So they’ve started to build townhouses at Oak and Cleveland, the intersection once known as “Death Corner.” It averaged about a murder a week in the 1910s. Death Corner sat right in the heart of the neighborhood that was then known as Little Hell, where Black Hand gangsters terrorized citizens and cops traveled only in pairs. Hector and I were joined by Amelia Cotter, my Chicago Hauntings colleague, and a bunch of friends and family as we swung by to see if any ghosts were showing up these days.
In the process of doing more research, we found that in 1901, a school that stood on the site once had a real problem with a “satanic confession” called Gumacco. The articles we found about it were so much fun that we just had to share them!
Diagram of Death Corner showing where the “Shotgun Man” hid. He’s sometimes blamed for ALL of the Death Corner shots, but it was really just a coupe of them.
Hector’s “rage face” captured by Amelia. Terry Larkin in background.
Kids in Little Hell, 1922, playing in a recently bombed-out building.
Recently torn-up grounds for townhouses. Pretty good skyline view! You can see the Bloomingdales Building, the Hancock, the Park Hyatt, the Aon Center and the Wenis Tower (aka the Ronald Rump). Could any of these be old Little Hell bricks?
A few weeks ago I was contacted by Rachel Williams, a great great great grand-daughter of Ira Couch, the man whose family tomb still stands in Lincoln Park, and the subject of one of our early podcasts. She had seen my recent post about “tomb snooping” and documenting the door behind the door, which is as far into it as we can see anymore, and offered to share some old family documents with us – we recorded a portion of our time geeking out for this new podcast!
We expected to see a scrapbook with newspaper articles, and found that and SO much more. Ms. Williams (who was great fun to talk to!) had a huge stack of letters, checks, telegrams, articles, legal documents, and more. Much of it related to the Couch estate and bankruptcy suit from the 1880s, and with the management of the Tremont House hotel (the wine stock list I posted the other day was among the stack). This was traveling mystery solvers’ heaven!
And so we sat around the table and absolutely geeked out, and had a fantastic time! Listen in on the podcast at archive.org, or on feedburner (scroll to the bottom), or via iTunes , where you can subscribe for free. Or just listen on this nifty little widget:
What we didn’t find, of course, was the answer to the riddle of who all is in the tomb, if anyone. There were some new articles and reports, but they just further confuse the matter. One witness said that he looked through the iron bars once and only saw one coffin, but the others might have been behind slabs (it was apparently set up with notches on the wall for 10 coffins, with a slab for another in the center, though descriptions of the inside are a bit at odds with each other). How he saw behind the second door is ayone’s guess – maybe it was open at the time?
In the same article, William H Wood, a trustee for the estate (Ira’s brother-in-law) said that several Couch family members are there, including Ira’s parents and wife. But he doesn’t mention that he had a kid of his own in there (according to his son Frederick in the 1930s), and seems oddly unaware that Ira’s wife wasn’t dead yet. Perhaps the reporter transcribed something incorrectly?
The city occasionally claimed (in the late 1800s and early 1900s) that there were no bodies in the tomb at all, but the family has always disagreed. The fact that the family seems to have discussed putting James Couch there in 1892 indicates that if the bodies were removed, the family wasn’t notified, which was probably not legal.
Rachel’s mother (Ira’s great great granddaughter) in front of the tomb in the 1970s. No one is sure when the current door (which is greenish here and black today) was put in; pictures of the tomb from 1960 indicate that it may have still just been iron bars on the front at that point (as in the etching above).
The tomb as it appears today.
One of the telegrams from the 1870s and 80s, most of which relate to lawsuits over the Couch estate.
A large article from an unknown paper – I’ll have to hit to microfilm room to find out which paper this was from. It’s from some defunt paper from the second week of Feb, 1892, when James Couch died. This had a few new “eyewitness accounts” as to who was in the tomb, though some of the facts are pretty shaky – particularly the story that Ira had already built it prior to his death. The tomb was built in 1858, a year after he died. The fact that so much time elapsed (along with the fact that the body had to be transported from Cuba) support the theory that he might have been placed in a Fisk Metallic Burial Case, a really ornate metal coffin with a viewing window over the face. All the rage in the 1850s, bodies buried in them are still in decent shape about half the time.
