Monday, June 30, 2008

The Book!

Weird Chicago:The Book is now available for pre-order!

Featuring fresh takes on Chicago's famous ghosts - and a whole bunch of new ghosts that have never been written about before - in addition to history that will fascinate and surprise even the most accomplished Chicago historians!

Pre-order a limited edition copy signed and numbered by all three authors now!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Alligators in the River!

Well, how about this?

Alligator found in Chicago River.

I thought the killer bees would get here first, honestly.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Forgotten Assassin of a Forgotten President

In the 1860s, a man named Charles Guiteau came to Chicago to work as a shystering lawyer. Previously, he had been living with a free love community in New York; their philosophy had been that every man was married to every woman and that everyone should love everyone else. After meeting Guiteau (who the nicknamed Charles Get Out), they changed their philosophy to "everyone should love everyone else except for Charles Guiteau."

By the 1870s, Guiteau, having annoyed the legal profession sufficiently, was living on Dearborn street, right next to what is now the Excalibur club, and working as a preacher. He claimed to have discovered that Jesus had returned to Earth in A.D. 70 (an idea he stole wholesale from the free love sect), and preached in a handful of downtown churches.

When THAT didn't work out, he drifted into politics, and, having made a couple of speeches supporting James Garfield for President, decided that Garfield should make him Consul to Paris. When the Garfield people laughed him out of the White House, Guiteau decided that his best course of action was to shoot Garfield in the chest. And so he did.

His trial was bizarre enough to become the social event of the season. Guiteau would pass notes to random spectators asking for advice, gave his testimony in the form of epic poems (having decided to become a poet), and claimed that HE didn't kill Garfield - the doctors did. This was probably true (Garfield ended up getting poked in the liver a few times while doctors tried to find the bullet. Alexander Graham Bell invented a metal detector to find it, but it didn't work; by the time any of the resident geniuses realized that the metal bed was probably screwing it up, it was too late). But it didn't get Guiteau off the hook - he was sentenced to hang. On the scaffold, he sang a song even worse than the one Carl Wanderer sang on the scaffold in Chicago a few decades later - one of his own composition called "I'm a Going to the Lordy."

We've pinpointed the locations of three building around downtown Chicago where Guiteau lived - one was near Haymarket Square, another was where the Dearborn St. post office is today, and one is next to the Excalibur club. As far as I know so far, none are still standing, but I'm not sure of this yet.

John Wilkes Booth also lived in Chicago briefly (see previous post). Leon Czolgosz, McKinley's assassin, visited Chicago briefly to meet with anarchist Emma Goldman at her home in 1901.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Holmes mystery solved!

One of the great mysteries of the H.H. Holmes story revolves around Benjamin Pietzel, Holmes' accomplice who became a victim, along with three of his children, as dramatically portrayed in "Devil in the White City." THe mystery? How do you pronounce his name?

Documentaries about Holmes tend to be all over the map here - Pihtzuhl, Pytz-zuhl, Pit-uh-zull, etc. Spelling vary between Pitezel and Pietzel.

We can now confidently say that it's pronounced Pyte-zuhl. How do we know? We hosted three of his great-granddaughters, two of whom are still named Pietzel, on our tour this past Friday! Pictures and more are forthcoming.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Courthouse and Gallows - Continued!

Even decades after the Chicago courthouse building had stopped being used as a court, after the jail was torn down, and after its days as the "Hotel Hoover" were over, this pile of lumber still sat in the basement:

It was the old city gallows. The shot above is how they appeared in 1950; they would remain there more than twenty-five years after that (though they were moved to the new jail at some point)

There was a reason they had to be kept around: one criminal, "Terrible Tommy" O'Connor, had been sentenced to hang before making a daring escape shortly before his scheduled execution. A few years later the city switched to the electric chair, but O'Connor's sentence specified that he had to be hanged within the vicinity of the courthouse and jail, and if they ever caught, they were going to have to do exactly that!

Lawyers and other such geeks enjoyed arguing about what would REALLY happen if O'Connor were caught up through the 70s - few believed that they'd actually hang him in what was, by then, a parking lot. A judge finally ruled that O'Connor was probably dead and that the gallows should be sold to the highest bidder.

O'Connor was never caught, but a picture of him is now up in the lobby of the courthouse building!

For more on the courthouse/gallows in Chicago, see

Fatal Drop: True Tales from the Chicago Gallows by William Griffith(Click for ordering info!)

and check out the courthouse/gallows episode of our podcast

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Forgotten Chicago Hauntings - The Icebox Ghost

In September, 1902, the Ward family had what must have been one tense family reunion at Mrs. Ward's house on Polk St near Halsted. Two months before, her son, Thomas, had threatened to kill her and even fired a gun at her, hitting her in the arm. At the reunion, he was up to his old tricks, beating her and threatening to kill her, until his brother pull a gun and shot him in the face.

A couple of months later, his ghost began to be spotted sitting on an empty ice box on the porch, which was visible from Blue Island Ave. Crowds would gather to see it, and, by the time it made the papers, onlookers were simply saying "Tommy's on the ice box again!"

The sightings had apparently stopped by 1903 - we haven't found a case of anyone seeing it since then.

Or have we?

The section of Polk and Blue Island where the ghost was seen no longer exists. Currently, the spot where the house stood seems to be right where the student center at the University of Illinois now stands - right next to Hull House.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Wizard of River West

Here's a guy I see all the time around the River West / West Town area. Best facial hair in the neighborhood, and a really nice fellow:


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