Friday, May 20, 2011

The Hauntings of Harpo Studios

I wonder if Rosie O'Donnell knows that her new studio has a long-standing reputation for being haunted? Employees aren't supposed to talk about it, but I've heard from several of them. There's said to be a bathroom (normally kept locked) where people here someone crying, a mean guy upstairs, and, perhaps most famously, a woman in a long gray outfit, which I like to call The Phantom of the Oprah (thanks, folks, I'm here all week).

The building now known as Harpo Studios has a long and storied history. In the 19th and early 20th century, the building was home to the 2nd Regiment Armory. It was here that the police armed themselves to charge on the Haymarket rally a few blocks away in the 1880s (the fact that Oprah was so close to Haymarket Square has always amused me to no end).

But the ghostly reputation comes mainly from those sad says in July, 1915, after the Eastland capsized in the river, leading to the deaths of something like 844 people.

The common myth around the city is that the bodies were taken to the Chicago Historical Society (now The Excalibur club), but this is a misconception. Photos of the bodies were often labeled "Chicago Historical Society," but that was the organization that provided the photo, not the location where it was taken. The bodies were taken a few places, such as the Reid Murdoch building on the river and a "floating morgue" underneath the Wells Street bridge. But the majority of them were taken to teh Second Regiment Armory.

Over the years, I've heard MANY stories about Oprah's own reaction to the ghost stories - some say that she knows and loves the ghosts, others say that she won't go into the building alone, especially after dark. I have no idea which of these, if either, is true. When i first got started in the business I thought the ghost stories were just silliness and an attempt to write Harpo Studios into ghost tours, but I've spoken to several people who worked in (or near) the building who have all kinds of stories about strange sounds. I've never met a witness to the "gray lady," but I've spoken to several people who've heard the sounds of screams, cries, and, more often, of children running around laughing.  I hope the latter is the real one.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I'll try to dig up some more stories about the history of the building. And wish good luck to Rosie, who won my heart by refusing to live in the Trump building.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Chicago Unbelievable Ebooks Now on Nook

Chicago Unbelievable Presents:
Eyewitness Accounts, Diagrams and Pictures
What was the "Murder Castle" really like? Accounts of eyewitnesses and neighbors collected from the 1890s through its destruction in the 1930s, with photos - many reprinted here for the first time. Our first mini ebook is now just 2.99, with an active table of contents.

True Tales of the Chicago Gallows
(the book so gruesome I wouldn't
even put my name on it)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mummies on Erie Street?

Our story last month about the possibility that Hooters - and some house nearby - are/were haunted by ghostly grave-robbers, is far from complete. While the Hooters IS said to be haunted, and the Tribune DID once tell of an old house on Erie being haunted by ghostly grave robbers, the story of grave robbers operating in that vicinity in 1884 doesn't necessarily solve the puzzle. There are still missing pieces here and there - most notably, we still can't be sure that's the block of Erie the Tribune was talking about. I'd go ahead and guess that it was, and there's certainly no better explanation going around.  But, in the process of looking, I DID find one other possible lead about a surgeon who lived on Erie (where the garage next to The Kerryman is now).

This doctor, Carl H. Von Klein, was a surgeon with a special expertise in the history of medicine - he wrote articles on the history of the office of the coroner and was especially interested in ancient Egyptian medicine, which, he believed, was an era in which surgeons knew secrets that had since been lost to history. With an idea of uncovering those secrets, he learned the ancient Egyptian language. He was the first to produce an English translation of the "Ebers Papyrus," a papyrus sheet about medicine that had been discovered between the legs of a mummy in 1872, and which was then said to be the oldest medical text in the world.

The paper, it turned out, described several diseases known to modern medicine, along with their treatments. In addition, many prescriptions were found in the papers for hair dyes, cosmetics, and toiletries. It didn't show a complete understanding of the body, though - it seemed to imply that most bodily fluids were pumped primarily through the heart (including those that really go through the kidneys). Still, it showed that ancient Egyptian surgeons were pretty well organized.

I don't wish to go around accusing Dr. Klein of anything, but when reading about mummification and ancient coronary practices, did he decide "man, I've got to try this!" and arrange for the services of some "resurrection men" to bring him some subjects on which to experiment?

Well, probably not. But, still, it goes to show that there's hardly a block of Chicago about which we can't find a gruesome story. The 1875 grave robbing story about Erie west of Wells is probably the closest we'll get to the 1950s Tribune story about the house on Erie haunted by grave robbers, but that house still really could have been anywhere on Erie.

Von Klein certainly knew a lot about ancient pathology - he even published books on the figures of human bones. He seems to have been a very interesting guy - an expert in a wide range of fields, publishing papers on not just ancient medical history, but a huge variety of modern (for the turn of the 20th century) medical topics. His son caused some scandal when he was accused of marrying multiple women and stealing their jewelry.


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