Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Tom Lehrer and Odetta split a bill in Chicago, 1958

Tom Lehrer, one of the most successful satirists of the 20th century (and now the J.D. Salinger of comedy music), split a bill with Odetta at Orchestra Hall here in Chicago in April, 1958. The Trib described Lehrer as a guy who "sings weird songs and makes much moo."

Just throwing this out there to add to the list of "concerts I really wish I could have seen." Lehrer (perhaps best known today for the "Elements" song, though I'm in "Irish Ballad" man, myself) hasn't played a concert in close to 50 years.

I also wouldn't have minded seeing Bob Dylan at the Bear Club in 62, or the press conference at the Astor Hotel where John Lennon was asked to apologize for saying the Beatles were bigger than Jesus. A Beatles press conference would probably be more fun to see than one of their concerts - every bit as much of a performance, only you could hear what was happening.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Shadows at the Body Dump?

Some interesting shots from the tours lately.  First of all, for you Hull House fans, the last tree in the adjacent courtyard (subject of much ghostlore and superstition) fell down some time in the last week:

The garden / courtyard area is the subject of a lot of real nonsense stories that go around - people like to say that it was an Indian burial ground, an abortion graveyard, or any number of thoroughly debunked stories.  But not every story about it is untrue, and we do have some weird nights there on the tour. 

On the Saturday tour, Amanda K. picked up a shot at the HH Holmes "Body Dump" site, where he had a building he claimed was a glass bending factory (we've talked about this place a lot here; it was well north of the famous "castle," but very near the homes of about half his known Chicago victims, and, well, there's a short list of things a known multi-murderer who didn't really know how to bend glass would have been doing with a 150 foot long furnace). We get pictures of shadowy figures here quite a bit - look in the background of this one, back behind me and to the right:

This is a detail of a larger shot, with the exposure turned up a bit. My guess would be that the figure in the background was just a person on the tour that the photographer didn't notice (though she was certain that there was no one there). The fact that it casts a shadow is certainly a mark against it being ghostly, but when I tried to reproduce the effect on the 10pm tour I couldn't quite find a way to stand in that area that would make my shadow go in quite the same direction (it's all artificial light).  You know what I always say: there is no good ghost evidence, only cool ghost evidence. 

And hey, while I've got your attention, we've been re-releasing all the Smart Aleck's Guide ebooks this week, including our guide to Grave Robbing, which features several Chicago grave robbing stories:


Everything you need to launch YOUR career as a 19th century Resurrection Man, the Smart Aleck way! A complete history of one of the oldest professions, with tips and tricks of the trade. Fully illustrated, with an active table of contents. 2.99 on kindle

There's more on Holmes, the "body dump" and Hull House in our Ghosts of Chicago book (Llewellyn 2013),  and our newly revised and greatly expanded Murder Castle of HH Holmes ebook

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Flapper's Mother: Feminism in 1912?

Yesterday we reported on new information on Lillian Collier , the flapper we've been talking about for years. Lillian ran an outfit called The Wind Blew Inn and was the darling of Chicago bohemia in 1920-22, and in 1925 gave an interview saying that flappers were not "savages," but evidence of a new era of freedom for women. This was a few years after the Inn was raided for holding "petting parties," leading her to assure a judge that "there is no snugglepupping at the Wind Blew Inn" (he sentenced her to read a book of fairy tales to cure her bohemianism) (it doesn't seem to have worked). I've written about her in several Chicago history books, including the upcoming Chronicles of Old Chicago.

We still don't know what she was up to after 1925, but having found out that her maiden name was Lieberman has helped find a few more pieces of the puzzle to add to the mix. We know she was born in New York in 1901 (probably Sept 16). We know she and her family were in Baltimore in 1910, then apparently back in New York just before their time in Chicago, which began in 1919 or 1920. Some of the family appear to have remained there all their lives, some may have moved on.

In any case, one fascinating new thing I found is an essay that Lillian's mother, Nellie, wrote for a contest the Baltimore Sun had in 1912. The subject was "Do Women Want Good Husbands," and Mrs. Lieberman's entry is a fascinating document. The "husbands should be assertive and noisy" sentiment is balanced by a demand for equal rights and equal treatment; is this what feminism looked like a century ago?

The address below (cut off here) corresponds with their address in the 1910 census, so I'm sure this is the same Nellie Lieberman who accompanied her daughter Lillian to court in 1922. Nellie and her husband, Meyer, were apparently divorced in 1921. 

