Thursday, March 31, 2011

Podcast: Grave Robbing in Lincoln Park

New Episode!
Grave Robbing
in Lincoln Park

Chicago Unbelievable

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The first week of april will be grave-robbing week here at Chicago Unbelievable - we'll be talking about a bunch of cases of grave robbing in Chicago. As a preview, Hector and I have journeyed out to the old City Cemetery to talk about grave robbing with Daniel Kraus, author of the new book, ROTTERS, which is all about father-and-son grave riggers. It's out on April 5th!

Grave robbing in 19th century Chicago was very common - even during periods when the bodies bound for the Potter's Field (where they buried the unclaimed bodies of the poor and friendless) were given to medical schools first, there was still plenty of money in digging up bodies to ship to the University of Michigan medical school (U of M seems to have had a real reputation as a good place to sell bodies; I have to wonder whether this what attracted H.H. Holmes to the school!)

Kraus's book may be a novel, but it'll tell you all you could ever need to know about robbing graves for fun and profit. How long should

In Chicago, even city sexton (cemetery manager) got in on the act of digging up bodies to sell, and people were always getting caught with wagons, barrels, and sacks full of corpses. This seems to have happened in most of the local cemeteries, but for this podcast, we'll be talking about the big City Cemetery that was the city's main burial ground from the 1840s until the late 1860s. All but a handful of grave markers were removed over a century ago when the space was converted to Lincoln Park - but it's well known that plenty of the bodies were never moved. You know that little parking lot near the south end of the park that you use during Green City Market (when it isn't full)? When they dug out for the lot in the 1990s, they found dozens of bodies.

Next week (starting April 4th) is Grave Robbing Week here at Chicago Unbelievable - we'll be telling tales of grave robbing from Chicago history all week long!  We advise you not to check the blog too close to meal time for
a while.

For more about City Cemetery, see Pamela Bannos' Hidden Truths Website.


    Above: the Couch tomb in Lincoln Park - the oldest surviving
   structure in the "fire zone." But who's inside?

Rotters by 
Daniel Kraus. 
grave robbing!

Adam and
Daniel are
a part of the
same violence

Above: illustration I made for the WEIRD CHICAGO book, back when I worked with them.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Bughouse Square on the UFO Crash at Roswell

In 1947, when the supposed UFO crash at Roswell was still an unfolding story, a couple of small town papers carried an article about the debate about the crash going on in "Bughouse Square," Chicago's "free speech park" in which soapbox orators and hecklers would gather every night when the whether was good.  The article is probably the closest thing I've seen to a transcript of debates between regulars such as One Armed Charlie and The Cosmic Kid.

"One Armed Chollie" Wendorf was known as "king of the soapboxers." He had the constitution memorized and could put down a heckler better than anyone - his catch phrase was "if brains were bug juice, you coudn't drown a gnat!"

He blamed the Roswell UFO sightings on mass hysteria, and said "the terrible thing is, the more water you throw on (mass hysteria), the more it burns." He stated that these "visions" of flying discs that people were having could be eliminated through healthy living. "And to be healthy," he said, "you got to eat living things. I eat fifty dandelion blooms a day when they're in season."

On the next soapbox over was Herbert "The Cosmic Kid" Shaw, whose style was to take listeners on "philosophic flights of fancy to empyrean realms of thought," and who would eventually be given a Druid funeral in the park. He took the UFO sightnings a bit more seriously, and believed they were evidence of life on other planets.

"Science," he said, "now has a wide open view of the possibility that life exists on some planets." He went on to say that the people of Mars "have an understanding of cosmic process in advance of ours and have a theory that the interpenetration of radition of energy into interstellar space holds the solar systems together...Martians now are making explorations to prove their cosmic theory, and this explains the flying saucers."

The reporter noted, with awe, that The Cosmic Kid got all of that out in one breath.

Next to the Kid was "Porkchops Charlie," a "knight of the open road and moutpiece for the Hoboes of America.  He claimed to have witnessed flying saucers many times while riding in boxcars, and said he believed they were moving shadows between the sun and earth that traveled so fast as to play tricks on the eye due to "electric vibration."  

