Tuesday, September 30, 2008

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!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Cowlileo: The Renaissance Cow!

A Chicago original - the statue of Cowleleo on North Avenue, just East of Damen, by Ken Aiken:

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Yep. The "Gun Shot" Was Back at the Congress.

Ken has confirmed that they heard the infamous gunshot noise in the old ballroom. He was running the tour on Friday while I was in Florida.

He says that there was a strange knocking sound in the first ballroom they hit at the Congress, though that could have been any number of things.

They were just leaving the second ballroom when the sound came - at first, everyone seemed to think it was a gunshot, but then, when there were no screams or footsteps, decided that perhaps it was a folded-up table falling onto the ground in the nearby hallway. This is the exact reaction my group had, as well. A thorough checking of the premises revealed nothing that could have made the sound.

Ken had a couple of theories - that it was an industrial oven closing, or that it was the furnace, which is directly below the ballroom. I had speculated that it could have been an electrical shortage, which can cause that kind of noise. None of these theories really hold up, though. The furnace is two floors down, and the noise wouldn't sound so close. There's no oven that close by, either, and certainly none were being used on the floor. If there had been an electrical shortage, some flashing lights should have been in evidence, but weren't.

Now, we're not saying that this was something in the realm of the paranormal - only that we don't know what's causing it, which is usually as far as we can go on these things. If we assume, hypothetically, that the shots are ghostly in origin, why are they showing up when they do? Is it only when the moon is in a certain phase, when the weather is just right, at a certain time of night on a certain day or the week, or what? Could the sound of the gunshot rung so heavily in the brain and energies of a guy who was about to be shot to death in the split second before they were cut off as the bullet hit its target have left some sort of "imprint" on the environment that can still manifest under just the right conditions as a sort of echo? Who knows?

We haven't found a record of anyone being shot in that hallway, though LOTS of people were shot in the Congress over the years (the listing of strange and grisly deaths there in our book is only a partial listing), and if someone was shot in an out-of-the-way service hallway, the whole point would be so that no one would find out about it. We'll keep searching!

In the mean time, there should be new posts here daily throughout October. The next couple of days are just "oddball stuff" posts, but they'll get good and spooky in October, when we'll discuss The Whitechapel Club, Resurrection Mary (including cool new information that few Mary hunters have ever seen!) and other famous Chicago haunts!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

return of the "gunshot?"

I'm traveling this morning and will edit this post this afternoon, when I should have more details, but I understand that last night the gun shot noise that was heard at the congress hotel on one of my tours a few weeks ago was heard on a tour Ken was running!

Check back here this afternoon for more info!

Friday, September 26, 2008

An Al Capone Relic?

One of Capone's first gigs in Chicago was working at the notorious Four Deuces club, 2222 S. Wabash, which was Johnny Torrio's headquarters. It was here that Torrio taught Capone what he needed to know before passing the empire on to him.

The Four Deuces club is long gone today - there's a vacant lot on the site, but some concrete remains here and there along the edge that are sometimes said to be the old concrete foundations.

A few months ago, while scoping the space out, we found a bizarre little thing poking out of the ground. After digging, we found that it was this:

At first I thought it was a decoration of some sort, but the wiring made us think it might be a railroad signal switch (the label DOES say "Made for Union Switch and Signal Co. by Ward Leonard Electric CO). But it actually appears, according to some readers who seem to know their stuff, to be some sort of heating coil-type mechanism. Was this a part of the Four Deuces? Just some railroad junk?

We're guessing the latter, but you never know....

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Haunted Vic Theatre?

I've recently heard from some people who work in the Vic Theatre, at Belmont and Sheffield, that the place is haunted - specifically, it's said to be haunted by a stagehand and by Victoria, the namesake of the theatre, who is said to have killed herself in the building. Footsteps and things like that are heard a lot, and the ghostly stagehand occasionally shouts "Stop it!" at people who are acting up.

