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!

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:


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.

Roadside Weirdness!

We’re just about done putting the finishing touches on the Weird Chicago book, but taking a break for the weekend, since Troy is off to Gettysburgh for a ghost hunt. So, here’s some roadside Weirdness from Grand and Harding on the West Side. Does this look like a lumberjack version of the Statue of Justice or what?

Actually, this happy gent is one of the Muffler Men built in the 1960s to hold up muflers outside of service stations. They turn up nowadays as cowboys, spacemen, and other such things. Viewed from the right angle, this guy, he appears to be shaking his pipe and shouting “damn you kids! Stay away from my pipes!”

The Cubs and the Curse of the Billy Goat

“You know the law of averages? they say anything will happen that can / but the last time the cubs won the national league pennant / was the year we dropped the bomb on Japan!” – Steve Goodman, 1982. Still correct.*

Every Chicagoan knows the story – in 1945, the last time the Cubs were in the World Series, the owner of the Billy Goat Tavern tried to bring a live goat to Wrigley Field. In some versions of the story, the goat was a regular spectator. When the owner was told that he had to get the goat out of the stadium, he put a curse on the Cubs, saying that they would not only lose the world series that year (which they did), but they would never win the pennant again. Over 60 years later, the curse seems to be in full effect.

Columnist Mike Royko publicized this story back in the 70s, when the Cubs string of years without a pennant was starting to seem noticeably long. In our dig through the Tribune archives, we actually found a story that backs the story of the goat up – at least a little. More than I expected, anyway:

from the Trib,Oct 7, 1945:
“Andy Frain employed 525 ushers and other attendants to handle the capacity throng…he had trouble with only one fan, Billy Sianis, owner of a tavern near Chicago Stadium, who insisted on bringing a goat into the box section…. Sianis had a ticket for the goat, which was paraded through the American league area of front box customers…The critter wore a blanket on which was pinned a sign reading “We Got Detroit’s Goat.”….Frain finally convinced Sianis goats should be with the Navy football team.

* – contrary to rumor, Goodman’s ashes are not underneath home plate. Most likely, his ashes were scattered at the field surreptitiously by his friends.

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!