One of our “interior” shots of the tomb, showing the inside door. The guy who said he looked through the grate and saw one coffin must have been looking on a day when this door was open? Early articles about the construction of the tomb speak of a marble slab at the entrance behind the iron bars. Better pictures may be possible this fall….
Here’s a shot that should tell you just about all you need to know about how our trip to Rose Hill went:
Yeah. About like that. We were joined by Susan Sherman, who explains how she is now part corpse due to a recent surgery, and was with me at the “Murder Castle” investigation a couple of years ago. We wandered around Rose Hill trying to talk history, but getting distracted by our inner 12-year-olds as we saw graves with names like “Butts.”
Charles Hull gets a fine statue while his wife, kids, and housekeeper get some little plaques. His wife Mellicent, buried near him, is sometimes thought to haunt Hull House, his Halsted Street home that became a settlement house under Jane Addams.
The Couch Family plot makes it look as though Ira Couch is here, though there’s no record that he (or any other body) was ever removed from the tomb at Lincoln Park. His wife is definitely here at Rose Hill, though; I’ve seen the probate record, and the funeral expenses mention Rose Hill. Her son James had been buried there in 1892 when the family decided against using the Lincoln Park tomb (though newspaper accounts make it look as though people thought the option was on the table.
Exterior and Interior of the Harris (of Harris Bank) mausoleum, with a pit and a ladder leading down into a crypt (or underworld, maybe).
You are in a mausoleum. Hallways stretch north and east. A staircase leads down.
The Tiffany stained glass window in the Shedd crypt shows a dude in a hooded robe with a sword in one hand, a torch in the other, and a key dangling from his neck. It is impossible not to start singing “Stairway to Heaven.”
The reclining statue that was moved here from the old City Cemetery in Lincoln Park (whether the actual bodies were removed is probably anyone’s guess, though there hasn’t been nearly as much speculation as there was about Ira Couch).
Today, we’re back at Graceland Cemetery, searching for the grave of a deranged Victorian private detective. My job is pretty sweet.
I’ve lately been back working on the HH Holmes case, trying to gather, evaluate, and catalog all of the best data available. Researchers into the case will often come across the name Robert Corbitt (or Corbett), author of The Holmes Castle, possibly the first book on Holmes. He pushed the odd theory that Holmes was actually innocent of murder. One does notice a pattern in article on him: one day he’ll be saying he’s found the evidence that will convict Holmes, then something bad will happen to him, then he’ll be saying Holmes was innocent. The book is very rare now, but the text is collected in The Strange Case of Dr. H.H. Holmes.
Plenty of evidence suggests that he was a bit on the paranoid side, at the very least. He spoke to reporters often saying he knew that various Holmes victims had checked into various hotels under assumed names, or that he’d seen them on the street, but was never really able to back his claims up. Records and stories of him don’t paint much of a flattering picture.
Above: the nifty grave of Timothy Webster, a Pinkerton detective who helped save Abraham Lincoln from an 1861 assassination attempt. The “Harve Birch” mentioned on the stone is a character in a James Fennimore Cooper novel. How often do you see a pop culture reference on a tombstone?
However, whatever his shortcomings as a private detective may be, had was actually present at the “murder castle” investigation, may have known Holmes personally (they certainly exchanged letters), and wound up in possession of a LOT of Holmes data that modern researchers can only dream of (letters, account books…even Holmes’ own pistol and knife!) He is also the guy who discovered the “glass bending factory” that we’ve come to know as “The Body Dump.”
Anyway, Ray Johnson and I have been preparing an article on Corbitt, and found that he’d died in 1932 and the body was taken to Graceland cemetery. So on this cold December day, we headed up to the ol’ graveyard in search of his grave. Along the way, we say several graves of people related to the Holmes case, including detective Allan Pinkerton, and discussed the cool stuff we saw along the way. Ray and I will be recording a couple of podcasts about how we do this sort of research, including trips the archives, cemeteries, and more. We hope to have a few new episodes up very soon! Get Ray’s book, Chicago’s Haunt Detective.