It sounds like a lot of ghostly stuff is reported in the theatre (footsteps, strange voices, etc), but I can't back up the history just yet. The theatre was built in 1912 as a vaudevile house under the name The New Victoria theatre and underwent MANY changes. Like most of the great theatres in town, it was a porno theatre at one point. For a while it was called the Roberto Clemente and played Mexican cinema. In the late 20s it was the German Theatre (which showed operettas), and then was shut down altogether in the Depression. In the 70s, it was even an auto part warehouse and shop for a while. It became The Vic as we know it today around 1984. At the time, the stage hadn't been used for anything in fifty years.

I can't trace a single actual death in the place, and can't actually find any source that says there actually was such a person as Victoria in the first place, let alone anything to indicate that she died there, other than hearsay.

Anyone care to correct me?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Fool Killer Submarine - more evidence

The best guess anyone has put forth on the origin of the Fool Killer Submarine is that it was built by Lodner Phillips around 1849 - and had presumably been in the water ever since when it was dredged up from the Chicago river in 1915 for display on South State street.

Most of the evidence connecting it to Phillips has come from Phillips' family lore, but, as we concluded in our book (which features the most complete article ever written about the sub), it's still the only theory that makes any sense.

This picture may be the best proof of all:

This drawing, by one Col. Fields, shows a Phillips sub - Phillips went on to build several other models with various degrees of success. This one - which had guns attached - would have been a later model, but it does look a LOT like the Foolkiller:

Of course, all subs do look pretty much alike, at least in theory - but this was the 1840s. Submarines didn't really exist yet, and the models that were built varied widely in appearance. These two could practically be doubles, except for the guns. While I don't think it's the kind of evidence that would hold up in court, this is pretty good evidence that the sub was a Phillips creation, wheras the stories published in the papers at the time (namely, that it was from 1870 and had been raised and sunk again around 1890) haven't had a shred to back them up come to light.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Terrible Gennas 2: The De Cola Funeral Home

On Grand, near Racine, about a block and a half from the site where Tony Genna was killed (see previous post) stands the Bar Casablanca, a Mexican restaurant and bar. Here's the front of it:

You wouldn't know it now, but this was the site of the De Cola funeral home which was, according to one local resident, the site of a veritable who's who of mafia funerals. Certainly it was the funeral home of choice for the Terrible Gennas. At the time, mob funerals tended to be insanely lavish displays - the equivalent of millions would be spent on flowers.

But Tony's wasn't like that - his body laid on the slab in the morgue at the place for a while before a very simple service was held, attended only by family. He was, however, given a $5000 coffin. About 30 or so people attended the burial at Mt. Carmel, the suburban cemetery where Capone himself ended up buried. Only one person - apparently Tony's sweetheart - was seen to sob.

Capone was said to have been the one who ordered Tony's death, but the police had no leads, and didn't really seem to care. The papers said there was a lack of interest down at the police station, where the police were perfectly happy just to know that he had been buried without any further gang warfare flare-ups.

Much more information on gangsters can be found in our book, of course!

I'm going to endeavor to put something up here daily between now and Halloween - several posts are being prepared in advance, since we're AWFULLY busy in October. If you have any subjects you'd like covered on here, let me know!

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Terrible Gennas - Part 1

When people think of Chicago gangsters of the 20s, they normally think of Capone and his south side gang vs. the mostly-Irish North Siders. But here were plenty more. In the center of these two gangs were a coupe of groups like the Circus Gang and the Terrible Gennas, a group of brothers known for being particularly bloodthirsty. Capone and the North Siders actually teamed up to get rid of them.

When prohibition became law, the Gennas hit on the idea of getting permission to make booze legally - you could manufacture industrial alcohol with the government's permission. So that's what they did. They would re-distill the stuff and sell it as a drink. In this manner, they soon controlled the Little Italy of the near-west side. They hid still in houses all over the neighborhood, paying the owners 15 bucks a day (roughly 400-500 bucks in today's money). To be able to pay this kind of money, they must have been making a whole butt load of money. Of course, they got greedy and tried to expand out of Little Italy. Just as the north and south side gangs were going to war in late 1924, they started trying to undercut both gangs. Big mistake.

