recorded during out overnight ghost hunt at the old Criminal Court building, adjacent to the site of the old gallows itself!

We made recordings for a podcast during the zombie new year’s party, but actually USING it might not be the wisest thing I ever tried. It’s mostly me impersonating Captain Hook and picking on the hitchhiking hipping we picked up.

Al Capone’s House for Sale

There’s hardly an old building in the cit that people don’t say was once owned by Al Capone, Chicago’s own real-live version of Jabba the Hutt. Almost all such stories are nonsense; he kept a rather low profile in the city. But there’s one house that we can all agree that he owned down on the south side – and it’s up for sale!

Capone’s House for Sale

Weird Chicago’s own Troy Taylor is quoted in the article!

The house was featured a while ago on the “Cities of the Underworld’ show, though the episode seemed patently absurd to me – as the show generally does. They go to some great places there, but they rely WAY too much on just relaying the wildest, craziest rumors instead of doing actual research. The woman who showed them around Capone’s house seemed kinda like a phony to me – Capone wasn’t in that house after about 1932, when he went to jail. For her to remember him, and what he was like in the house, she would have to be at least 85 or so. She didn’t LOOK any older than about 60 to me.

The Snowman That Came to Life in Logan Square

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!

Farewell, House of Crosses!

A true Weird Chicago landmark, the House of Crosses is no more. It was already abandoned by the time we started up the company, and was a staple on our earliest tours.

The house went on the market a couple of years ago, and was presumed to be a tear-down property. Most of the crosses were removed around May of 2007, though the crosses on the coach house and the back of the house remained. However, it appears that the house wasn’t torn down, in the end. The house and coach house were simply totally gutted and rehabbed. Here’s the house as it appears today:

Click here (or see our book) for our piece on the house – including a link to our interview with the owner, Don Zaraza, whose uncle created the crosses.

Countless Historical Chicago shots!

Google has put about 20% of LIFE magazines 10 million-shot photo archive online, and plans to get the rest up eventually. Thousands of new Chicago images are up. This is a GOLD MINE, folks! Who knows what will turn up? New shots of rarely-seen criminals? A new shot of the Fool Killer Submarine? Of the Murder Castle?

Just typing in “Chicago” gets 200 results, but “chicago crime,” “chicago people,” etc bring up more and more.

Chicago Pictures from LIFE

The “Lost” New York Times article

Last week, I was asked to write an article about looking for the ghost of Teddy Roosevelt in teh Congress Hotel for today’s edition of The New York Times. They ended up not having room for it in the end (or maybe they wanted me to come off as more of a goofball), so here it is, for you, the Weird Chicago faithful! Roosevelt’s endorsement in the Weird Chicago Blog isn’t QUITE as big a deal as an endorsement in the Times, but, well, dead guys who want to say their piece have to take what they can get!

by Adam Selzer

During the second debate, Senator McCain said “my hero is a guy named Theodore Roosevelt.” I was a bit annoyed; he seemed to be implying that I wouldn’t know who that was. And I ought to know who Teddy Roosevelt was, since I hunt for his ghost a couple of times a week.

I’m a very skeptical ghost hunter – besides running tours of supposedly haunted places, my real job with the Weird Chicago company is doing hours and hours of historical research, trying to get the facts straight on the history behind the ghost stories that we tell. I also go on plenty of ghost investigations, but I never really expect any dead people to show up.

However, I’ve seen women in black dresses appear and disappear on deserted roads. I’ve heard giggling children in empty theatres, and gunshots in empty hallways. Enough, at least, to make me keep an open mind.

Most of the scientific (well, pseudo-scientific) theories that seek to explain ghosts revolve around the idea of a jolt of energy, usually at the moment of a sudden death, having some sort of impact on the environment that we perceive as a “ghost.”. Teddy Roosevelt didn’t die in Chicago, but, given the man’s legendary energy, perhaps he left ghosts of himself all over the world, like a spooky sort of Johnny Appleseed.

The 1893 Chicago hotel that he’s rumored to haunt is a relic of the days when hotels were the classiest places in town. Two of the gorgeous old ballrooms are still there, but in the 1940s, the hotel stopped hiring guys like Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington to entertain the guests and replaced them with radios. It was the first step towards the era when hotel ballrooms would have all the class and elegance of airplane hangars. In a way, the hotel itself if a ghost now.

But it has plenty of regular ghosts, too. It played host to more than a couple of murders and suicides over the years, and the security guards have all sorts of stories of ghostly encounters. Most of the guards have heard music coming from the old ballrooms in the dead of night.

The ballroom Roosevelt favored – the one where, in life, he announced he was leaving the Republican party – has been especially “active” lately; strange banging noises have been heard at night, like someone banging loudly on the ceiling, or perhaps even firing a gun. Security is baffled, and our customers think we’re faking it.

Given that these mysterious noises started right around the time of the Democratic Convention, and have gotten louder lately, could it be that this is the ghost of Theodore Roosevelt, trying to say something about the election from beyond the grave?
It’s hard to guess who Roosevelt would endorse this year. Sure, he was a Republican, and might have enjoyed a moose hunt, but it’s difficult to imagine a Harvard-educated New Yorker who felt that big business required big government finding a place for himself in the GOP today.

Furthermore, six weeks after leaving the party in 1912, he was back in the same Chicago ballroom forming the Progressive “Bull Moose” Party, whose platform reads like a template for what the Democratic Party would become a couple of decades later. The guy was a true maverick.

Now, I am normally not the kind of ghost hunter who goes around saying “are there any spirits here who have a message for us?” on investigations. I would feel like a first class ding-dong talking like that. But one October night, as I led a tour group into the dark, empty ballroom, I called out “Colonel Roosevelt, if you’re the one making all the noise in here, can you please bang on the wall once to endorse Obama, or twice for McCain?”

There was a short silence. I was about to tell everyone that this is pretty generally what happens when you try to talk to dead guys: you end up standing there looking stupid. Then, lo and behold, the silence was split by one of the room’s mysterious noises – a single, deafening BANG coming from above the ceiling.

There’s nothing above the ballroom but an air shaft, and we haven’t found a way to reproduce a noise that loud without causing structural damage. As a skeptic, I imagine we’ll find out what’s REALLY causing the noises sooner or later; if every other explanation fails, we can always just blame it on swamp gas. But so far, we haven’t found anything earthly to explain them, and if someone is playing a hoax on us, it’s a good one – this is not one of those “stuff a costume full of deer guts and say you found Bigfoot” sort of hoaxes.

For now, though, it’s about the most you can truly hope to find on a ghost hunt: a mystery. And maybe, just maybe, the ghostly noise is the sound of Theodore Roosevelt, bucking his old party once again to endorse Barack Obama.

Adam Selzer of Weird Chicago Tours is the author of Your Neighborhood Gives Me the Creeps: True Tales of an Accidental Ghost Hunter coming September, 2009, from Llewellyn Press. His recent novel, I Put a Spell On You (Random House, 2008) holds the world’s record for most Richard Nixon jokes ever in a children’s book.


Tornado Update

Well, here it is: the morning after.

It looks like the reports of tornadoes are being disputed, and no news report is saying anything about severe damage in Midlothian, the town where Bachelor’s Grove is. So it was probably nothing.