Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Is this the Vanishing House of Bachelor's Grove?

It's one of my favorite local ghost stories. The usual version goes like this:

Many people walking through the woods to Bachelor's Grove Cemetery have reported seeing a house out in the woods. They never agree on where the house IS in relation to the cemetery, exactly, but they all describe it the same way: a white, two story Victorian farmhouse, with a soft light glowing from the inside. Some say it gets smaller, or further away, as you walk closer to it. Some others say that if you go inside, you never come back out. When you come back out from the cemetery, the house will have disappeared. And there is no record of any house ever having been nearby.

There are a few things wrong with this - one is that there are certainly records of there having been houses around there, and a couple of foundations of them are still out in the woods. However, the foundations don't seem big enough to be the house that people are describing.

And there was a house there within living memory - the Schmidt house, pictured here in 1914. It was located a short walk west of the cemetery.

The house above was built around the 1890s, and had clearly been expanded on occasionally. I'd guess that the portion visible to the left and the main house seen in the background here were built at separate times.

Another interesting thing is that the house seems to have changed over the years. When Richard Crowe was first talking about the house in the 1970s, he told the Tribune that all of the witnesses he'd interviewed described it as a one  story house.  All of the witnesses I've spoken to - and all of the ghost books published in the last fifteen or twenty years - say it was a two story house.

Now, on the surface, this might seem to discredit the story. But if the house can appear, disappear, move around the woods, and shrink, then it's not so unreasonable to think that it could also build an addition.

And, furthermore, if the house is the "ghost" of the Schmidt house, one can see from the picture how a witness could describe it as either one or two stories, depending on what angle they saw it from.

Now, given that the Schmidt house changed shape over the years, and likely continued to change beyond the 1914 picture, it's hard to tell what it looked like by the 1940s (when it was still known to be  standing). No one is entirely sure yet when it was finally demolished, but it may have been standing as late as the 1960s. I've spoken with witnesses who swear that they used to have picnics outside of the house in the 1960s.  It was certainly gone by the early 1970s, though.  It could be that the whole legend arose from teenagers breaking in to the cemetery and woods to get trashed in the 1970s (which was very common) and vaguely remembered there having been a house there years before, and, having had a few beers or perhaps something harder, were freaked out upon realizing that the house wasn't there anymore.

I'd love to hear from anyone who's seen the house - either the "original" or a ghostly version. Drawings would be greatly appreciated!

Monday, September 26, 2011

New podcasts coming soon!

All through October, Chicago Unbelievable will be back with a new, all-ghost season of our podcast! We'll be visiting some of the "suggested scores" from our new Chicago Ghosts ebook, with higher-tech equipment than I normally use. Look out for videos, pictures, and more from our explorations of under-investigated "hot spots" around Chicago. These are places that have been rumored to be haunted at one point or another, and certainly seem to have the history to back the stories up, but have not become "ghost hunting theme parks" like some sites in town have. It's gonna be a lot of fun!

Monday, September 12, 2011

What the Heck was the Capacity of the EASTLAND?

There are a couple of things that you can never get a reliable source on - body counts following disasters are one. Capacities of places like the Iroquois Theatre and the Eastland, the ship that capsized in the river in 1915, is another. No two sources have the same number.

In the run up to putting out my long-delayed "Ghosts of Chicago" ebook, I've been reading the Eastland hearings trying to figure it out. Though they'd been known to get 3000 on the ship, in 1908 the capacity was raised from 2200 to 2400. It was then knocked back down a bit; in 1914 it was fixed at 2252, and a few weeks before the disaster it was raised to 2500 - because they now had enough lifeboats and preservers for that many. The official capacity was set at 2570 - 2500 passengers and 70 crew. 

The hearings made a lot about "pilings" on the riverbed that Captain Pederson maintained, through the end of his life, were what caused the ship to capsize. This is part of why I just don't believe that the Fool Killer Submarine was something Frenchy Deneau built and planted himself. Adding MORE junk to the riverbed when it was being investigated would have been a dumb move, and if he had planted it beforehand, he would NOT have been wise to call attention to it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

New Ebook: The Smart Aleck's Guide to Grave Robbing

Did you enjoy Grave Robbing Week? Well, the Smart Aleck Staff has put the research to work in a new FULL LENGTH ebook: The Smart Aleck's Guide to Grave Robbing. It's everything you need to launch YOUR career as a 19th century resurrectionist - the Smart Aleck Way!

The idea of being a textbook for grave robbers may be a joke, but there's nothing silly about the gruesome history presented here - there are sections on Victorian "mummy unwrappings," H.H. Holmes, Burke and Hare, the medical body snatching trade, and a whole lot more - plus, in the appendix, all the articles featured here on Grave Robbing Week. All for just 2.99!

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