Bugs Moran, the target of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, got into a high speed chase with Angelo Genna and shot him to death. Mike Genna got into a firefight with the north siders and ended up shot by the cops. Then, in a rare show of unity with the north siders, Al Capone himself supposedly ordered the hit on Tony Genna, who was shot at a grocery store on Grand and Aberdeen.

The grocery store building is still standing. It's not a grocery store any more, just an apartment that I'm not even totally sure is occupied; several apartments along the strip now serve only to prop up billboards to be seen by cars on the highway that half the neighborhood would eventually be torn down to make way for.

Here's the place where it stands today:

The surviving Genna brothers wisely left Chicago.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Volo vs. Ouija

Here's one I didn't know - in the early days of the Ouija board, a Chicago company made a clone called the Volo and tried to take over the talking board market.

Troy sent me this link.

The ouija company seems to have put them out of business as part of their legal work - they must have had one heck of a legal team. At one point, they even tried to claim that the boards were not toys, but religious tools, and, hence, should not be subject to taxation. They lost, though.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Strange Origin of Hull House

You know those mystery stories that open with a crowd of strange people gathered to hear the contents of a mysterious will in a spooky old mansion? LIke, say, Clue?  This kind of "public reading of the will" is the sort of thing that never happens in real life these days - any lawyer will tell you that it's just a plot device, not something that really goes on. But perhaps it used to be more common - the reading of the will of Charles Hull, who built Chicago's infamous Hull House in 1856, was like that.

Mr. Hull had been an eccentric man. Rich, but a good friend of the newsies on the corner. He was frequently seen giving candy to neighborhood children. In 1881, he wrote a rambling book that was little more than a list of his opinions on every matter under the sun.

In 1889, Hull died in Houston. His family and friends gathered in his No. 31 Ashland Street residence (which seems to have been gone by 1909, but would have been where 230 North is now) to hear the reading of the will, which he wrote in 1881. He was in possession of between 1 and 2 million dollars worth of personal property and real estate. But the Ashland residence was no mansion - just a modest brick row house, decorated with a few photographs and a "heroic looking bust" of Mr. Hull that presided over the proceedings. I don't know that it was a dark and stormy night when the will was read (I assume it was probably done during the day), but I like to imagine it was.

His four nephews, niece, and cousin, Helen Culver, who was also his housekeeper, gathered around for the reading of the will. Most of the relatives believed that the estate would be shared equally among them. Only Miss Culver knew otherwise.

The lawyer opened the sealed envelope and read from the foolscap sheet inside. "I, Charles J. Hull, being of sound mind and body...etc...do give Helen Culver, my trusted friend and advisor for all these years, the whole of my estate."

The nephews turned pale and the niece wept. Their "great expectations" were over.

"There must be some mistake!" cried one of the nephews.

"No mistake," siad the lawyer. "It's a good will. A good will. Miss Culver, let me congratulate you."

Miss Culver, who had lived with Mr. Hull as his housekeeper for decades, smiled softly.

The very next day, the other relatives began to contest the will in court. But Culver, of course, granted a life-long, rent-free lease on Hull's 1856 Halsted Street mansion to Jane Addams, who expanded to the property into 13 buildings by 1908, where her social work won her a Nobel Peace Prize. The building was restored back to its original state (or close to it) in the 1960s; the only other building from the settlement still standing is the dining hall, which was moved to its present location when the building was being restored.

I'm doing research today on the history of the garden next door - my hunch is that it wasn't a garden at the time the "devil baby" rumor went around, and, hence, can't possibly be the burial place of the baby, as some claim (for the millionth time, it was just a rumor - there was no devil baby). But in 1961, when they started planning to restore the house, they also talked of restoring the Jane Addams Garden, which implies that it went up earlier than I thought - perhaps it was put in after Addams death? But Hull House was a big advocate of gardening - they spearheaded the "city garden" project which leased garden space on the south side to poor families. It's not impossible that there was a garden there early on, though I sort of doubt they had that kind of space available, since the facilities took up a whole block by 1908.