The most bizarre explanation came from one Ted Moren, who said that "they were plates carrying t-bone steaks because they're so high." Or, failing that, he suggest "maybe it's those ENIACS - you know, those thinking machines invented at Harvard and Princeton that are doing some thinking and inventing on their own...if the machines can almost think it's reasonable to believe they could think of something like flying saucers that not even our scientists can match."

The next morning, newspapers would carry the official explanation: it was just a weather balloon.

I've collected a ton of material on the park, including some great interviews that I used in the now-defunct Weird Chicago podcast, including interviews about the park with aldermean Leon Dupres and 1960 Beatnik Party "anti-candidate" for Vice President Joffre Stuart. One of these days I'll re-edit into a Chicago Unbelievable podcast.

Coming Friday: a new podcast to kick off "Grave Robbing Week," which will be running all next week right here at Chicago Unbelievable!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

On Bodies in Barrels and Trunks: A Chicago Specialty

When researching forgotten Chicago crimes, there are a couple of themes that turn up a lot: one is the fact that one serial killer after another can be connected to candy stores. Another is that bodies tended to be stuffed in barrels and trunks a lot.

The first true crime book in Chicago history was the story of the Jumpertz Barrel Case. The story goes something like this: Henry Jumpertz, a European immigrant, was a barber in Chicago in the 1850s, with an office at Dearborn and Randolph. One day he came home to his apartment and found that his mistress had killed herself.

Despite the fact that she had left a suicide note, Jumpterz went into a panic, assuming that he was going to be accused of murdering her. So, to cover things up, he did what seemed sensible at the time: chop her body up into little pieces and seal it in a barrel.


He actually kept the body-stuffed barrel next to his bed for a couple of weeks, then mailed it to New York. There, the smell made workers open it up. The face of his mistress was still identifiable, and the body was quickly sent back to Chicago, where Jumpertz was quickly caught and sentenced to hang. By all accounts, he was a model prisoner, even helping to design the gallows they would use to hang him.

Then, a curious thing happened: a handwriting expert proved that the suicide note was really written by Sophia, not by Henry Jumpertz. This is thought to be the first time in history handwriting analysis saved anyone from the gallows.

More than two decades later, after Chicago had come into its own as a city and public hangings had been outlawed. In 1885, three Italian men - Ignacio Sylvestri, Agnostino Gilardo, and Giovanna Azzaro - stranged a twenty-year-old lemon peddlar to death on the west side after hearing that he carried all of his money with him at all times rather than putting in a bank. Having killed and robbed him, they stuffed his body in a trunk and mailed it to Pittsburgh.

It didn't work for them, either.

Though public hangings were outlawed, something like 1500 people managed to worm their way into the jail to watch the execution.

With the trunk guys, I can sort of see how they thought they MIGHT get away with that by sending it across state lines - they probably just didn't know any better. Jumpertz should have, though - he was medically trained (well enough to have removed most of the vital organs, which he discarded in the Chicago snow). He should have known enough about decay and the accompanying smell to know the barrell wouldn't keep things odorless forever.

Far more details about both crimes are in FATAL DROP: TRUE TALES OF THE CHICAGO GALLOWS. Now on kindle!

And a whole lot more barrel-stuffing will be seen during Grave Robbing Week next week at Chicago Unbelievable. After that, I promise to cut back on the blood and guts for a while! We'll be visiting the remains of another Chicago silent film studio, talking about Chicago's historical bohemian sections, and all kinds of fun stuff that doesn't involve decay and dismemberment.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Chicken Man Strikes Again

To my knowledge, no other writer has better described Chicago than Daniel Pinkwater, who wrote about a thinly-disguised version of Chicago in The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death, The Education of Robert Nifkin, and Lizard Music, which is now available ina gorgeous new hardcover. In honor of that long-overdue reissue, here's a shot by Jack davis of The Chicken Man doing his thing on Maxwell Street. The Chicken Man appears as a character in several of Pinkwater's books.

We've previous featured a video of the chicken man and a great shot of him on the bus . This guy may not have come to Chicago until he was about 40, but he was truly a Chicago original. He was still performing around town on his 100th birthday.

