Sunday, October 31, 2010

Finding the Fool Killer Submarine - New Info!

An article detailing the finding of The Foolkiller Submarine, the mysterious sub found in the Chicago River in 1915, has been dug up in the archives of the Chicago Examiner. Offhand, I think this is the first mention of it I've seen in a Chicago paper outside of the Trib.

The article states that Deneau was in the river near the Wells Street bridge when he found the zeppelin-shaped craft, half-buried in the river, by stubbing his toe on it. He determined that it was a submarine, and that it had a non-working engine. Upon surfacing, Deneau seemed decidedly amused.

"Why didn't somebody tell me I was working in a war zone?" he joked. "A man ought to get extra pay when he has to run the risk of submarines every time he dives, oughtn't he? It's dangerous. And are there any mines in the river?"

As to an explanation for the origin, we have what may be the best clue yet as to what the thing was, if it wasn't a vessel built by either Lodner Phillips or Peter Nissen: "I have heard," said E.S. Monville, the federal inspector of rivers and harbors, "that a submarine made by a naval architect was sunk in the river about fifteen years ago."

THe Examiner also contacted a man from the Department of Justice who said he was confident that the submarine had NOT sunk the Eastland.

One must remember that at this time, World War 1 was just getting under way, the deadly new submarine boats were in the news regularly. This DOES sort of fly in the face of the notion that Deneau had faked the entire thing, as Gaper's Block put forth a while ago. There's still nothing concrete saying how long the thing had been down there or who built it, but I don't think Deneau built it himself.

The Examiner also described finding the bones in more detail - they were mixed in with the mud and muck that had filled the craft, and were found while it was being cleaned out. The Examiner made no guess as to the identity of the man, but suggested that the dog may have been a collie. By this time, they were stating that it had been built around 20 years before.

Another Examiner find adds another new tidbit: in addition to touring with Parker's Greatest Shows and its famous engagement on south State street, the submarine was also, at least briefly, on display at the Riverview amusement park! The date here was June, which is a month AFTER it was on display in Iowa. Apparently, it ended up BACK in Chicago after a short run with Parker's Greatest Shows - so we now have a new "last known location" on it!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A True Tale of Hull House (for once)?

UPDATE: the biographical sketch I read was wrong - Charles Hull didn't have a daughter named Louise at all. From his autobiography, it's clear that he actually had a son named Louis. So the "little girl" ghost remains a mystery.

Original entry:

Snot-nosed skeptic that I am, today I went on a search to see if it's true that Charles Hull's wife died in her bedroom at Hull House. I fully expected to find out that she actually died in Baltimore or something. Of all the haunted places in Chicago, nowhere - not even Bachelor's Grove - has inspired as many made-up stories as Hull House.

However, while I haven't found a smoking gun, what I've found not only backs up the story, but may actually provide a clue to ANOTHER ghost story.

An old biographical record of Hull from the University of Chicago states that he moved out of the Halsted Street homestead "after the death of his wife and children, it had ceased to be a home." His wife, Melicent A.C. Hull (nee Loomis) died around the age of 40 in 1860 - just a few years after the house was built. I've yet to determine how she died, exactly, but it wasn't in any sensational enough way to make headlines. Dying in bed seems to be the most probably scenario.

Two of Hull's three children also died young - one, Charles M. Hull, died during a cholera epidemic in 1866. He had graduated from the University of Chicago a short while before, so whether or not he would have been at his dad's house is sort of an open question.

However, as I've mentioned on the blog, and in my books, in 2006 there was a veritable outbreak of sightings of the ghost of a little girl at Hull House - a handful of the pictures and sightings STILL haven't been fully explained to my satisfaction (and I'm pretty easy to satisfy with this stuff). However, no story was forthcoming on who it might be the ghost OF, exactly.

Until now.

Louis Kossouth Hull, Charles and Mellicent's youngest daughter, was born in 1852. She died in childhood - I'm not certain WHEN, but she doesn't appear alongside the other family members in the 1860 census report. I can't be certain that she lived even until 1856 yet, but the language in the biographical sketch seems to suggest as much (she would have spent the first year or two of her life in Cambridge, while her father was at Harvard, and come to Chicago at the age of two or three - the house was built when she was four).

So, there we have it - I set out to debunk a story and end up backing up a couple. I still have no smoking gun showing that either Mrs. Hull or poor Louis actually died inside of the house, but signs point to yes.

Of course, whether this means that they're really haunting the place is a whole other question :)

Some of our other Hull House posts:
The Reading of Charles Hull's Will: Lost Scene From Clue?

