The “Lost” New York Times article

Last week, I was asked to write an article about looking for the ghost of Teddy Roosevelt in teh Congress Hotel for today’s edition of The New York Times. They ended up not having room for it in the end (or maybe they wanted me to come off as more of a goofball), so here it is, for you, the Weird Chicago faithful! Roosevelt’s endorsement in the Weird Chicago Blog isn’t QUITE as big a deal as an endorsement in the Times, but, well, dead guys who want to say their piece have to take what they can get!

by Adam Selzer

During the second debate, Senator McCain said “my hero is a guy named Theodore Roosevelt.” I was a bit annoyed; he seemed to be implying that I wouldn’t know who that was. And I ought to know who Teddy Roosevelt was, since I hunt for his ghost a couple of times a week.

I’m a very skeptical ghost hunter – besides running tours of supposedly haunted places, my real job with the Weird Chicago company is doing hours and hours of historical research, trying to get the facts straight on the history behind the ghost stories that we tell. I also go on plenty of ghost investigations, but I never really expect any dead people to show up.

However, I’ve seen women in black dresses appear and disappear on deserted roads. I’ve heard giggling children in empty theatres, and gunshots in empty hallways. Enough, at least, to make me keep an open mind.

Most of the scientific (well, pseudo-scientific) theories that seek to explain ghosts revolve around the idea of a jolt of energy, usually at the moment of a sudden death, having some sort of impact on the environment that we perceive as a “ghost.”. Teddy Roosevelt didn’t die in Chicago, but, given the man’s legendary energy, perhaps he left ghosts of himself all over the world, like a spooky sort of Johnny Appleseed.

The 1893 Chicago hotel that he’s rumored to haunt is a relic of the days when hotels were the classiest places in town. Two of the gorgeous old ballrooms are still there, but in the 1940s, the hotel stopped hiring guys like Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington to entertain the guests and replaced them with radios. It was the first step towards the era when hotel ballrooms would have all the class and elegance of airplane hangars. In a way, the hotel itself if a ghost now.

But it has plenty of regular ghosts, too. It played host to more than a couple of murders and suicides over the years, and the security guards have all sorts of stories of ghostly encounters. Most of the guards have heard music coming from the old ballrooms in the dead of night.

The ballroom Roosevelt favored – the one where, in life, he announced he was leaving the Republican party – has been especially “active” lately; strange banging noises have been heard at night, like someone banging loudly on the ceiling, or perhaps even firing a gun. Security is baffled, and our customers think we’re faking it.

Given that these mysterious noises started right around the time of the Democratic Convention, and have gotten louder lately, could it be that this is the ghost of Theodore Roosevelt, trying to say something about the election from beyond the grave?
It’s hard to guess who Roosevelt would endorse this year. Sure, he was a Republican, and might have enjoyed a moose hunt, but it’s difficult to imagine a Harvard-educated New Yorker who felt that big business required big government finding a place for himself in the GOP today.

Furthermore, six weeks after leaving the party in 1912, he was back in the same Chicago ballroom forming the Progressive “Bull Moose” Party, whose platform reads like a template for what the Democratic Party would become a couple of decades later. The guy was a true maverick.

Now, I am normally not the kind of ghost hunter who goes around saying “are there any spirits here who have a message for us?” on investigations. I would feel like a first class ding-dong talking like that. But one October night, as I led a tour group into the dark, empty ballroom, I called out “Colonel Roosevelt, if you’re the one making all the noise in here, can you please bang on the wall once to endorse Obama, or twice for McCain?”

There was a short silence. I was about to tell everyone that this is pretty generally what happens when you try to talk to dead guys: you end up standing there looking stupid. Then, lo and behold, the silence was split by one of the room’s mysterious noises – a single, deafening BANG coming from above the ceiling.

There’s nothing above the ballroom but an air shaft, and we haven’t found a way to reproduce a noise that loud without causing structural damage. As a skeptic, I imagine we’ll find out what’s REALLY causing the noises sooner or later; if every other explanation fails, we can always just blame it on swamp gas. But so far, we haven’t found anything earthly to explain them, and if someone is playing a hoax on us, it’s a good one – this is not one of those “stuff a costume full of deer guts and say you found Bigfoot” sort of hoaxes.

For now, though, it’s about the most you can truly hope to find on a ghost hunt: a mystery. And maybe, just maybe, the ghostly noise is the sound of Theodore Roosevelt, bucking his old party once again to endorse Barack Obama.

Adam Selzer of Weird Chicago Tours is the author of Your Neighborhood Gives Me the Creeps: True Tales of an Accidental Ghost Hunter coming September, 2009, from Llewellyn Press. His recent novel, I Put a Spell On You (Random House, 2008) holds the world’s record for most Richard Nixon jokes ever in a children’s book.


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