Routes, routes, routes

After last night’s tour, it occurred to me that I haven’t run the same tour twice in months.

Back in the old days, when we worked for a different company, the route was like clockwork – the same stops in the same order, with the same between-stop banter and jokes, and very little variation from night to night.

Nowadays, we don’t have a route so much as a repertoire – there are a few places we hit just about every tour, but nowhere that we hit 100% of the time. Putting together is route is like deciding which songs to play at a rock concert that night. You want to throw in some hits, but you can also bring back an old favorite, introduce some new material, and try something that someone in the audience requests.

Of course, it’s a bit different: with a setlist, you really just have to worry about the rhythm and flow. We have to take that into account in tours, too, but we also have to worry about the traffic, the distance between stops, etc. We even try to take into account which “haunted” spots have seemed active or inactive lately. It’s almost like putting a puzzle together, really. But it sure helps keep things fresh!

Spooky!

Ran a tour last weekend for Michelle Kwasniewski and her friends on the occasion of her birthday – it was a really, really fun tour, if I do say so myself! Michelle just sent in a whole set of spooky pictures that were taken on the tour (which was also the night we saw the changed sign at the congress hotel). Here’s one of the spookier ones:

That’s me, looking all ghostly. My guess is that this is just one of those camera whatzits that happen from time to time (though they do seem to be more common in Death Alley, the alley behind the site of the Iroquois Theatre, where this picture was taken – battery drainage is very common back there), but it sure is spooky-looking! Anyone else thinks the misty blur sort of looks like a face?

Here’s a bit from Michelle’s email that I just have to share:

“I also wanted to thank you again for giving us a fantastic tour experience, we could have not wished for a better guide and driver (Willie is awesome, though a man of few words still very funny.) We’re already discussing when we’d like to take the next tour with you. Most likely will book this summer sometime and do the pub crawl hehe(big suprise right) you were extremely accomidating and very patient with everyone’s questions and pulling your time in different directions. I honestly couldn’t have dreamed a better birthday( the party continued into the wee hours after we left you but I’m sure you guessed as much.) Feel free to post this as a customer review as I will also be going to the weird chicago site and do the same. You guys were the best!”

* – identification removed to keep us looking professional 🙂

At the Congress Hotel…

At the Congress, where we recorded our recent podcast, security guards recently found noticed something odd on a message board outside of the Florentine Room, which most of the staff regards as the spookiest ballroom of the lot:

This has “prank” written all over it, but the board IS sealed, and none of the guards have the keys…

There will be a BIG section on the Congress and its ghost stories in our upcoming book!

“Al Capone, a punk hoodlum…”

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of running a mini walking tour of a Capone site for a group of 11 year olds from Evanston who were part of a book group that just read an excellent book called “Al Capone Does My Shirts.” We got snowed on pretty badly, but I, for one, had a great time.

Capone walking tours are tricky, because the few actual Capone-related sites left in the city aren’t really walking distance from one another. There’s hardly a building in the city that Capone isn’t said to have owned or used as a hang out, but practically none of those stories are true. Capone was only in charge of the city for about five or six years, spent most of that time at his Miami retreat, and had to keep a low profile when he was in the city to keep from getting killed. Buying up buildings wouldn’t have been safe for him, as it would have made it that much harder for him to cover his tracks and his finances. Strip away the myth from the man and what you have is a thug with a great sense of PR. It’s true that Capone and his fellow gangsters had tunnels all over the place, but they didn’t BUILD them; they just used them. Most of them were built for drainage, coal delivery, etc. They certainly were convenient for the gangsters, though!

By way of getting some of the real facts about him, the IRS has just released several historical records related to Uncle Al, one of which describes him as “a punk hoodlum.” Fascinating stuff!

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!

Ghost Pictures!

Kim Hartley has sent in a few possible ghost pictures from the Friday night tour that are cool enough to warrant a post here. Here is our standard ghost picture disclaimer:

DISCLAIMER: Chicago Unbelievable never claims any ghost picture to be “authentic.” There are always other explanations for weird photos, ranging from weird camera issues to simple optical illusions. There is no such things as GOOD ghost evidence, only COOL ghost evidence – we post these as examples of the latter.