Lillian herself seems to have won a children's poetry contest in the same paper in 1916, but I haven't found her poem yet (the scan of the paper from the day it was probably published is messed up in the only source I know of for Baltimore Sun papers from that year). It was in the "Yarns for Youngsters" section, and she would have been 14 at the time. Like Homer Simpson in the "design a Nuclear Power plant" contest,  she may have been in a contest with children, but she kicked their butts!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Lillian Collier: The Mysterious Flapper - new data!

I've written quite a lot about Lillian Collier of the Wind Blew Inn,  a flapper who was sentenced to read a book of fairy tales to cure her bohemianism in 1922. A few years later she appeared in a widely-circulated article saying that flappers were not "savages," but represented a new era of freedom for women. After that, she vanished from the record. Several Lillian Colliers were found - a suffragist in Texas, a poet in Canada, a New York socialist - but none I could trace positively to her.
Lillian Collier, pictured here when her
flagpole-sitting antics made the news
in 1921.

Today I was digging through the Herald Examiner archives, having heard that she worked as a reporter from them in 1920 under the name "Our Little Girl Reporter," a title that several reporters held at that paper (most notably Carol Frink, whose husband wrote The Front Page with Ben Hecht).  I could only find one article I could trace to her - a story about painting the words "Safety First" on the 10th story of a building on Van Buren (wonder if it's still there?).

However, Herald Examiner notes from when her Bohemian tea room, The Wind Blew Inn, was raided by the cops turned up two very interesting new pieces of info that may just help solve this mystery.

One is that Virginia Harrison, described as Collier's "aid" in some papers, appears to have given her name as Virginia Collier. This may be a clue that the two were "more than friends," as some have surmised.

More notably is that one paper gave the name of her mother, Nellie Lieberman.  From this I was finally able to dig up Lillian's 1920 census records, where ancestry.com had her listed as "Lillian Coltie." After that, I was able to find some more new clues:

 - Lillian was born Lillian Lieberman around 1902 in New York.

- She apparently married Herbert Collie in New York in 1919; the name was usually spelled "Collier" in the press. It may have been an affectation on her part. I found a record of the wedding, but can't definitively match it to THIS Lillian Lieberman.

- By spring of 1920, she was living with her parens, Meyer Lieberman and Nellie Lieberman, in Chicago near North and Leavitt, as well as her sisters, Martha Lieberman and Bertha Lieberman.  Herbert was out of the picture by this time, but she kept his name.

- I can't find much about Herbert Collie.  I did find a thing saying Martha, her sister, died in 1991 and had been a vaudeville dancer at one point.

- Meyer and Nellie were apparently divorced in 1921.

So, that maiden name is a STRONG new clue, and one that might very well help us find out what happened to her after 1925.  On Wednesday, we'll feature a newly-discovered essay written by her mother in 1912!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Some shots from our Tumblr

Now and then I'll have some fun with instagram filters and post stuff up on our tumblr. Here are three recent ones:

Floor 12N on the Congress Hotel. This is the floor the staff always tells me is the spookiest one.

This blank space on that floor may have inspired the legend of "the room so haunted they sealed it off." I just can't seem to convince people that that story isn't true, or that the hotel wasn't the inspiration for 1408, even by pointing out the sheer unlikelihood that Stephen King would have ever stayed at the place. 

One of the urban myths that bothers me most is the story that Jane Addams buried a devil baby alive in the courtyard next to Hull House. The devil baby was just a myth (one that came up in many cities, and apparently just came up AGAIN in Indiana), but even if it was real, this wasn't a courtyard at the time, and Addams never, ever, EVER would have buried it alive anyway. If you wanna say HH Holmes killed hundreds more people than he actually did, it doesn't really hurt much. Slander that guy all you want. I don't think he killed or tortured nearly as many people as they say, but he did kill quite a few and was a big enough jerk that I don't really feel like I ought to defend his honor or anything.  But slandering Jane Addams is not okay. 

 But I'm not above cheap pranks that'll melt away. 

Friday, February 28, 2014

Bentley Sage, the Clairvoyant: Seems Legit!

So, just how many times did H.H. Holmes have his palm read, anyway?  Annie Londonderry, a famous bicyclist who became a reporter for the New York World, read his palm while interviewing him in his cell (the full interview is in the expanded Murder Castle ebook) , and even the generally respectable medical report on his body published in the Journal of the American Medical Association spends a lot of time examining the bumps and ridges of his skull (though the doctor did take time to mention that his sexual organs were "unusually small.")

In the process of looking for new sources for my Abraham Lincoln ghostlore book, I was flipping through the 1907 volume entitled The Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth, which puts for the proposition that Booth actually died in 1903 by suicide, not in a barn of a gunshot wound in 1865. The body of the guy said to be Booth was embalmed so well as to be mummified (as was Lincoln's), and became a carnival attraction for a while.  The book contained a lengthy analysis of the corpse's palm, read while it was still the morgue by one Bentley Sage.

