Wednesday, June 17, 2009

More on Holmes' "Sobieski Street Castle."

Another article has been discovered about H.H. Holmes' North Side Glass Bending Factory, the location of which is a regular tour stop (and one of the two or three most actively haunted locations we know of in the city right now). The basic story on the place is that Holmes had buildings all over the city in addition to the famous Murder Castle, including an office in the Loop, a candy shop on Milwaukee Avenue,  an apartment on Wrightwood, a house in the suburbs, and a house and glass bending factory - thought by police to be used more for body disposal than glass bending - on the North Side, about mid-way between the apartment on Wrightwood and the candy store.

We suspect that two of his known victims, Emily Van Tassel and Minnie Williams, were killed and/or disposed of there based on its location in proximity to their residences. Their bodies were never found. It's unlikely that Holmes would have set up a whole factory just to get rid of two bodies, though.

Shortly after the fire at the murder castle, which didn't actually level the building (as most books say) but did destroy a lot of evidence, Patrick Quinlan (Holmes' "Janitor," who may have started the fire) carted several cartloads of garbage out of the "factory."  The cops found it about a week later, mostly empty, but with a wall of kilns that may have contained human ashes (forensic science was a couple of years off - this was an age when a bloody rag could be discovered in the basement of the castle and people could actually argue over whether it was blood or paint) (the first use of bone fragments as evidence would actually be a few years later - with a bit of jaw bone found in the Luetgert Sausage Factory, which, in the days of Holmes' factory, was thriving just a few blocks away).

The new information:

- In addition to delivery slips with Quinlan's signature, there were also several forms found scattered about the place and the vicinity from the ABC Copier Company, the business Holmes had run in the Loop. Some papers were identified as having belong to Minnie Williams. According to the detective who discovered the place, Minnie Williams actually lived there for a while at an apartment in the back.

- Most of the neighbors spoke only Polish, and couldn't tell many detailed stories to the police (beyond identifying Holmes as the owner based on photographs), but told stories of a cart that would often arrive to load in a few bundles. It would leave with the exact same bundles. No one seemed to think the place had ever actually been used for glass bending.

- Diagrams found on the scene indicate that there had recently been a furnace present large enough to accommodate a body - this is presumably one of the things Quinlan removed.

Strangely enough, the site of the factory seems MORE haunted than the location of the famous Murder Castle itself, which was certainly said to be haunted while it stood, but has apparently been fairly quiet, other than the poltergeist-type stuff we hear about EVERY building, since the post office was built on the site in 1938. We've heard moans and crying sounds around there. Lots of weird "energy" stuff goes on sometimes. We've even had one actual, full-body apparition seen there. It's not the kind of thing that would (or should) hold up in court, but the hauntings there may be the only evidence the of the murders that was left behind....


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Monday, June 15, 2009

Return of the Shadow?

Back in November, we presented the now-famous Shadow Picture from the Florentine Ballroom, which has, thus far, held up to scrutiny. And this week, after months of inactivity (nothing's active all time; places go in and out of active periods), the ballroom has seemed active again. We've heard footsteps in the room more than once, and the guards have heard it, as well (one has even heard a person humming in there).

It almost seems only natural that we'd get another shot remarkably similar to the one from November - this was taken by Krissy M, a guest on the tour:



As with most pictues of a back wall in a darkened ballroom, the light quality isn't great. But, given the size of the silhouette and the position of the flash, it DOES seem like the shadow must be of someone standing right in front of the wall (this is the other side of the same wall from the November shot) My initial thought when seeing the pic on a camera lcd screen was that turning up the exposure, brightness, etc, would reveal it to be just a person from the tour standing against the wall. But this wasn't the case. While it's not as clearly defined as the November shot (it's a mixture or red and black), it doesn't seem to have been a person. After all, the flash should make a person look front-lit, not backlit. And, even more unusual, while his does seem to be the torso, neck and head of a person, it looks, in the closeup, as though it may not be a FULL silhoutte - there's some space between the shadow and the table. Here's a close-up (with the exposure turned up:



It's tempting to look for faces or shapes in it (like, say "it looks like a woman looking up" or "the red and black makes it look like a person in a red hooded cloak" or "it kinda looks like Admiral Ackbar"), but I don't really recommend that. In a shot this vague, trying to assign a gender or personality to the thing is just letting your imagination go nuts (nothing wrong with that, normally, but we're doing SCIENCE here, folks!)(sorta).