Some Chicago sites of interest for Pinkwater fans:

-Bughouse Square (alias Washingston Square Park) - Just above Clark and Chicago, this park in which people make speeches appeared under its own name in NIFKIN and as "BLueberry Park" in The Snarkout Boys

- The McCormick Mansion in Old Town. This was The Bateman School from the 1950s-70s, and was said by Daniel to be the place to find the worst kids in the city. It appeared as the Wheaton School in NIfkin

- The Clark Theatre. Hark, Hark, the Clark! Originally standing where the alley is now on the west side of Clark, just below Washington, The Clark, which was open 23 hours per day and showed a different double-feature nightly, served as The Snark Theatre in The Snarkout Boys series.

We should really have entries about all of these things amidst the blood, guts, and gore around here soon!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Temporary Morgues

Gosh, it's cheerful around here lately, isn't it? Let's talk about temporary morgues!

Temporary morgues are set up when disaster strikes, leaving too many dead bodies to fit in a regular morgue. You never can tell when a place you're walking around might have been a morgue once.

A few from Chicago history:

870 N. Milwaukee Ave (formerly 64 Milwaukee) - near Milwaukee and Racine. This was the site of a stable used as a temporary morgue following the great Chicago Fire.

C.H. Jordans Saloon and Annex, State and Madison - Numerous soucres list the seventh or eighth floor (depending on which source you read) of Marshall Field's as a temporary morgue after the Iroquois Theatre fire. It was really more of a hospital (though many people surely died there). The main temporary morgue was nearby at Jordan's saloon and annex, 14-16 E. Madison (old numbering). Incidentally, the story of the guy yanking gold fillings from teeth seems to be apocryphal, but the NYT reported that there was a lot of that kind of thing going on.

Harpo Studios, The Reid Murdoch building, and Under the Wells Street Bridge - though most of the bodies following the Eastland disaster were brought to the Second Regiment Armory (now Harpo Studios),  some were brought to the Reid Murdoch (right next to the site of the tragedy) and to a floating morgue under the bridge (the LaSalle Street bridge didn't exist yet). Contrary to legend, none were brought to the building where the Excalibur Club is now.

The Brueschater Buildling - 21st and Leavitt. In 1889 this saloon (then still operated by William Brueschater, whose name is still clearly visible on the turret)  was used as a morgue when a building across the street collapsed in a storm, killing at least 8 people.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Chicago, The Eastland, and the Last Shot of World War 1

In June of 1921, The Tribune announced that the last official shot of the World War had been fired - in Chicago (or in Lake Michigan, at least). A German U-Boat, U.C. 97, had been sunk in Lake Michigan, torpedoed by a US gunboat.

This wasn't exactly a battle - the U.C. 97 had been surrendered to the United States a few years before, shortly after the Armistice. But under the Treaty of Versaille, all trophy ships had to be sunk by July 1st, so the USS Wilmette carried out the duty about 20 miles off of Highland Park. It was said to be the first time a naval gun had fired an explosive shell on the Great Lakes "since Perry whipped the British on Lake Erie in 1813."

The USS Wilmette was the name the Navy had given to the Eastland, which, six years before, had tipped over and killed more than 800 people.

One sailor, Ernie Pyle, later wrote that the ship was "still in sinking constantly shied to the right and once in a while felt as if it wanted to lie down."

The U.C. 97 is still out there in the water. The wreck was discovered in 1992, but the exact location has never been made public.

More info and pictures from the Eastland Historical Society

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The first Eastland ghost sightings?

In the summer of 1915, the Eastland capsized in the Chicago river, resulting in the tragic deaths of some 844 people. Reports that the place where it capsized was haunted have circulated ever since, along with rumors that ghosts from the disaster are haunting the Second Regimental Armory (now Harpo studios), where most of the bodies were taken. Other bodies were taken to a temporary morgue set up beneath the Wells Street bridge. Incidentally, none were taken to Chicago Historical Society building, which is now the Excalibur Club (one theory states that this story went around because of pictures of the bodies labeled "Chicago Historical Society" - referring to the institute that provided the photo, not the place where it was taken).

But the ship began to be rumored to be haunted almost immediately.

Some months after the tragedy, the ship was sold to the U.S. Navy, who used it as a training vessel on the lake for years. Crowds line the river to boo it as it was brought out to the lake to be stripped of its old name and repurposed. But between being righted and being sold, it was docked at the Halsted Street bridge. It was there that the "haunted ship" rumors began.
The ship was in bad shape. The railings were twisted, the upper deck a wreck. By night, passers-by would hear groans and creaks coming from the ship and would run like hell to get away from it.