Looking up Bentley Sage was sort of a rabbit hole - the guy is described as awfully famous in the book, but most articles about him in newspapers are really just classified ads that he took out himself.

His price for readings goes gradually down from 1901 to 1907 (from three bucks to fifty cents), but he never seems to have made much hay out of reading "Booth's" palm, except for this 1905 ad on the right, in which he also claimed to have read HH Holmes' palm, as well as the palms of such Chicago notables as Marshall Field, Carter Harrison.  In one ad, he claimed to be able to train anyone to become a spiritual medium in 3-6 months.

Seems legit, huh?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Ghost pic in the alley?

I only occasionally post "ghost" pictures here, partly because I rarely see any thing I think are all that interesting. You know what I always say - "there is no good ghost evidence, only cool ghost evidence." Well, here's some of that. One of my most common tour stops is the alley behind the site of the Iroquois Theatre, which the Tribune once called "The Alley of Death and Mutilation" (look at the clip from the paper on the right if ya don't believe me!). Like any place, we go in and out of periods where people seem to be seeing ghosts there. For a month or two, someone will think they saw something every night, then it'll quiet down for a long while.

In any case, countless people died here during the great Iroquois Theatre fire of 1903, some were trampled, some died of burns, and some were shoved over the rails of the useless fire escapes (there were fire escapes, contrary to common stories).

But, anyway, dig this pic from the tour, with a vaguely humanesque form back behind the woman on the right's head. All I've done to edit it is blur the faces:

This was taken on the tour and emailed to me immediately, so I can at least say he didn't photoshop it in later, and it doesn't look much like one of of those "ghost app" shots (after all, those apps paste ghosts over your image, and this one is overlapped by the woman's head).

The most obvious explanation here is that it's a trick of the light, but I can certainly a detect a humanesque form. In fact, it almost looks like Nelly Reed, the trapeze artist who was killed by the fire (see image on left), though one could also connect it to any number of women who were killed in the tragic fire. Nellie is one of the women most frequently said to haunt the place, though she's usually said to appear as a silhouette on the wall, particularly the garages on the opposite side of the alley from the theatre (more commonly back when they were painted blue). 

More on the theatre and its associated ghostlore is in the new GHOSTS OF CHICAGO book!

Tune in tomorrow for a neat new discovery from the archives.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Lincoln's Phantom Funeral Train described in 1872

I'm finishing up the draft of my new book on Lincoln ghostlore for Llewellyn Worldwide - it's been fun tracing all the stories back to their origins! Here's one find that I should really wait on, but I got so excited by it that I just had to post it. The Lincoln Funeral Train is sometimes said to haunt Chicago (it pulled in around where Michigan and Roosevelt intersect today on May Day, 1865), so it's relevant to this blog as well as the book.

Many books that mention the "phantom train" have quoted from an Albany newspaper that described the ghost train. Lloyd Lewis quoted about 200 words of it in his seminal Myths After Lincoln, and other sources since have been paraphrasing Lewis's excerpt. None of them ever seemed to give the actual title or date of the article, so it took a little bit of searching, but I eventually did track it down. It turns out that the story was published in the Albany Daily Evening Times on March 23rd, 1872. 1872! Not quite seven years after the actual train had rolled through. This makes it a very early source for Lincoln lore, most of which wouldn't start to be published for a couple more decades.

Anyway, the article was entitled "Waiting for the Train," and is a story in which a reporter talks to night watchmen who work on the railroads. The relevant section is worth reprinting in full here - the books that mention it only contain about half of it, and the whole thing is really quite incredible:

There is a supernatural side to this kind of labor, which is as wild as its excitement to the superstitious is intense. Said the leader, “I believe in spirits and ghosts. I know such things exist, and if you will come up in April I will convince you.” 

He then told of the phantom train that every year comes up the road, with the body of Abraham Lincoln. Regularly in the month of April about midnight, the air on the track becomes very keen and cutting. On either side it is warm and still; every watchman when he feels this air steps off the track and sits down to watch. 

Soon after, the pilot engine with long black streams, and a band with black instruments playing dirges, and grinning skeletons sitting all about, will pass up noiselessly, and the very air grows black. If it is moonlight, clouds always come over the moon, and the music seems to linger as if frozen with horror. 

A few moments after the phantom train glides by. Flags and streamers hang about. The track ahead seems covered with a black carpet, and the wheels are draped with the same. The coffin of the murdered Lincoln is seen lying on the center of a car, and all about it, in the air, and on the train behind are vast numbers of blue coated men, some with coffins on their backs, others leaning upon them. It seems that all the vast armies of men who died during the war are escorting the phantom train of the President. 