Again, you can download today’s episode from feedburner, archive.org, or iTunes (the episode may take a few hours to get to iTunes). Or just listen right here: And if you’re not sick of me, I also recently did a podcast interview for Your Chicago that was a lot of fun:
Most Chicago ghostlore fans know the basics: at Mt. Carmel stands a statue of a woman, Julia Buccola, in her wedding dress. Beneath the life-sized edifice is a photograph of the Julia in her coffin. Though she appears not to have decomposed much, an inscription below states that the photo was taken when she had been dead for six years.
Legend has it that her mother, Filomena, had nightmares in which Julia demanded that her body be disinterred, and, though there are various scientific explanations, some say the well-preserved state of her body is a sign of holiness. I’ve been researching the story heavily for the last few months, including conducting interviews with Filomena’s great grandchildren, who provided a few photographs that have never been in circulation before. Much of what I found came too late to be added to my new Ghosts of Chicago book, so I’m publishing it online, both here and in a new article for Caitlin Doughty’s Order of the Good Death.
And for you Chicago Unbelievable followers, I’m presenting here a new podcast on the subject (our first in over a year!), and, below, a detailed timeline of the Buccola and Petta families, as pieced together from records and interviews, with never-before-seen photos:
AN “ITALIAN BRIDE” TIMELINE:
1909 – Enrique (Henry) Buccola arrives in Chicago from Palermo Italy. His brother Giuseppe (Joseph) appears to have already been in Chicago; his widowed mother Filomena and sisters, Rosalia and Guilia (Julia) remain in Palermo, Italy.
Joseph and Henry Buccola. Henry
paid for Julia’s exhumation and the
new monument. Courtesy of
Antony Edwards, used by permission.
1910 – According to the census, Henry is living in Chicago with Joseph Buccola and his wife Anna in Chicago (per the census). Henry is working as a tailor, Joseph is a designer. Both are going by the “Americanized” versions of their names in records.
1911 – Rosalia Buccola emigrates to Chicago from Italy and marries Mariano Lunetta
1913/01/24 – a Sadie Lunetta is born to Mariano and Rosalia. She appears in some records as Lynn Sadie, and in most census forms under the name Rosaline.
1913/08 – Filomena Buccola, (Joseph, Henry and Rosalia’s mother), and Julia Buccola, (their sister), arrive in New York from Palermo en route to Chicago, where they’ll eventually move in with Henry in what is now the West Ukranian village. 1913/09 – The famous “Devil Baby” rumors swirl around Hull House. Filomena and Julia didn’t live in the Hull House neighborhood, but I’ve always liked to imagine that one of Filomena’s first acts as an American might have been to join the crowd of other old world women who went to Hull House demanding to see the (non-existant) devil baby.
1915/09/15 – Joseph Lunetta is born to Mariano and Rosalia.
1917 – Henry Buccola, working as a tailor and living on the 2200 block of W. Erie, lists Filomena as solely dependent upon him financially in a draft card. Julia presumably lives with them, as well.
1917 – Joseph’s draft card shows he’s working at the same place as Henry, though living a mile or two north.
1920, May – Julia is licensed to marry Matthew Petta.
1920, June 6 – Julia and Matthew marry at Holy Rosary Parish on Western Avenue (which still stands). They establish a home a couple of blocks away in an apartment building on West Huron Street, a block or two from Henry’s house (it, too, is still standing today). The apartment is pretty much in shouting distance of the house on Erie where Henry and Filomena are probably still living.
Filomena and Flora, her granddaughter,
in Chicago, a year or two before
Julia was exhumed. Courtesy of
1921 – March 17 – Julia dies giving birth to a stillborn son, just over nine months after the wedding. Her funeral is held at Rago Brothers, next to the church, and she is buried at Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillside two days later.
1922 – Joseph Buccola serves as witness to Mariano Lunetta’s naturalization as a U.S. citizen.
1923/04/08 Henry Buccola marries Anna Covolo in Chicago. Anna was born to Italian parents in Venezula and spoke Spanish.
1924 – Henry and Anna’s daughter, Flora, is born.
1925 (or so) – Matthew Petta, Julia’s bereaved husband, marries Margaret Collins, mother of a young boy named Eugene Miles. Eugene’s father is listed in the 1930 census a Missouri man; more info on him is unknown. Margaret is an Iowa woman of Irish descent.