Meanwhile, on board lived Captain Edwards, who was given the lonely job of living aboard the ship. Edwards told the Chicago Daily News that he didn't believe the ship was haunted, but admitted to getting spooked. "It's all right in the day. Just a matter of killing time," he said. "At night it's a bit different...when the noises on the bridge die down and the river begins to talk, sort of lapping against the dock and against the boat like it was full of secrets. That's all imagination, and I wouldn't mention it except I've been listening to it for ninety-seven nights.....sometimes there's a bang towards the stern and a queer creaking...somethings something begins straining and ends by giving out a screech. I'm not saying I'm afraid....When there's an extra loud bang I get out of bed and take a lantern and go see....every night nearly, someetimes two or three times."

The captain noted, though, that he was more afraid of living people than dead ones. Some people were very angry about what happened on the ship and wanted to blow it up.

He laughed when asked about ghosts. "I've never seen any," he said. "If there's a place where ghosts are likely to haunt this is the one. But the creaking and the screeching are only pieces of timber falling. I tell you what, though. You should come past here at 10 o'clock at night and watch the people cross the bridge. They don't stop to look long. They sort of scoot over and sometimes I hear one cry out 'Look, there's a light!' and start to run. The light's me, of course, sitting in the pilot house."

Note: this is not the same guy who was the captain of the Eastland - that was Harry Pederson, who, though eventually absolved of any blame for the disaster, was probably busy hiding from angry mobs at this time.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

PODCAST: Inside Charlie Chaplin's Vault

It's one of Chicago's best-kept secrets: we invented Hollywood. Full length movies, color movies, mockumentaries, the ratings systems, the first paid movie theatre, and a whole lot more all came out of Chicago between 1893 and the the 1910s. Heck, the first studio in Hollywood was even started by Chicago outfit. For a brief period around the 1910s, Chicago was the film capitol of the world. The north side around Essanay Studios became a sort of prototype for Beverly Hills. Francis X. Bushman, an early matinee idol, would cruise around in a purple limo with a spotlight on the dash so people could see his famous face. Even Chaplin made a movie here.

We knew that Essanay was still standing (though out of business for nearly a century) and Hector and I thought we'd go stand outside it to tell stories about those days for a podcast with our friend Michael Glover Smith of White City Cinema. We found more than we ever DREAMED in the space. Chaplin was only here in a few weeks (they moved him from California to Chicago in the dead of winter, and, can predict the outcome!), but he sure made his mark. Having previously just used stuff from around the Keystone lot, he purchased the first Tramp costume he ever owned right on State Street.

At the time, Uptown was full of great spaces - the Green Mill (in its pre-gangland days), the Aragon Ballroom, the Uptown Theatre (which we mistakenly call The Century in the podcast). People in the neighborhood got used to seeing movie stars around the area and hanging out at Al Sternberg's for lunch.
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The studio space he and the other Essanay stars (including Broncho Billy, Francis X. Bushman, and Ben Turpin) used is still basically intact (see pictures below) - currently being used by the culinary arts department of St. Augustine College. Meanwhile, down in the basements, the film vaults are still intact, and still recognizably vaults. The films are long gone, but the sign saying "Safety: Film Only" remains on the heavy metal door. We couldn't believe our luck in getting to see this stuff!

(Update: we now think that Al Sternberg's, the diner where the casts and crew would hang out for lunch, was at 5000 N Broadway, where the New Saigon restaurant is today. We have this as an address for Albert Sternberg as of 1928. But this isn't necessarily correct - it was over a decade later and there's no indication that it was a diner or tavern in the directory. However, having Al Sternberg in a building at exactly the right intersection is a pretty solid clue).

St. Augustine College is looking to secure funding to convert the old studio space into a multimedia cultural center where films and plays can be produced - it's still a great space for filming! For information, contact Alfredo Calixto, the Vice President for Institutional Advancement. Call 770-eight -seven-eight - 3569, or email . See for more info.


Hector in the studio space

The hallway leading to the auditorium/studio.
You can see by the cut-off arch that the ceiling was
much higher then.

The rising double doors that were used to get scenery and large 
equipment into the studio in Chaplin's day.

