I wonder if Rosie O’Donnell knows that her new studio has a long-standing reputation for being haunted? Employees aren’t supposed to talk about it, but I’ve heard from several of them. There’s said to be a bathroom (normally kept locked) where people here someone crying, a mean guy upstairs, and, perhaps most famously, a woman in a long gray outfit, which I like to call The Phantom of the Oprah (thanks, folks, I’m here all week).
The building now known as Harpo Studios has a long and storied history. In the 19th and early 20th century, the building was home to the 2nd Regiment Armory. It was here that the police armed themselves to charge on the Haymarket rally a few blocks away in the 1880s (the fact that Oprah was so close to Haymarket Square has always amused me to no end).
But the ghostly reputation comes mainly from those sad says in July, 1915, after the Eastland capsized in the river, leading to the deaths of something like 844 people.
The common myth around the city is that the bodies were taken to the Chicago Historical Society (now The Excalibur club), but this is a misconception. Photos of the bodies were often labeled “Chicago Historical Society,” but that was the organization that provided the photo, not the location where it was taken. The bodies were taken a few places, such as the Reid Murdoch building on the river and a “floating morgue” underneath the Wells Street bridge. But the majority of them were taken to teh Second Regiment Armory.
Over the years, I’ve heard MANY stories about Oprah’s own reaction to the ghost stories – some say that she knows and loves the ghosts, others say that she won’t go into the building alone, especially after dark. I have no idea which of these, if either, is true. When i first got started in the business I thought the ghost stories were just silliness and an attempt to write Harpo Studios into ghost tours, but I’ve spoken to several people who worked in (or near) the building who have all kinds of stories about strange sounds. I’ve never met a witness to the “gray lady,” but I’ve spoken to several people who’ve heard the sounds of screams, cries, and, more often, of children running around laughing. I hope the latter is the real one.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll try to dig up some more stories about the history of the building. And wish good luck to Rosie, who won my heart by refusing to live in the Trump building.