Update: no, the garden was not a garden in 1913; there was a building there at the time. When Jane Addams moved in, there was an undertaking parlor on the spot, and it was torn down to be replaced by the Hull House Children's Building, which was where they had a nursery/day care center, places for children's clubs to meet, etc.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Halloween cartoons

, I've revamped, revised, and expanded halloweenspecials.net, my website about Halloween TV specials and cartoons. It now features a LOT of actual video and has been expanded a bit. I'll keep adding onto it over the next few weeks; are their any good specials that I missed?

In other news:
The Ghost Tours are filling up fast for October!
- The ghost hunting book I'm doing for Llewellyn Press is nearly done. I think it'll be out in Spring/Early Summer of next year.
- The Weird Chicago book is working its way into stores; many area stores have ordered copies.
- my new middle grade book, I PUT A SPELL ON YOU, a spelling bee story based on Watergate, came out last week, and is available all over - Barnes and Noble usually has copies on the shelf.
- Troy tells me he does have a source on the "hand of Frank LEavy" story that at least confirms that it wasn't made up by the people I THOUGHT might made it up - stay tuned!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Handprint of Frank Leavy - fact or fiction? (part 1?)

No book of Chicago ghostlore is complete without the story of fireman Francis "Frank" Leavy. The story goes that one day in the 1920s, Frank was in the fire station, leaning his hand on the window and saying "this is my last day with the fire department," or "I'm dying tonight," or something equally cheery. That night, there was a massive fire that claimed the lives of several fire fighters, including Levy. The next day, his handprint was still on the window, and could not be removed. The print stood up to even the most abrasive cleansers until 20 years to the day after the fire, when the window was shattered by a paperboy.

The story is part of Chicago's folk mythology - enough so that the Weird Chicago Book wouldn't have been complete without it.

However, the thing about folk mythology is that it isn't all true. It doesn't have to be; whether Resurrection Mary, for instance, is real or not doesn't make one bit of difference on her effect on Chicago history. And plenty of supposedly haunted places have no real story to back the hauntings up (ala The Red Lion), or the stories that go around are totally false (ala The Excalibur Club). I'm proud to say we didn't make up any ghost stories for our book, but we did include a handful of famous stories that we regard more as straight up folklore than a "true" story. We didn't want people to read through it and say "hey, there's nothing here about Inez Clarke! This isn't the ULTIMATE Chicago ghost book at all!"

So, what of Frank Leavy? Was this story real or not?

Francis Xavier Leavy WAS a real person, and qualifies as a Chicago hero. He lived at 6507 S. Whipple, where neighbors admired his yardwork. And the fire that killed him and six other fireman really did happen in 1924 at Curran's Dance Hall on Blue Island Avenue. Leavey left behind a wife and two young children whose care was aided by massive drives in the city for aid to the fallen firemen's kin. Here's a photo of the fire - Leavy, as I understand it, was one of the seven firefighters killed when a wall collapsed.

an image from the aftermath of the fire

But the ghostly handprint story? THAT I'm not so sure about. If the handprint was on the window, no one seems to have bothered to take a photograph of it. The earliest mention I can find of the story (so far) is in ghost books published decades after the fire station in question was demolished.

So the story may have been collected from oral tradition, but it also may well be pure fiction. But because of the story, thousands of Chicagoans who never would have heard of this heroic fireman otherwise know Leavy's name, and the sacrifice he made for the safety of the city.

If anyone has any backup for this story, please let us know!

(note: the newspaper records of the fire usually spell his name "Leavey," but the official records I've found with his signature spell it Leavy, which is out it appears in most books).

(further note, added 30 march 2010: I'm thrilled to have heard from so many descendants of Frank Leavey who have confirmed that the handprint story has been going on for a long, long time! I'd still love to see a photograph of it or a contemporary account, but I'm certainly convinced that the story wasn't invented for use in a ghost book).


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