The basement. The furnace-looking equipment
is said to be old film-processing stuff, but exactly
what's what is a mystery we're still solving!

The old film vault. Is this cool or what?

Because we knew you'd ask: The inside of the vault! The shelving
is thought to be original.

An upstairs vault with a heavy combination. I noticed
an "escape device" on the inside, so you can't
be locked in, like this guy I just saw on Columbo.

Here's Chaplin's one film made here at Essanay in Chicago, HIS NEW JOB. Click the embedded link below for commentary from Mike!

Mike's commentary:
Michael Glover Smith on "His New Job" by adamselzer

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Beacon of Progess: A Skyscraper that never was

When preparations were underway for the World's Fair in 1893, everyone wanted something that would top the Eiffel Tower in Paris. They eventually went with the giant Ferris Wheel (three times the size of the one now at Navy Pier in diameter), but the obvious choice before they landed on that was to simply make a building taller than the Eiffel. Indeed, Eiffel offered to build another tower that was pretty much the same as the one he'd done in Paris, only taller. They turned him down - but the fair as it stood inspired a building concept that could have put Eiffel to shame.

At the right stands The Beacon of Progress, a design created by Constant-Desire Despradelle. It would have had 13 obelisks (representing the original colonies) merging into a single spire 1500 feet tall - a little taller than the Sears Tower / Willis Tower / Big Black Willie. The top - above what you see in the picture - would have looked about like the Washington Monument. The French approved the design and actually made plans to build it in Jackson Park to commemorate the fair seven years after it ended.

Contrary to common misconception, it wasn't designed FOR the fair - Despradelle simply visited the fair and was so awed by its splendor that he started to work on a design for a giant spire to commemorate it. Most of the drawings weren't made until a few years later. They're really works of art in themselves.

In 1900, the Tribune announced that the monument would be built using funds from private subscriptions. However, obviously, nothing came of it - Despradelle's name doesn't come up in the Trib again until his death in 1912. In any case, by 1900, traffic at the fairgrounds was basically dead. Enough work went into figuring out what the cost would be etc, was done to show that this was certainly something intended to be built, not just an academic exercise in designing a cool building, but it's hard to fathom what in the world we'd have done with such a tower in that location is hard to fathom - but the base was to house a massive ampitheatre where, Despradelle suggested, "orators and savants" could inspire crowds. Can you imagine how awesome that would have been as a venue for rock music?

More info from MIT:

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Hull House Ghost Pictures

To celebrate the new Ghosts of Hull House ebook that will be released tomorrow, if all goes well, let's take a look at a few of the more notable Hull House shots I had on my tours over the years. I've tried to get in touch with the photographers - if one of these is yours and you want it down, please let me know. I've come up with explanations for most of them by now, but I let myself keep wondering about a few. The house HAS been rumored to be haunted for over a century, even if most of the myths are just that.

Watch this space tomorrow for a new podcast on the mythology of Hull House and a link to buy the new Hull House book! It won't hit itunes until the book is out, but you can preview the podcast right here!

A "Little Girl with a doll" on the stair shot - one of few "stairs" pictures that aren't reflections of ears. It could still be smears, though.

A particularly interesting shot that looks vaguely like a girl in a hoop skirt, photographed from behind. A couple of squiggly lines probably give this away as a weird camera malfunction - but one so weird that it counts as a weird photo all on its own!

Maybe the coolest reflection shot ever. I'll go ahead and play devil's advocate by pointing out that while this is fairly obviously a reflection, it doesn't seem to resemble anyone present when the photo was taken.

Taken, if I remember correctly, by the same woman who took the "hoop skirt" photo, this is probably another example of the "monk ghosts that are really people's ears" phenomenon.

A shot from the garden. Don't ask me what this is!

This is the window in which kids often told me that they saw a a woman in a white bonnet. Some claim to see a weird humanesque form behind the curtains (which were moving strangely the night this was taken. They usually just rustle a bit from the vents). I don't assume that this is really a ghost or anything, but I'm not sure what it is.

As with all "ghost pictures" I put here, I make no claim that any are actually supernatural, even when I can't explain them myself. There is no such thing as GOOD ghost evidence, only COOL ghost evidence.

