Saturday, June 30, 2012

The "Demon Bank" on North Clark

No, this isn't one of those "occupy" posts. But there's one bank on North Clark that seems to have demons carved right into the facade - at 2021 N Clark. Would you go to a bank with demons on it?

Up close, you see that the thing actually has horns and everything. Is this supposed to be the devil? Does this mean I can sell my soul at this bank? Finally, a way to get a mortgage!

I'd say it's actually more likely Pan, the greek god, than Satan, but I'd really love to find out what was going through people's heads when the place was built, back in 1935. I'm not sure there was a bank in the space then (there has been since at least the 1970s), but 1935 was exactly the time period when a builder could probably get away with putting a demon on a bank and acting all coy about it. People would take his side. Look how many took John Dillinger's side for robbing the banks (this is about half a mile, give or take a few blocks, from the Biograph Theatre, where he saw his last movie before being shot in the nearby alley).  Of course, putting Pan on a bank doesn't make a WHOLE lot more sense than putting Satan on one.

 The building is actually mainly residential; most of it is a high rise:

The main residential entrance is on the other side of the building, on North Lincoln Park, and is kind of creepy itself (and I mean that in the nicest possible way).

Anyone know more about this place? The fire insurance map from the year it was built is sort of unreadable.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ghosts of the Luetgert Sausage Factory

The Luetgert Sausage Factory Murder is a hard story to tell - any time the words "sausage" and "murder" are right in the title, the story is going to be anti-climactic if nobody gets eaten.

And no one did get eaten here - Luetgert, from what the cops could piece together from witnesses, had killed Louisa, dragged the body in the basement, then mixed up a caustic, stinky red mixture in one of the cure vats. The janitor hired to stir it spoke little English, but eventually described the mixture as "schleimish," and everyone knew just what he meant.  The body was dissolved except for a few bone fragments.

In a twist that we run into a lot, the sausage factory itself is often said to have burned down over a century ago; one book I read even has experts discussing where it wold have been, with one contending that part of the foundation was still visible only a couple of decades ago. In fact, the building is still standing. There was a fire, but it failed to destroy it. And ghost sightings have come in sporadically.

Luetgert himself was apparently seeing ghosts there, because during the investigation he loudly accused the police of "hiring" ghosts to scare him. A neighbor and witness, Agatha Tosche, even had to swear in court that she'd never dressed up as Louisa's ghost and walked the halls of the factory.

Years later, a police officer patrolling the area said that he chased a ghost through the basement. This is the same officer who claimed to shoot at the Sambrero Man who appeared and disappeared in Lincoln Park.

And, more recently, a family who lived there in the 1970s had stories about poltergeist activity in the basement.

The building, of course, is condos now, located at 1735 W Diversey. The eastern portion is new; the the west side is the original factory. I haven't heard many ghost stories from current residents. 

There are some other Luetgert ghost stories going around, mostly centering on bars at the old Flounders Bar on Webster and Clybourn. In some versions of the story, this location was actually the butcher shop where "Louisa Links" were sold, and where he killed many other family members, but these are WAY off (there's one particular guide in town who seems to have a real flair for making up stories about Adolph Luetgert).

Luetgert did have a tavern on that corner, but only until 1879 (the current building was built a few years later). There's no evidence whatsoever that Luetgert killed his first wife or any children in that location (those who died clearly did of natural causes, according to records). He may, however, have killed an annoying customer / nearby loiterer by shoving chewing tobacco down his throat during his time there, though. The scenario the police imagined when they found the body was that Luetgert had warned him to quit spitting tobacco on his sidewalk, and when he didn't, flew into a rage and rammed a wad of it down his throat, choking him to death. There was no proof of this, though (later stories that he split the guy's throat in half are modern exaggerations).

Luetgert was not a serial killer - just a Ron Swanson-esque brute with some SERIOUS anger management issues.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Murder Castle: Today (or: Good Grief, More HH Holmes) #2

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

The post office doesn't occupy the EXACT same footprint as the castle, though. In fact, there's not much overlap at all. Most of the castle would had been in the grassy area directly east of the castle. The railroad tracks were grade-level at the time the castle stood.  Climbing the back tree might take you right into the airspace of the "asphyxiation chamber."

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.
Our MURDER CASTLE OF HH HOLMES, a collection of eyewitness accounts, diagrams, and more primary sources has now been expanded into a full-length ebook with tons of new info - everything down to the combination to the soundproof vault!

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Don't have a kindle? No problem! Get aFREE Kindle App for Your Smartphone, Tablet, or PC!

Other Holmes-lore ebooks:

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.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Yoga and the World's Fair

In 1893, the World's Fair functioned as a sort of preview of the 20th century - it was many fairgoers first taste of electricity, and many inventions that would define the next several decades were previewed there. Hot dogs and hamburgers may have been introduced (though that's one of those things where it depends on who you ask and whose stories you believe).  The list of "firsts" goes on a while, but one of them I never knew about until today was that it was the first known incidence of Yoga being brought to the United States.