So, is this a ghost? Is it the SAME ghost as the last one? Could this still be a person's shadow? Obviously, there's no one standing between the photographer and the wall. The flash on the wall COULD come from another camera held by a "second shooter" who was taking a picture of a person standing to the side, but I don't think this is the case.

As always, we're not saying this is truly a ghost - there is no such thing as good ghost evidence, only COOL ghost evidence. BUt this is shockingly similar to the November shot, and was noticed during the tour (albeit not until a few stops later), so it's pretty much impossible for the photographer to have faked it digitally.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Hand of Drywall Dave - Update!

This is the infamous "Devil's Hand" at the Congress Hotel, which is visible through a hole in the wall in a back closet at the congress hotel. We found it on an investigation of the place back in 2006.



We first blogged about it over a year ago.

Since then, while we've joked that it was a mysterious, ghostly hand of Drywall Dave the (probably mythical) worker who was walled up inside the place, or supposed-resident ghost Teddy Roosevelt carryin' a big stick, or (Willie the Driver's favorite) Jimmy Hoffa, we always assumed it was, in reality, a glove that got plastered over by a construction worker with a weird sense of humor.

The other night, though, I went to take a look at it for the first time since 2006 (it's out of the way and a pain in the neck to get to). It's deteriorated a bit since then - enough that we can see that it was never a glove. We're not sure what it IS, or why it looks so much like a hand (it does seem to have four fingers and a thumb). It probably isn't anything paranormal, but it's certainly not an old glove!

Friday, June 12, 2009

The First Chicago UFO Picture

In 1897, there was a rash of "airship" sightings throughout the midwest - the mysterious, cigar-shaped craft arrived in the Chicago area in April of that year, and was seen by so many people that one claimed "you aren't 'in it' if you haven't seen the airship!"

Stories about it go tmore and more bizarre. One guy said he saw it land on the water, and some guy came out onto a deck to go fishing. Another claimed that it landed in a field near his house and the pilot told him that "I will tell my story to the government when Cuba is free" (keep in mind, this was the era of the Spanish American War, a war noted for the stories newspapers made up to push America into the war in order to sell more papers - this was probably one of the more ridiculous ones).

To this day, no one knows what the airship really was. Most of the sightings were probably mistakes, and others were outright hoaxes. A few remain unexplained - theories at the time included that it was Venus, a shooting star, a guy in a balloon, or something cooked up as a publicity stunt by the Ringling Brothers (who didn't nothing to discourage this rumor - it was just good business). And only in Chicago, as far as we know, did anyone photograph it.

Newspapers at the time weren't set up to publish photographs - they just did drawings. So they published a drawing of the photo:


Though papers indicate that the photographer sold several copies, no photo seems to have survived. The negative was given the "acid test" by the paper, which pronounced it to be genuine. However, the Tribune showed it to an expert who laughed at once and said the perspective was way off - what the photographer had probably done was take a picture, then paste the airship onto the picture, and then take a picture OF the picture. This would have stood up to the acid test, but not to expert photographers who knew just what cameras could and couldn't do.

Still, the mystery of the airship remains unsolved.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Dust Storm of '33

In all the talk about the 1893 World's Fair, it's easy to forget nowadays that we had ANOTHER one in 1933-34, the Century of Progress, which is remembered today mainly for its posters. But it was a HUGE success at the time.

One forgotten event is from closing night in 1933, when the city and suburbs were hit by a very rare occurrence - a dust storm. We have natural disasters in the city now and then - we've had three earthquakes in the last twenty years (though they didn't feel any different than a truck driving by your apartment). But a dust storm is pretty strange indeed.

The storm rushed in from downstate and pretty well enveloped the city for a few hours. Fair patrons were covered in dust, and the lights of the fair - normally visible from miles and miles away, could hardly be seen from nearby Michigan Avenue.

One thing not known is how this affected the hit dancer of the Fair - Sally Rand, a "fan dancer" who danced on the midway, wearing nothing but a couple of very large feathers. I had a woman on the tour recently who remembered going to the fair as a little girl - her father got in BIG trouble for going to see Sally Rand. High winds and dust probably didn't do her any favors.

Here's a video of her performance, which would probably be too risque to put in a fair now:

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Big Willie

The Guy From the Willis Co. Says People Can Call the Sears Tower 'Big Willie' if they want.

I like to imagine he got the idea RIGHT HERE on the blog, which suggested that name the minute the news was announced. Surely we weren't the ONLY ones to think of it, but I'll just go ahead and imagine that we were.

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