Will there be brochures on YOUR coffin?

This past weekend was our first Civil War tour. Many people wondered how the heck we’d fill up a tour with Civil War stuff in a city miles from the nearest major battle, but there’s an awful lot of stuff related to the war in Chicago (and, being Weird Chicago, we had plenty of cool stuff to talk about in the space between stops).

I always learn a lot of neat stuff when doing research for new tours, but the biggest shocker this time was that the grave of Stephen Douglas comes complete with brochures:

Douglas was an Illinois senator who introduced the Kansas Nebraska Act, which opened the door for slavery to expand into the North (he was pelted with produce in Chicago for it). In 1858, he debated Abe Lincoln in a series of famous debates on the expansion of slavery as part of their campaign for senate. Davis won, but lost the presidential election to Lincoln two years later.

His memorial is near the lake on 35th street – a massive pillar with a statue of him on top of it. At the bottom of the pillar sits the burial chamber, where one can walk right up to his sarcophagus and grab a brochure. It would be a pretty tacky place to put them, but, well, Douglas was sort of a jerk*, so I guess it’s a wash

* – Douglas’ exact views on race and slavery seem to have varied depending on what was convenient for him at the time. I’m not comfortable judging people from 150 years ago by the standards we have today – even Lincoln’s views on race were rather backwards by today’s standards. But the racial stuff Douglas put forth at the Lincoln Douglas debates was pretty harsh business. At the very least, the man was on the wrong side of history.

KFC wants to fix Chicago potholes?

Folks, we do have a LOT of pot holes around here. Sometimes they’re pretty interesting for a historian – you can see layers of city history in them. Some go deep enough that you can see the bricks that used to pave the road (sometimes more than one layer of them) and the old streetcar tracks pop up pretty regularly. Others go so deep, though, that I think you can actually see all the way to Carbondale.

Driving around this time of year can be like getting the magic fingers on an old hotel bed – well, that’s a NICE way of putting it. Another way of putting it is that after a drive down Grand Avenue, you might look at your tonsils and think “hemmorhoids.”

So now KFC is saying they want to fill the pot holes themselves. That’s right. Kentucky Fried Chicken.

or so says Consumerist

The Death of Hymie Weiss: Al Capone’s revenge

With Torrio out of the way, the trio of Weiss, Drucci and Moran made Capone their target and launched one attack after another on him. Capone was repeatedly lucky to escape with his life. Naturally, he fought back.

Weiss, somewhat remarkably, lived for nearly two years after the gang war started before being shot right across the street from Schofield’s Flowers, where Dean had been killed.

Lookouts had been stationed in the next building north of Schofields. Shots fired out the window hit five people and killed 2 of them – including Weiss.

Photo of the building with lines tracing the path of the bullets – the flower shop is visible on the left.


Diagram of the crime and getaway routes of both the killers AND surviving victims.
The crowd gathers around the body of the other victim: Paddy Murphy.

The cornerstone of Holy Name Cathedral, across the street, was badly damaged in the asault. It’s been fixed up today, except for one hole that is said to be a bullet hole still in place from the hit. People tend to refer to it as the real deal, though commenters disagree, and I find it a bit unlikely myself.

next: the death of Machine Gun McGurn….

The La Salle Street Tunnel

If you ever traverse down LaSalle street, you’ve probably seen this ramp at LaSalle and Kinzie:

It’s the entrance, of course, to the parking garage for the Reid Murdoch building. But what most people don’t realize is that, long before it was any such thing, it was the entrance to a tunnel beneath the Chicago River.

The tunnel was built in the early 1870s – and became about the only escape route during the fire (though there are reports of flames being sucked into the tunnel, making it a death trap for some of the people inside). Eventually, it was used for cable cars, and then street cars, to get under the river. The city stopped using it when the subway tunnels for the Red Line were dug out, and, since at least the 1950s, the tunnel has been walled up and filled with damp sand. But the entrance is right there, in plain sight.

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.

Who’s bad?

There’s a tagger in my neighborhood who is getting bolder and bolder, spray-painting the word “BAD” all over:

It can only be Michael Jackson and his Gang of Toughs!

While mostly inactive of late, Jackson and his gang made a name for themselves in the early 80s, when their knife-fighting skills were the stuff of legends. By the end of the 80s, when the spray-painted “bad” became their trademark, they were a bunch of smoooth criminals. Mostly inactive of late, this could be the sign that Jackson is making a comeback.

The Liquor Clown!

This place looks a lot weirder on the outside than it is on the inside, but Carnival Finer Foods, on Lincoln, not far from Oz park, may be the only store in town that uses a clown to advertise its liquor department. It’s actually a rather upscale little grocery store, but it’ll always be “The Liquor Clown” to us! When we run a pub crawl, bachelorette party, etc, that wants a stop at a liquor store, this is my favorite one to use. You can’t beat this sign!


There will be a blog post every week day in October, mostly related to ghosts, as we count down the days until Halloween! We’ll be running a LOT of tours this month!