1926/03 – Henry’s son Gaetano (“Guy”) is born in Chicago. Around this time, Henry and Joseph both move to Los Angeles, where the climate is closer to that of their native country. Filomena will spend the rest of her life going back and forth from Henry and Anna’s house in Los Angeles to Rosalia and Mariano’s in Chicago. She appears to have made the move with Henry and his family. 1926: According to the family, it was after the move to L.A. that Filomena began to have nightmares about Julia. The exact content of the nightmares is not known, though folklore in Chicago states that Julia was demanding to be dug up, or that Julie was still alive. If nightmares weren’t involved, it may be that Filomena wanted Julia moved out of a Petta family plot (though there’s no evidence that she was ever buried in a spot other than her current one). In any case, Filomena begins to lobby for Julia to be disinterred. If this is really when the nightmares started, it was a fairly quick process.
1927 – Julia is exhumed from her grave (at her brother Henry’s expense). Records do not indicate that she was moved; she seems to have be re-interred in the same plot. No primary sources or records regarding the circumstances of the exhumation have ever been uncovered, or of how in the world they got permission to do it, but a photo of Julia in her coffin is taken, establishing that it happened. Her face is still recognizable.
1927-8? – An elaborate new monument is commissioned at Henry’s expense – the current version with the life-sized statue, two messages from Filomena, two photos of Julia in her wedding dress and the one of her in her coffin, well preserved after six years in the grave. The name Filomena Buccola appears twice on the gravestone: the front reads “Filomena Buccola Remembrance of my Beloved Daughter Julia Age 29 yrs.” An inscription on the back says (in Italian) “Filumena (sic) Buccola I offer this Gift to My Dear Daughter Guilia.”
The seldom-noticed inscription on the back
Notably, Julia’s married name, Julia Petta, appears nowhere on the monument. There is no record as to what the original monument (if any) looked like or said. The immense cost of the new monument (believed to be in the 10k range) creates a great deal of friction in the family – Henry Buccola’s wife is said to be furious, and Henry himself apparently isn’t happy about it, either. But the monument is built. No one knows now what the cost is, but family lore speaks of Henry lamenting that if they just had that ten thousand dollars, they’d be set for life.
1928: Flora, age 4, is unable to speak. A doctor says it’s merely confusion based on the fact that four languages are spoken in the house (English, Italian, Spanish, and Filomena’s thick Sicilian dialect). Anna, her mother, decrees that only English will be spoken in the house. Flora will eventually be able to understand Italian as an adult.
Filomena in the 1930s with Rosalia, her daughter
(Julia’s sister). Courtesy of Antony Edwards
1930 – In the census, Filomena is listed as being back in Chicago, living with Rosalia and Mariano and their children, Rosaline (Lynn Sadie) Lunetta (17) and Joseph Lunetta (14).
The same census shows Henry Buccola in Los Angeles with his wife and two children, Guy and Flora. He is now working as a designer for women’s clothing. Joseph Buccola is now in LA, as well, doing the same work.
1932 – Henry’s family (probably including Filomena) move into a new house in L.A. The family still owns the house today.
1930s: In the new house, Flora shares a room with Filomena. Later in life, she’ll tell her children stories about Filomena loudly praying the rosary at all hours, prompting her to shout “Shut up, Nonna!”
1934/06 – A son – with the same name as Julia’s stillborn child – is born to Matthew and Margaret Petta back in Chicago.
Filomena with grandchildren Gaetano (Guy) and Flora
in California. Courtesy of Antony Edwards.
1940 – The census states that Filomena is now living with Rosalia and Mariano in an apartment just around the corner from Julia’s old place. By now, Rosalia and Mariano’s daughter, Rosaline / Lynn Sadie is in Los Angeles.
Matthew Petta is operating Matty’s Inn, a tavern, on Clark Street, near Division. He and Margaret also have an infant daughter (who passed away in 2013 while this article was being prepared). Eugene is 16 (his father is now listed as Matthew, not a missouri man), their other son is five.
1943/01/16 Mariano Lunetta dies at 61 – burial at Mt. Carmel.
1943/05 Lynn Sadie Lunetta, age 30, is licensed to wed Arthur Golluscio (b 1891) in Los Angeles. They are married 5 days later in a ceremony at which the officiant is a minister of the “Temple of Light Institution of the Masters.” Henry Buccola, her uncle, serves as a witness.