Hull House False Positives

The Devil Baby: Myths, More Myths, and a bit or Reality

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fatal Drop: True Tales of the Chicago Gallows ebook

Full length book only $2.99 on

Don't have a kindle or nook? Read it on a free kindle app or nook app for your pc, mac, iPad or smartphone!


Grisly true-crime tales of scandalous murders - and gruesome hangings - from Chicago history, featuring several unbelievable stories that have never been reprinted in any book. Before. Almost 100 men were hanged in Chicago before hangings were outlawed in 1927, and you won't believe their stories. Bizarre "resurrection" experiments, terrible tales of hangings gone wrong, crafty serial killers, the first man convicted based on's all here, with the most detailed descriptions possible of the convicts last meals, last words, and final moments. Newly revised and expanded, including:

- Chicago's first "hanging bee" on the south side dunes.

- Two gruesome occasions when the rope broke.

- Two known cases of doctors trying to bring the corpse of the condemned back to life (once legally, once not).

- The trial and execution of the murderous Johann Hoch, one of Chicago's deadliest (and best-loved) serial killers - and a possible apprentice of the notorious HH Holmes.

- The Assassination of Mayor Carter Harrison - and the trial and last minutes of his killer.

- A detailed account of the hanging of the Haymarket anarchists, who went to their doom shouting slogans and singing songs.

- The last days of well known criminals such as Carl Wanderer

- The strange saga of the city gallows, which were kept in the prison for decades in case Terrible Tommy O'Connor, who escaped before he could be executed, was ever caught.

- An appendix listing known last meals of several condemned men.

This full-length ebook contains illustrations and an active table of contents.

Monday, October 18, 2010

First film footage of Chicago - 1896

Remember that Simpsons episode where Homer refers to a gay pride parade as "that mustache parade?" Well, back in 1896, Chicago had a police parade that featured more mustaches-per-row than any other parade!

Filmed by the Lumiere brothers (who invented a projector that many American inventors copied), Policemen's Parade is thought to be the first movie ever filmed in Chicago. I haven't been able to get many details about it - was it filmed at the Chicago Day parade in October, 1896? A few references I found to people filming in Chicago seem to indicate that it must have been earlier in the year than that (if it is, in fact, the first film footage of the city, which is certainly open to debate).

And where in the city is this? My fist thought was that they were marching past the Coliseum on Wabash, but I don't think that's quite right. Based on the pictures I've dug up, the closest match to the building in the background is Bridewell Prison, which was at 26th and California (where the court building is now), but I haven't found a real smoking gun that would establish it. Anyone recognize this?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Peter Nissen: Chicago Hero on Film

We've covered Peter Nissen, the Chicago Daredevil before. This is the guy who twice shot the Niagara Falls rapids in ships of his own devising, and then perished while trying to cross Lake Michigan in a giant canvas balloon called (a tad clairevoyantly) The Fool Killer III.

Here we have a film of his second attempt to shoot the rapids aboard the Fool Killer II, which was said to be the smallest steam ship ever. Even knowing how it ends, it's a pretty suspenseful minute or two of footage! It makes you wonder how in the HELL he survived in the Fool Killer 1, which was open, so he could wave at people. He had only thought to add shoulder straps at the last minute!

This was filmed by the Edison company. It's now in the library of congress. This ship is not to be confused with The Fool Killer Submarine, one of our other favorite topics, which was probably so-named due to an erroneous claim that it was one of Nissen's ships (though making a home-made submarine sure does SOUND like the sort of thing he'd do). Looking at this ship, it sort of makes you wonder if Deneau, the guy who found the sub, actually thought it was this thing at first....

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Genuine Souvenirs of the Great Fire

While digging up that stuff about residence requirements yesterday, we did come upon something interesting:

In the immediate aftermath of the great fire, everyone wanted a souvenir. And, since people whose houses had burned down needed SOME way to make a buck, a whole cottage industry of fire relics sprung up.

The big prize was the bell at the old courthouse (the courthouse and jail were was badly damaged in the fire, but still in good enough shape that they were able to keep using them for a while, until the new one was built - they even had a couple of hangings there after the fire). However, the bell was freaking huge - no one could carry it away, or even break off a decent sliver of it.

The bell was initially put on display in as a relic in the courthouse, but a fellow named Thomas Bryan bought it up. He couldn't do much with it himself, so he sold it to an enterprising firm of jewelers who planned to melt it down and make miniature charms in the shape of the bell, which would be sold by jewelers along with letters of authenticity. They set up an office to sell them on Wabash.

We haven't finished checking to see if they ever got around to this. Anyone have one of the bells?

TRIVIA: the tail of the cow that was rumored to have started to fire was served up for oxtail soup at a restaraunt shortly after the fire. See our story!


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