The fair wasn't strictly confined to the main fairgrounds at Jackson Park. There was also a "World's Congress Auxillary" building, where the major philosophers met and debated. The best attended "congress" there was the Women's Congress (which probably inspired the mistaken belief that the World's Congress Auxillary - now the Museum of the Art Institute - was the Women's Building at the fair).

From September 11-27 was the first Parliament of the World's Religions meeting in the building. This meeting is now regarded as the first major attempt to get an interfaith dialogue going, particularly between Eastern and Western religions.

It is also often said to be the first incidence of yoga in the United States. The opening address was by Swami Vivekananda, whose short speech against sectarian violence and fanaticism really brought the house down. His short speech didn't mention yoga specifically, but the swami is generally regarded as one of the people - if not THE guy - who brought Yoga to the west, and his first foothold into the west came with his speech at the building that is now the art museum on Michigan Avenue. Sept 11, 1893, is listed by many sources as the date of the "first incidence of yoga in the United States."

Yoga certainly came up during the Parliament of World Religions. The term itself came up in address on September 13 by Rev. T.E. Slater of Bangalore, India, in his paper on "Concessions to Native Religious Ideas, Having Special Reference to Hindooism (sic)." The speech outlined some of the basics of Hinduism and pointed out that Christians and Hindus weren't really as different as they might think,  though after a few words of praise for how religious the Hindu people were, he spent half the speech subtly pointing out why he thought the Christianity was better than Hinduism.

Yoga was perhaps better represented in a speech by P.C. Mozoomdar, who said:

"This process of seeking and finding God within is an intense spiritual 
culture known by various names in various countries; in India we call it 
Yoga. The self- consecrated devotee finds an immersion in the depths of 
the indwelling deity. God's reason becomes man's reason, God's love 
becomes man's love. God and man become one. Introspection finds the 
universal soul — the over-soul of your Emerson — beating in all humanity, 
and a human and divine are thus reconciled."

So - Chicago: birthplace of yoga in America.

We'll be back to talking serial killers around here at Chicago Unbelievable tomorrow. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Disco Salad Bar

Hi, guys. You'll never believe what I discovered today at the Holmes Murder Castle site. I was there all day with a TV show, including a trip into the basement. I'll have more details and stories later (and LOTS of photos), but for now all I can do is tease.

So, anyway, the mysterious discovery: Nearby the murder castle apparently once stood....THE DISCO SALAD BAR!

Now, the salad bar appears to have been closed for years. However, it WAS operational in the last quarter century. Rory, who has been the security guard at the post office that occupies part of the murder castle site since 1986, told me he used to go there for lunch sometimes. "It was okay," he said. 

The Kidnapping of Annie Redmond

In Spring, 1888, newspapers announced that six-year-old Annie Redmond was missing. She and her friend Otto had been playing in a lot near her home at 26th and State. They were approached by a stout woman in a yellow dress and black hat.

"Is your mother home, little girl?" she asked.
"Yes," said Annie.
"Come along with me and I'll buy you some candy," said the woman.

She was missing until the next winter, when it came to light that she had been stolen by one Mrs. Josie Gurley and her husband. Though they were grown, their parents tried to protect them in prison; Josie's parents shooed reporters away, while her husband's parents loudly shouted "that's the woman who's been leading my husband astray!"

In the trial, the story came out: the kidnappers had taken Annie and, the papers said, "abused her shamefully." (and for a paper in 1889 to say a child had been abused, it must have been bad). She was kept in a Throop street cellar with her arms tied to her side, and occasionally dressed as a boy.

Annie took the stand herself to testify.

"Do you remember the lady who took you away?" asked an attorney.

"Yes, it was Mrs. Gurley....she said she would give me some candy and pennies, and I went with her down state street. But she didn't give me any candy."

"Was Mr. Gurley at home the first day?"

"yes sir. He told me to call him papa, and they told me to say my name was Flora Delia Gurley. They said they would lick me if I told any other name."

"Did they lick you?"

"Yes, and they put boys pants on me, too. They called me Tommy then....and said I mustn't ever say my name was Annie Redmond."

"Did the man tell you that?"

"Yes, sire, and they tied me to a post in the cellar, and there were dogs there, and I cried, too. And they put pants on me at Grandma Parson's in Englewood, too. And they called me Tommy, too. Both of them whipped me. Mrs. Parons whipped me, too. They always kept me indoors. I washed dishes, too."

"Did you wash the floor?"

"Scrubbed it."

"Did they ever let you go out?

"'Cept when I was sent to the grocery store on Halsted Street or when I went to the drug store."

"What did you go to the drug store for?"

"For brandy."

 Mr. and Mrs Parsons, with whom the couple lived, admitted that they put her in pants, but said it was "to punish her." "She was an awful, wayward child," said Mrs. Parsons. She was kept in the cellar "So she wouldn't worry Mrs. Gurley. She was always doing something wrong. Once she brought Mrs. Gurley the liniment instead of the medicine."

