So, is there anything left of the infamous H.H. Holmes "Murder Castle?"
"The Holmes Castle" was a well-known building in Englewood well into the 20th century; contrary to popular belief, the 1895 fire did not burn it to the ground. The top two floors had to be rebuilt and remodeled, but the place was still standing until the late 1930s, when it was torn down to make room for the new post office. I've spoken to a couple of people who still remember the place from when they were kids - the story was generally forgotten then, but people were still superstitious about the buildings.
above: Adam in the "tunnel" in the post office basement
By lining up the three versions of the fire insurance maps (two from when the castle was there, and one from the post office), we can see that it did overlap with the portion of the post office that juts out on the left - between a third of it to all of it, depending on how you measure things (lining up these hand-drawn maps is not an exact science, though lining up the railroad tracks helps a lot). Here's an overlay of two of them, with the castle shaded in. You can see just a bit of overlap:
And here's my best attempt at superimposing the castle where it would have done.
So, this brings up the major question: is there anything left? Perhaps of the old foundations? Certainly some of the basement overlaps with the original footprint. Recently, I had the chance to explore the place on a TV shoot with the History Channel.
Down below, there's a point where you can climb a step-ladder into a hole in the wall that leads to a sort of tunnel/crawlspace. The ceiling is about 5.5 feet off the ground in the tunnel, and there's one line of bricks:
According to the post office, this was an escape hatch from the "castle." Now, I've never actually seen any account of there being a tunnel down there, and no such thing was mentioned during the investigation in 1895. But these were the same investigators who found a large tank filled with gas and emitting a noxious odor, and decided to light a match to get a better look.
It's a bit west of the castle site; it's possible the 1895 investigators could have found it if they knocked out a western wall. I sent some close-ups of the bricks to Punk Rock James, our official archaeologist, who said that the bricks look right for being from the 1890s; the lower couple of rows were probably underground foundation lays, and the upper ones show some fire damage (which is just what you want to hear if you want to imagine that these are from the castle). This portion of the tunnel is west, and probably a bit south, of the foundation, so I'd say they're more likely from a building next door, if it's not actually an escape hatch.
But at the end of the tunnel it takes a left hand turn to the north, and this part certainly goes RIGHT into the castle footprint:
So, this brings us to the big question: is the place haunted?
Well, I did some some pictures and an audio recording - see our static Murder Castle Ghosts page:
I always say that there's no such thing as good ghost evidence, only cool ghost evidence. But this is, as far as I know, the first cool ghost evidence ever collected at the castle site.
I'm a snot-nosed skeptic about all this stuff, though. I'm even skeptical about about the castle itself - I would only say with confidence that three people were killed there. Six to eight tops, including a couple of who died off-site after being given poison there. Holmes probably only burned a couple of bodies in the castle before deciding that destroying a body in a crowded building was too much trouble and shipping them off-site to one of his "glass bending" facilities (he had a weird pre-occupation with bending glass; people eventually guessed that he was probably really using the massive furnaces he built for that purpose to get rid of bodies. He sure as hell never used them to bend any glass).
I tend to think of Holmes as a swindler, first and foremost, who happened to kill people now and then, not as a regular serial killer. His suspected number of victims stood at 9-12 in his lifetime, and didn't start inflating until about the 1940s. Nowadays it seems to go up by a hundred or so every Halloween. But as far as hauntings go, the story still checks out - a few murders are more than enough, and as long as ANY of the current building overlaps, I think it's fair game to look for ghosts there. If you can come back from the dead, you ought to be able to make it down the hall.
So, I'll have more info for you guys eventually. In the mean time, consider one of Chicago Unbelievable's line of Holmes-lore ebooks, or the new GHOSTS OF CHICAGO book.
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Did the people who participated in the trial that sent Holmes to the gallows die mysteriously? The Holmes "evil eye" was not just a story invented by pulp writers years later; papers were speaking of it even before Holmes died, and continued to retell the story for years. Find out all about it in this mini ebook! Amazon (kindle) BN (Nook)
And for more on Punk Rock James, there's a whole interview with him in The Smart Aleck's Guide to Grave Robbing, which includes everything you need to launch YOUR career as a 19th century resurrection man - the Smart Aleck way! We here at Chicago Unbelievable strongly suspect that Holmes chose to attend the University of Michigan because of its reputation as a hub for body snatching.