1944/09/23 – Henry Buccola dies in Los Angeles.
1945/03 – Rosalia Buccola-Lunetta dies in Chicago; Filomena moves in with Jospeh Buccola and his wife in Los Angeles.
1945/05 – Matthew Petta dies in Chicago, aged 55, and is buried at All Saints. His widow moves the children to Iowa.
Filomena’s burial plot (space 8), a few feet to the left of Julia’s (space 5), at Mt. Carmel Cemetery. The Muscato family plot is between the two.
1945/10 Filomena dies in Los Angeles. She is buried in Chicago, a few feet away from her daughter’s grave. Her space is unmarked, but only a few feet away from the massive monument that bears her full name twice.
2006 – Flora Buccola-Edwards, Julia’s niece and Filomena’s granddaughter, dies in Los Angeles, in the very house where she once shared a room with Filomena. Described in her obit as a “fierce liberal” and “staunchly pro-labor,” the family suggests donations to the United Farm Workers of America in lieu of flowers.
note: I’ve left out a handful of exact dates, addresses, and the name of one person still living. Note: I’m grateful for the family and children of Flora Buccola-Edwards for the photographs and information, especially Antony and Mariana Edwards.
A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of appearing on Paranormal Radio, talking about opera, silent film, history, and, of course, ghosts. Listen to me trying to weasel out of answering the “do you believe in ghosts” question! Here’s the whole thing, via youtube.
Resurrection Mary is one of those vanishing hitchhikers; people pick her up on the South Side and give her a ride home – only to have her vanish as they drive past Resurrection Cemetery at 7200 S. Archer. We spent an hour talking about the story, its origins, and the various theories as to who Mary might be the ghost of (assuming she exists at all). There’s some new information that we’ve recently uncovered – including stories of the cemetery gates, the night the police arrested “Resurrection Mary,” what the cemetery’s records say, and a whole lot more.
We discuss each of the major candidates:
Mary Bregovy, (above) killed in a wreck at Wacker and Lake in 1934. Though she’s brunette, not blonde (as most sightings say), she’s become the “classic” candidate. Some suggest that there are actually several ghosts in the cemetery.
Anna Mary Norkus, killed in a wreck on the south side in 1927 (the above is her original funeral record, which Ray brought with him – it indicates that she’s buried at St. Casimir, not Resurrection).
Here’s the Wade Denning’s Ghost Story version of “The Hitch Hiker.” Chilling (if a little goofy – how convenient that they have a grave yard in the back yard!)
“The Night It Rained” from In a Dark Dark Room by Alvin Schwartz – the Easy Reader that introduced my generation to the vanishing hitch hiker legend.
The famous Unsolved Mysteries episode. Did they embellish Jerry Palus’s account? We aren’t sure he ever claimed to go to her house the next day.
And here is a pdf of a 1942 article on vanishing hitch hikers – the first known scholarly work on the subject. It’s interesting to note that when the Mary story is told, elements common to these (going to the house, finding a jacket on the grave) are a part of the story. However, in practically every version of the story any of us had heard first hand, Mary simply disappears out of the car, leaving the driver confused.
We’ve spent a lot of time looking into the story that H.H. Holmes used a glass bending factory on Sobieski Street (now Seeley Ave) as a crematory. Results (as with all things to do with Holmes) aren’t fully conclusive, but there were enough strange-goings on at the location when I used to take Devil in the White City tour groups there that I wound up adding to to my ghost tour routes. For this podcast, we recap the story of the glass works, begin to investigate the grounds, and, while we’re there, record a phone conversion with Holmes’ great great grandson, Jeff Mudgett.
Jeff’s relation to Holmes and the theory that Holmes was also Jack the Ripper form the basis of his new novel, Bloodstains. It’s a really gripping suspense story. See a link on the left! In our interview, he talks about the book, the various theories on Holmes, and what it’s like in the basement of the post office built where the “murder castle” used to stand. Believe me, that Holmes was Jack the Ripper and that he faked his death in 1896 are FAR less implausible than many of the more commonly accepted stories about Holmes.
Here are some links to download the episode. There are some interesting noises and voices – do you hear anything we’ve missed?