Book Update!

I’m now going through the complete manuscript, adding sidebars, making corrections, and adding sections here and there. It’s going to be a long weekend of “WAIT! We forgot to mention Thomas Neill Cream!” and frenzied typing.

Then, after that, it’ll be a brief period of cutting. The manuscript currently clocks in at more than 1100 pages in standard MS form!

Obviously, the final book won’t be that long – anything that just won’t fit will end up here on the blog!

Cap Streeter’s Funeral

George Wellinging “Cap” Streeter ran his boat ashore n 1888, started charging people money to dump their garbage near the boat, and eventually created a 186 acre landfill that we now know as Streeterville. He spent more than 30 years battling with the city over ownership of his new land, which he claimed as his own country.

We’re finishing up the book now, and I’ve been trying to find a good source on the story that he put a curse on the land on his deathbed. Other than some stories that his last words may have been “damn ye,” I haven’t found much yet. I maintain, in any case, that if he DID put a curse on the land, he must have sucked at cursing things. Sure, there have been some odd deaths in the neighborhood, but no more than in any other neighborhood when you get right down to it. I’m starting to think that the curse is one of those stories that someone made up circa the 1970s – there’re many such stories floating around in the realm of Chicago ghostlore. Most of them are going in the book anyway – people would throw a fit if we left a couple of them out – but we try to flag the stories that we have our doubts on.

However, in my digging, I DID run across this terrific picture of Cap Streeter’s funeral, with his plug hat resting on the coffin:

Who’s Buried in Ira Couch’s Tomb?

The old City Cemetery (now Lincoln Park) is a regular stop on our tours, and there will be a big section on it in the book.

Pamela Bannos at Northwestern has put together a terrific webpage that compiles historical documents, contemporary articles, and other neat stuff about – including some really groundbreaking research!

Check it out at

One thing we don’t mind doing here at Chicago Unbelievable is admitting we were wrong. For some time, when we passed the Couch Tomb, we’d tell people that Couch himself apparently wasn’t in it – a story that’s gone around quite a bit. We’re not sure where that story came from; our research for the book indicated (as does Bannos) that Couch is certainly in there – the mystery is who’s in there WITH him! The last time they tried to bury someone in there was when James Couch, Ira’s brother died. The door was rusted shut by then, and they decided to bury him in Rose Hill rather than trying to blast their way in with dynamite.

Thanks to Bea for the tip!


Let’s dig into the mail bag, shall we?

Brian from La Grange asks…
I heard on a boat tour a while ago that there are some kind of sharks in Lake Michigan. Is this true?

Interesting question, Brian!

Short answer, no. Long answer, it’s not impossible.   (answer updated since the original post)

Sharks are salt-water creatures, and couldn’t survive in the great lakes – the exception would be bull sharks, which can live in freshwater, and have occasionally been known to swim up the Mississippi River to the great lakes. In the 1955, there was even an attack – a boy named George Lawson swimming in the lake south of Chicago and ended up with a limb bitten off. We’ve no idea whatever became of George Lawson – he lost a limb, but gained a story no one will EVER believe.

Or, anyway, so goes a report in the Global Shark Attack File. Which gives the date as January 1st (presumably a place-holder for an attack in which the exact date isn’t known, since no one is going swimming in the lake on January 1st). The file  lists their source as “F. Dennis, p 52,” and poking through their bibliography, it turns out that the specific source is a 95 page book called Man Eating Sharks! by Felix Dennis from 1975. It looks like the kind of book you would see on the juvenile nonfiction shelves of libraries when I was a kid. As an writer and historian, I’d be very hesitant to cite that sort of book as a source. I’d want to find out where Felix got the story, and cite that.

I haven’t tracked down the whole thing, but in a snippett view on Google books, it does appear that Dennis gives a fairly detailed account of Lawson’s attack, saying that witnesses saw the dorsal fin of the bull shark swimming away, and doctors who examined the wound had no hesitation in saying it was a shark.

Still, lacking an exact date, it’s difficult to look up a contemporary account of the story. It wasn’t written up in the Chicago Tribune, but if we had an actual date I could check some of the defunct papers in the microfilm rooms.

So there’s SUPPOSEDLY been a shark in Lake Michigan on at least one occasion, half a century ago. It’s unlikely that there are any of them now, but not NECESSARILY impossible. Sophisticated damming techniques make it harder and harder for them to get into the river nowadays, though.

Hence, you’re probably pretty safe down at the Oak Street Beach this summer. BUT……There were also once reports of a sea monster in there…which is a whole ‘nother story.

Book Cover!

We’re not QUITE ready to start taking pre-orders on the Weird Chicago book yet, but we do have a cover:

In keeping with the “EC Comics” vibe of our print ads, we’re even adding old comic book-style ads. Here’re a couple of them:

There will be DOZENS of these ads in the book, along with some original vintage ads related to topics in the book.

Keep checking back for more info!