The Courthouse and Gallows – Continued!

Even decades after the Chicago courthouse building had stopped being used as a court, after the jail was torn down, and after its days as the “Hotel Hoover” were over, this pile of lumber still sat in the basement:

It was the old city gallows. The shot above is how they appeared in 1950; they would remain there more than twenty-five years after that (though they were moved to the new jail at some point)

There was a reason they had to be kept around: one criminal, “Terrible Tommy” O’Connor, had been sentenced to hang before making a daring escape shortly before his scheduled execution. A few years later the city switched to the electric chair, but O’Connor’s sentence specified that he had to be hanged within the vicinity of the courthouse and jail, and if they ever caught, they were going to have to do exactly that!

Lawyers and other such geeks enjoyed arguing about what would REALLY happen if O’Connor were caught up through the 70s – few believed that they’d actually hang him in what was, by then, a parking lot. A judge finally ruled that O’Connor was probably dead and that the gallows should be sold to the highest bidder.

O’Connor was never caught, but a picture of him is now up in the lobby of the courthouse building!

For more on the courthouse/gallows in Chicago, see



Fatal Drop: True Tales from the Chicago Gallows by William Griffith(Click for ordering info!)

and check out the courthouse/gallows episode of our podcast

An H.H. Holmes-related ghost on the North Side?

Ken just called me from the tour he’s running tonight and told me that, during the tour, a mysterious, flickering light was seen in the vicinity of the Sobieski Street building that Holmes is thought to have owned. Ken doesn’t call me with reports from the tour DURING the tour very often – only when something really interesting is going on – so I hope to have more on this soon; we’ll probably run a better investigation of the spot tomorrow night, since we’ll both be on the bus for our Dion O’Bannion Memorial Pub Crawl. Our last trip out to that spot, which we recorded for our podcast, was on one of those COLD Chicago nights where I was just sure we were going to freeze to death. Our grasp on names and dates was a bit shaky on that particular podcast, since we were concerned with fighting off frost bite than remembering Myrtle Belknap’s and Georgianna Yoke’s names!

Anyway, the building there was a rickety glass-bending factory lined with kilns that police suspected Holmes was using for cremations. It was connected to two story house; the light was right about where the house would have been. But the exact location is impossible to figure out; just finding where Sobieski Street was was quite a trick, since the name was changed around 1896 and it was only a few blocks long to begin with. The only article on the building that ever came close to giving an address said it was “where 65 Sobieski ought to be,” northwest of the railroad crossing and attached to a two story house. All of this was walking-distance from the candy store (see previous post); it’s entirely possible that he committed some murders on the site.

If you’d like to hear our podcast about the place, click the button:
Adam Selzer and Ken Melvoin-Berg - Weird Chicago

It’s the “murder castle” episode.

Here’s hoping some people from the tour will leave comments describing what they saw there tonight!

Will Roosevelt’s Ghost Endorse a Candidate for 2008?

A few days before Super Tuesday, we ran a miniature investigation in the Florentine Room of the Congress Hotel, a hotel reputed to be haunted by Theodore Roosevelt himself, to see if we could get his ghost to endorse a presidential candidate.

While Roosevelt may or may not haunt the hotel, he does have a lot of history there. It was in the Florentine Room in 1912 that he jumped onto a table and announced that he was leaving the Republican party, since they weren’t going to nominate him for a third term. Six weeks later, he was back in the same room, forming the Bull Moose Party, which was officially called The American Progressive Party. It was probably the most liberal major party that had been formed at that point, and served to draw a good deal of the liberals who had been Republicans at that point out of the GOP. He didn’t win the election, but the Bull Moose Party DID come in second, beating President Taft pretty handily. As a side note, his nomination was seconded by Jane Addams of Hull House.

We here at Chicago Unbelievable feel that Col. Roosevelt has been TOTALLY, UNFAIRLY ignored by the “mainstream” media this election cycle. And, though we don’t find it likely that he actually haunts the place, we thought we should give him a chance to say his thing. We really have no idea who he’d endorse today – we can find things he’d like about all three of the major candidates. Alas, if his ghost was there, it kept its mouth shut.

However, during the investigation (which was conducted during one of our tours), a guest named Kayla Hendricks took this picture:

Some say that they see the face of an angry Roosevelt in the flash – he’s back, and he’s PISSED! In reality, this is probably just a psychological trick – our brains are trained to look for shapes like faces in random noise like this (and the fact that we’re happy to tell you this is one way you can tell that we’re REAL ghost hunters here at Chicago Unbelievable, not quacks!) But you never know…

We’ll be back in the Florentine Room several times between now and election day – plenty of time for TR to make an appearance!