Friday, July 31, 2009

Your Neighborhood Gives Me the Creeps

The website for my memoir of life in the ghost busting industry, featuring a coupe of excerpts, is now up at YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD GIVES ME THE CREEPS. The book, due out September 1, features lots of behind-the-scenes stories on the ghosts, hauntings, and investigations at the Congress Hotel, Hull House, Bachelor's Grove, Odin / Old Town Tattoo, H.H. Holmes' Sobieski Street site, and more!

Monday, July 27, 2009

All Points Bulletin: Do You Have Queen Elizabeth's Fireplace?

A 500 year old fireplace is thought to have been moved to Chicago in 1907, but has not been located. It is described as "fancy." The mantelpiece should include a coat of arms with three lions and the words "Semper Eadam."

The Chicago Tribune has the story.

I'll be interested to see if this thing turns up!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Disco Inferno

This week marks the 30th anniversary of the infamous Disco Demolition Day at Comiskey Park, at which admission to the double-header game cost 98 cents and a disco record to be demolished between the games by a local DJ - it's somewhat odd to stop and think that the days of local radio personalities pulling these sort of stunts (and getting any notice for it) are basically over.

Disco Demoilition Day was a disaster - many fans ended up using the records as frisbees, leading at least one player to wear his batting helmet into the outfield, and after the records were blown up, fans stormed the field and trashed the place. The Chicago Reader has a fascinating story on the day, followed by some very interesting debate in the comments about whether there were racial/political motivations lurking in the rioters' brains. I always thought rockers hated disco on general principle, not because they identified it as urban/latino/gay culture myself, but, hey, what do I know?

Friday, July 10, 2009

More and more ghoulish...

The Sun Times reports today that one of the finds at Burr Oak Cemetery was the original (empty since a 2005 exhumation) casket of Emmit Till, an accidental martyr of the civil rights movement, rotting away in a shed, surrounded by garbage and inhabited by a family of possums. It should be noted that Till's was NOT one of the bodies dug up and dumped; he was exhumed a few years ago and reburied in a different coffin. The original iconic glass coffin was to be a part of a memorial; money raised for it was apparently pocketed by one of the people who has been arrested for dumping the bodies around.

Till's glass coffin was a priceless icon of the civil rights movement - one of the most horrifying things about the injustices committed against black Americans just because they were black throughout the first half of the 20th century was that no one really seemed to give a damn - but after Emmit Till, they could no longer look away.

Till was a 14 year old Chicagoan who was visiting Mississippi in 1955. After allegedly whistling at a white woman, a couple of guys kidnapped, beat, tortured, and murdered him. Two men were quickly acquitted by an all-white jury who barely deliberated at all - and, knowing they could never be retried, cheerfully admitted the next year that they had been the killers.

Till's mother insisted on showing the world what had happened to her son - the casket had a glass top, and a photo of his mutilated face was shown around the world. People could no longer look away. Well, they COULD, but they could no longer pretend that things weren't really all that bad, or that the civil rights movement was just a bunch of angry poor people letting off steam (or, again, they COULD, but they'd look like - and still look like - massive jerks).

I was a bit dismissive of the crime yesterday - yes, it HAS happened before - but as the story progresses, and the number of desecrated graves rises to the 300s, I'm getting progressively angrier.

The Death of Emmit Till - an early Bob Dylan song

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Grave Scandal of the Day

Yep - graves have been dug up at Burr Oak Cemetery in the suburb of Alsip and stashed in a pit. Usually when graves are dug up, it's a case of vandals (like, say, Bachelor's Grove, where cops caught kids digging up bodies for kicks at least a couple of times in the 1960s and 70s), but in this case, it's a matter of the cemetery employees digging up bodies so the plots could be re-sold. The cemetery in question is about 20 blocks due north of Bachelor's Grove.

Comments below the Trib story seem to be one person after another saying "what has the world come to? this is a new low!" or some variation on that, but there's nothing new about this at all - double-selling grave plots is one of the oldest tricks in the book. In fact, at City Cemetery (Lincoln Park since the late 1860s), families would often break ground on a plot and find someone already there - no one can say if this was a case of bad record-keeping or of unscrupulous double-selling by people who couldn't be bothered to move the original body, but it was probably a combination of both. One person suggested that this might lead to the mayor deciding to force cemeteries to sell graves for 75 years, instead of permanantly, so the city could resell them - nevermind that selling term graves was a pretty standard practice back in the day. Just about every girl ever suspected of being Resurrection Mary was buried in a term grave.

I'm especially reminded of a case in Georgia five or six years ago when it turned out that a crematory outfit had been saving on their gas bill by tossing bodies in the woods instead of actually cremating them. Around the time the story broke, I had to work an event at a school in that town - I was stationed in a classroom where the teacher had a little urn on her desk, a sign on which read "ashes of problem students." The urn was empty - I left a note reading "Boy, doesn't anyone in this town know the difference between 'cremate' and 'dump?'"

For the record, no - we will not be going to the cemetery on our tours. It's out in the burbs, far from the tour route, and getting a bus into a cemetery at night is shaky legal ground. The most any tour company could do is drive past it, and it getting there and back would take just about the entire tour.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Breaking Dead Body News

Troy just sent me a news bulletin about a bunch of bodies being dug up from a pit in an Alsip cemetery.

While running across dead bodies is hardly unusual in Cook Country, this seems somewhat different from the usual case - most of the time, the bodies found are bodies who weren't moved along with their gravestones when a cemetery (such as City Cemetery, alias Lincoln park, or the many between Lincoln Park and Chicago Avenue). This, however, appears to be a case of bodies being dumped by a crooked cemetery. More details when we have them!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Repost: The Legend of Dillinger's Ding-a-ling

Continuing our Dillinger series in honor of Johnny Depp coming to Chicago to start as Dillinger in "Public Enemies," here a bit on our very favorite piece of Dillinger lore.

In a 2008 post, I noted that to break out of prison with an obviously-fake gun, Dillinger must have had balls the size of church bells. Well, that's actually not far off from the legend. Rumors have gone around for years that Dillinger had a 23" member that is now on display at the Smithsonian. Here's the picture of his corpse that started the legend:



Rigor mortis had set in, causing his arm to be bent at the elbow, creating this tent-like protrusion above his crotch. See how the onlookers (except for that one woman) look awfully impressed? It does indeed LOOK like he's awfully happy to be on the slab.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Repost: The Public Enemies set in Chicago

Last night, we had something on the tour that sure doesn't happen every day: A Johnny Depp sighting.

One of the blocks down which we often travel (Lincoln Avenue, near Halsted) has been rebuilt to look about as it did in 1934 for the filming of Public Enemies, a movie about John Dillinger, who was shot and killed on the block in the alley near the Biograph Theatre. I wasn't on the tour last night, but apparently the bus went by and got a brief glimpse of filming in the infamous alley.

I've gotta say, the attention to detail on the set is FANTASTIC. They even went to the trouble of printing up old menus to put in the windows, and the barber shop has old detective story magazines sitting around! We rounded up a whole slew of set pictures this morning:



See our whole set of set pictures on flicker!

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