The most info ever published on the ghosts and legends of Hull House:

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Death Penalty Banned in Illinois

Untold stories of hangings in Chicago from 1840 - 1927
$2.99 on kindle

Don't have a kindle? Use the FREE Kindle app for PC, mac, iphone, ipad, android, blackberry, etc!

Gov. Quinn is expected to sign a bill that will abolish the death penalty in Illinois last week. Let's take a brief look at the history of executions in Chicago, some (indeed, many) of which were fairly disastrous.

Chicago's first execution was a public one, held on a portion of the south side that was nothing but dunes at the time. The hangman was "Black George" (who the town crier and the winning bidder at the city's first slave auction) and the condemned was on John Stone. He insisted that he was innocent, but admitted that he'd killed a few other people. Such was the world in the 1840s.

A few more public executions were held on what is now Ashland Street between Polk and Taylor (driving over a pothole on that spot is an odd experience). Public executions were banned in Illinois in 1859, though on some occasions an awful lot of people - as many as 1500 for the "trunk murderers in the 1880s - were crowded into the jail to see the spectacle.

Over the years before the state switched the chair in 1927, roughly 100 men were hanged in Chicago alone. Five were hanged in one day in 1912.

There were a number of disasters. On two occasions that I know of, the rope broke. The first time, the man fell several feet to the floor and landed on his head. When asked if he could stand, he was in a bit of a daze and didn't exactly understand the question. "I can stand twice that," he said. He was brought up to be hanged again. The next time, the man cracked his head open and bled so badly that they were pretty sure the man was dead, but the sentence called for him to be hanged by his neck until dead, so they had to re-attach a noose and slide the limp body down the trap door.

There were other times when things got ugly. A couple of men had to be hanged while tied to chairs (though one supposedly arranged to be hang that way to lower the chances of his neck breaking so that he could be brought back to life). He wasn't the first to undergo an attempted revival - the body of James Tracy was cut down and pumped with electricity right away to see if he could be revived (in order to prove that hangings weren't effectively killing people).

Some men, it could be argued, wouldn't have been hanged if they'd had better lawyers. Patrick Pendergast, the man who assassinated Mayor Harrison, was clearly insane - the jail physician felt that he was schizophrenic, and it's fairly obvious in interviews. Had he killed anyone other than the mayor, he would probably have been committed, not executed. Through the annals of Chicago crime, one finds that some men were executed for committing a crime, and others were merely given jail sentences for the same crime. The Haymarket anarchists were executed mainly for being anarchists - certainly all four of them (five, counting Louis Lling, who killed himself before they could hang him) couldn't have thrown the bomb. Most men who had killed more than once were hanged, but not all. And no female murderer was ever hanged in Chicago (though we sure had a few of those).

And the system never has really improved. The death penalty is being outlawed tomorrow not for moral reasons against capital punishment, but for the fact that the studies showed the system to be subject to a great deal of error, bias, and incompetence. That situation will probably never improve. Writing FATAL DROP was a harrowing experience, and, though I was never crazy about it to begin with, I found it impossible to support the death penalty after writing it.

If you want to go to an appropriate location tomorrow to mark the occasion, the gallows were generally set up where the garages of the fire station at Illinois and Dearborn is now. There was a jail there at the time. And if you're going to protest, it won't be the first time such things have happened there. Before the jail was built, it was a market square. Senator Douglas made a speech there promoting the Kansas Nebraska act (which would have allowed slavery to spread) and got pelted with vegetables.

The "Resurrection Mary" Gates

They're gone now, but for about thirty years an important part of Chicago ghostlore was the bent gates at Resurrection Cemetery. Two of the gates were bent, as though someone had tried to pry them apart, with scorch marks where the hands would have been. The story went that a man had been driving past and saw a woman holding the gates and screaming. He reported to the police that someone was locked in the cemetery, and they arrived to find no one there...only bent up bars.

The cemetery's explanation was always that a work truck had backed into the gates, and the scorch marks came from blow-torching them in attempt to bend them back into shape. Resurrection Mary fans scoffed.

A year or so ago, I was signing books at a large annual conference of writers, librarians, and teachers. A woman came up to me and introduced herself as the daughter of the guy who backed into the bars - she even said she'd seen the accident report. While it's always been said that the cemetery was terribly embarrassed by the bars, and outraged that people would blame a ghost, according to her it was always sort of a running joke to the cemetery maintenance staff. The "ghost bars" were considered particularly hilarious.