The wind, if blowing, dies away at once, and over all the air a solemn hush, almost stifling, prevails. If a train were passing, its noise would be drowned in this silence, and the phantom train would rise over it. 

Clocks and watches always stop, and when looked at are found to be from five to eight minutes behind. Everywhere on the road about the 20th of April the time of watches and trains is found suddenly behind. This, said the leading watchman, was from the passage of the phantom train. 

One informant had commenced with another story of the “death engine” which preceded every train to which an accident would happen, when the stationman called out “train coming!” and we reluctantly came away from this garrulous watchman, whose life-work, both physical and spiritual, seemed a perpetual romance.

Just about every "Lincoln Ghost Train" story descends from this article. It's hard to take it completely seriously (surely they don't expect us to believe that ALL of the soldiers who died were carrying coffins on the train, but that it could go by in five minutes, right?) Still, the  prose here is just terrific - it would do any horror writer proud.  Look for the Lincoln ghostlore book next year!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Chicago and the Battle of Little Big Horn

"Custer's Last Stand" as dramatized (inaccurately)
in a Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show, 1905.
In a 1921 "Remember When...." article in the Tribune, one elderly Chicagoan remembered that General Custer had come through town and stayed at the Palmer House on his way to fight the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876.

It's often said that Custer thought the battle would be the victory that propelled him towards the presidency. Instead, of course, it became known as Custer's Last Stand. Custer and five companies of his regiment were wiped out.

Truly, exactly what went on in the battle is shrouded in mystery and conflicting accounts even now.  I'm no expert on the story, and it's hard to think of Chicago as a "Wild West" sort of town, really, but the Windy City has several interesting connections to Custer's Last Stand, many of which involve the Palmer House Hotel, which is still in operation (though it's been totally rebuilt since the 1870s).

Besides Custer's stop there en route to the battle, a mere month after the event, a Tribune reporter ran into a one-armed man in the Palmer House who was wearing a buckskin "blouse" with corduroy pants tucked into his boots (an outfit that turned a few heads in the lobby). It was William S. Bergin, a scout from Ft. Fetterman, who had been on the scene of Little Big Horn shortly after the battle, and had helped bury some 370 dead soldiers in a trench. He told the reporter that many bodies were "shockingly mutilated," with arms, feet, and ears cut off, in addition to a number who suffered "the most horrible mutilation." He had helped handle Custer's own (unmutilated) body and threw cold water on the then-common myth that his heart had been cut out. "He was shot..right through the middle of the head," he said. "He was also shot through the heart. But the bullet mmust have galnced in a sort of zig-zag direction; he had no other wounds....the Indians use arrows somethimes, but you bet the wounds were caused by solid rifle balls this time."
The Trib devoted most of the front page of their July 7, 1867
issue to the battle, including a map.  The day before, the story
had just ben a rumor. The headline now was "Too True."

Upon completing the interview, Bergin was accosted by a con artist who claimed to be from the military, and Potter Palmer himself intervened. My understanding is that this is still among the best sources we have to tell us how, exactly, Custer was killed.

More famously, the Palmer House was the site of the Reno Court of Inquiry. Major Reno was accused of cowardice in the battle, and personally asked that a court of inquiry be held. The case, which brought forth several eyewitness testimonies right there in the hotel, became one of the military's most often sited trials of the sort; you can still read all of the testimonies today. I haven't tried it, but I understand they're a fascinating read. Reno was eventually exonerated, though by that time he'd already been convicted in the court of public opinion, and many still believe that the whole thing was a sham.

Chicago played another role or in the the history of the Battle of Little Big Horn some decades later.

In 1908, a man in the front row of a re-enactment staged at Riverview, the amusement park, died of his wounds after being accidentally shot by a performer who was apparently using live rounds. Based on surviving accounts, the show featured a lot of exciting stunts and riding tricks (that were probably at at all historically accurate.

Around the same time, three Sioux warriors who had fought in the battle played themselves in On the Little Big Horn - or Custer's Last Stand, a silent film about the battle that was filmed by Selig Polyscope, with the man-made hills on the Selig backlot near Byron and Claremont filling in for the hilly border of Wyoming and Montana (like nearly all Selig films from Chicago, it's now lost). The crew was thrilled to meet them and plied them for stories, but their reply was something along the lines of, "Well, it was all over so fast...." The film was shot in Chicago (though some sources erroneously claim it was filmed on the actual battle site), but I couldn't find any evidence that any theatre here actually showed it!


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