Anyway, with that in mind, here’s a shot from the basement of the former funeral parlor where some see a vague, humanesque form at the right. I can see what they’re looking at, but, as sometimes happens, it looked more distinct on the LCD screen. I’ve messed with the brightness and contrast a bit in attempt to make it more distinct:

And two from inside the windows at Hull House that appear to show faces behind the curtains. There are MANY ways to get a “ghost picture” that’s really just an optical illusion at this place, but, on the other hand, I’ve had more kids than I can count say that they’ve seen a woman in these two windows, and the curtains were moving around a lot on this particular night – more than they normally do from the air vents. No adjustments have been made to these ones. What do you think? See anything?


Zombies!

Had a tour with a couple of especially spooky stops last night; we swung by Hull House and found that, possibly due to some renovations, it was seeming more actively creepy than it has been in months (although, I’ll repeat: there was never any devil baby! See earlier post!) Even better, we got a possible apparition photo in the basement of an old funeral parlor – I hope that we can post that picture here soon!

In the mean time, though, here are some photos from our first Zombie Pub Crawl on New Year’s Eve:


That’s Ken in the front seat.
I was the Zombie Ned Flanders myself:

It wasn’t really a pub crawl, in that we didn’t need to hit that many pubs. Rather, we spent our time:

– Getting out of the bus at crowded spots (Michigan Avenue, theaters that were just letting out, etc) and roaming around shouting “BRAAAAAINS!”

– Going “zombie caroling” (which is like regular caroling, only the word “brains” is thrown into the song at every possible opportunity) before crashing a party at DJ CarrieMonster’s house.

– Doing the Thriller dance at the metro

– having a BIG snowball fight on Lake Shore Drive. Traffic was at a total standstill when it got close to time for the fireworks at navy pier, so we all got off the bus and had a fine snowball war with the other people who were stuck in traffic and with the people stuck on the street down below (we had the high ground, giving us a distinct advantage).

– toasting the new year and singing “Auld Lang Brains.”

We are DEFINITELY doing this again!

That “Haunted” Feeling

Some places just SEEM haunted. When we go to haunted places on the tour, we can usually tell right away whether any given spot is “active” that night or not – it’s a sort of feeling. Ken describes it as a form of psychic ability; I’d describe it more a something similar to telling whether it’s hot or cold outside. As a skeptic, I always ask myself if I’m feeling this way because the place is haunted, or if it’s just environmental effects that have the pychological effect of making me FEEL like it’s active. Who knows? Maybe those environmental effects are the very things that allow ghosts to manifest. We never can tell with these things.

In any case, no haunted place is ALWAYS active. Some might be active regularly for a few months, and then just seem dead (if you’ll pardon the pun) for the next couple of years. We try to avoid places that haven’t been active lately on the tours in favor of places that have as much as possible. And, while weird pictures and experiences are always great to get on the tours, the best way for us to tell if a place i active is just whether we get that “haunted” feeling there.

Take, for example, the former funeral home that we often visit on tours. If I’ve ever believed a place was haunted, it’s this place. I’ve heard strange voices and sounds in there. I’ve felt things tapping at my shoulder or flicking my ear, and I’ve seen shadows on the wall of people who weren’t there. I’ve felt temperature drops and smelled formaldahyde. But sometimes when we go there, nothing happens at all. Sometimes it’s just not that scary in there. I can usually tell whether it’s going to be an active night (the kind where people get especially spooked, and when we’re likely to get good pictures) or not the second we step into the building.

Last night, for instance, I felt it rather strongly at this place. And, lo and behold, it was a weird night. Just about everyone down there was hearing strange noises – myself included. Noises distinct from the noises that come from the pipes and furnace, which I know pretty well by now.

I certainly cant say for sure that these noises, or that feeling, were cause by dead people floating around – but that’s part of the fun! All we can do is wonder – we never REALLY know what we’re dealing with, no matter what kind of pictures we take or anything like that. As I always say, there’s no such thing as GOOD ghost evidence – only COOL ghost evidence.