Now, this is the part where I must hang my historian head in shame. I didn't get NEARLY enough information from the woman. I was working at the time, and and in the process of divorcing myself from my old company and unsure whether I'd ever work in the ghost business again. All that can come of this is that I can say that I've heard from presumably trustworthy sources that the cemetery never took the "ghost bars" seriously, and were quite secure in their belief that it was all the result of a construction accident.

For a whole lot more information, check out our Resurrection Mary Roundtable podcast episode! We discuss the bars at length.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Chiditarod!

When you're walking down to the UPS store and see a bunch of guys in chicken suits crossing the road, you should pretty generally go see what's going on. I crossed the road myself and saw a bunch of costumed guys and decorated shopping carts.

I had stumbled onto The Chiditarod, which was described to me as part costume contest, part talent show, part food drive, part pub crawl, and all awesome. My distaste for running pub crawls in my Weird Chicago days was legendary, but this is one I can get behind! Scattered between 11 bars in the city, 165 teams are competing this year. They've raised something like ten TONS of canned food. How wonderful is that?

The creativity I saw from some crews was astounding - it was like Odyssey of the Mind for adults!

This is Roger McCubbins and Kip Burgess, who came in full Doctor Who regalia with their Tardis-themed shopping cart. Check out Roger's Tumblr!

And here's some video footage of the line:

Let's start things off with a podcast!

What better way to celebrate a re-branded site than with a podcast?  When Hector and I went to Bachelor's Grove last fall, I thought we were recording the LAST Weird Chicago podcast (I hadn't worked for/with that company in nearly a year at that point).  I now realize that it was really the FIRST Chicago Unbelievable podcast!  To start things off, I've remastered and remixed that episode in MUCH higher quality and broken it into a couple of episodes, including much more of the trip than you ever got to hear before. You can download it from or wait a little bit until it hits iTunes.

There'll be a couple more "remixed and repurposed" episodes, but I promise you that we'll be bringing you BRAND NEW EPISODES very soon!  I'll add a "subscribe" button for iTunes here as soon as one is available.


Friday, March 4, 2011

A new look, a new name. CHICAGO UNBELIEVABLE!

It's probably been long overdue that I disassociate this site from Weird Chicago, since I haven't actually worked with them in a long time now. So I'm pleased to announce the launch of CHICAGO UNBELIEVABLE!  Watch for a rebirth of this blog in coming weeks, with more podcasts, more ebooks, and other cool stuff!

As an update from me, I'm under contract for a number of cool Chicago history books, including Speaking Ill of the Dead: Jerks From Chicago History, due next year from Globe Press. I'm very excited about a book about how Chicago created the film industry that I'm writing with Michael Glover Smith, and both Troy Taylor and I will have several articles in an upcoming book about American ghost stories and hauntings.

Chicago is an unbelievable city, full of unbelievable stories. And we'll be digging them up and showing them to you here at CHICAGO UNBELIEVABLE!

Regarding "The F--- Saw" Demonstration at Northwestern

Regarding Ken Melvoin-Berg's demonstration of a power tool/sex toy at Northwest University that's gotten enough media attention to draw people here...I was not involved.

I don't work with Ken anymore. I can't comment on things he does and I don't vouch for the accuracy of anything he says on tours. I'm just a smart-ass historian who writes smart-ass books (and according to S.J. Adams, I'm the kingpin of the "YA Mafia"). I don't run tours for Weird Chicago Tours anymore and have no hand in their operations, not do I get any money from them.  I may be changing the name of this blog altogether soon.

That's all. Thank you!

Update: as you can see, the name was changed the day after this post went up. The Weird Chicago podcast has been removed from iTunes. Chicago Unbelievable is up an running in its place!

No, I will not come demonstrate a fucksaw at your frat house or bachelorette party.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


The description won't change for a bit, but the kindle version of FATAL DROP now includes an active table of contents and illustations.

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 - (March 2011: the kindle edition now features illustrations and an active table of contents!)

All for just 2.99! Don't have a kindle? FREE Kindle app for PC, mac, iphone, ipad, android, blackberry, etc!


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