The Parsons apparently didn't realize Annie had been kidnapped, and were actually let go without trial. Harvey Gurley, the husband, was also apparently duped. He had married Josie only recently, and she had told him once that she was going to bring a former stepdaughter home. When her mother said that she was "joking" about ever having been married, Harvey asked Josie why should would say such a thing, and she admitted that she'd never been married - she had an illegitimate child. The next day she brought Annie home and told her husband that she was her daughter.  He admitted he'd whipped her a couple of times, and tied her in the basement to scare her, but this wouldn't have been considered illegal at the time. He was genuinely baffled to find out that the child had been kidnapped.

Josie Gurley was given the remarkably light sentence of five years in prison. There was never really much follow-up about the story of Annie Redmond. There was no "ten years later" story, no story on the affair when Annie got married years later. Once the trial ended, the story did, too.

But there were a couple of twists. When her sentence was announced, Josie made an odd remark about Annie's father, saying "I have not told one-half about John Redmond yet."  She may have been lying, of course, but three years later, John Redmond went nuts and murdered Dr. FM Wilder. He came to be known as "the crazy blacksmith," and his own story will require a whole new post.

And three years after that, the story was revived again when it the crimes of H.H. Holmes came to light. There was never anything to connect Holmes with the story, and he denied any knowledge of it, but plenty of people noticed that Annie had been kept within spitting distance of the "murder castle" site, though construction on it was just beginning at the time, and not much of Holmes' whereabouts from 1888 are really known (which helps fuel the theories that he was Jack the Ripper).  Exactly which drug store she was sent to is not known, but it's quite possible that it was the store Holmes took ownership of on Sixty-Third Street.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Mysterious Dr. F.W. Winters

In 1896, Dr. Frumenti W. Winters, who leaved on South California Avenue, near Madison, was brought into police custody. A new employee of his, one Emma Bartels, had died under mysterious circumstances shortly after coming into the house.

According to the doctor's story, she complained of being unable to sleep and asked for chloral. Thinking she was accustomed to taking forty grains, he gave her sixty, which killed her.

He swore it was an accident, but police began to say otherwise - neighbors and employment agencies said he went through young, female servants quickly.  One, Tilly Taddy, said that Winters had promised to buy her dresses and take her to Europe, if she just swore never to betray the house, but to stand by them in times of need. She was then given a drink of "grape wine" which put her to sleep. Another girl told a similar story, but added that she'd refused to drink the wine, no matter what he promised her.

As names of supposed victims piled up, police announced that they may have found another H.H. Holmes, and that his house on California Ave may have been another "murder castle" (setting a custom that would last for years every time another murderer was found).   They even began to say that Winters had hypnotic powers, and that one of his still-living servants was under his hypnotic influence.

"I certainly believe that (servant) Agnes McMahon is control in speech and action by Dr. Winters," said Lt. Beard of the police. "...when they came have to face he fixed his gaze upon her face and raised his right arm slowly passes his hand before her eyes several times, saying, 'Now, Agnes, I want you to go right straight home and say nothing to anyone...'  The effted on the girl was magical; she wilted like a leaf thrown into the hot blast of a furnace...She will say nothing. I would not say Dr. Winters exercises hypnotic power, but I have never handled a case just like this before."

Winters denied it. "Do I look like a hypnotist?" he asked. "I do not believe in such superstitions. I might be accused of possessing a certain personal magnetism...but I am not a hypnotist."

The biggest mystery to me is whatever became of him. He was put in jail and then eventually brought to trial in late 1897, but I haven't yet found what the result of the trial was. Papers across the country spoke of Winters when the case first came to light, but interest dropped off altogether, and now I've yet to find a thing. He seems never to have been mentioned in the papers again after the Dec, 1897 article about the trial coming up in Judge Baker's court room.

Update: buried in a section of the Trib a week after the trial came up was a notice saying that he had been found innocent of the charge of assaulting one Violet Marsh. However, the murder trial was held over until the next term, and results are not yet known. However, he's still listed as a practicing physician in an 1899 guide. To me, he seems like like a serial killer than a sex offender.

The Head of Anna WIlliams?

This week I'm back into H.H. Holmes mode in preparation for a TV interview on the subject next week. In the process of reviewing old researching and doing a bit of new stuff, I came upon an interesting story:

In 1900, it was announced that police believed they had found the head of Anna Williams, Minnie's sister, and one of Holmes' supposed victims whose remains were never found. Holmes' version of the story is that Minnie had brained her sister with a chair leg in a fit of rage, and that he'd helped her dump the body in Lake Michigan.

In October of 1900, a press release went around that a badly-decomposed head had washed ashore in Cedar Lake, near Hammond, Indiana. According to the press release, the head was said to be that of Anna Williams.

Papers even then regarded the story as far-fetched, and I find it downright laughable now.  For one thing, it was the wrong lake. For another, the only evidence that Anna was ever dumped in a lake to start with was the word of Holmes himself, which is not remotely reliable. For another, how could a body be still be identifiable after six or seven years in a lake? It's unlikely that any trace would have remained by then.

The story is sort of an object lesson - when you research Holmes, you come across some wild, wild stories that were briefly passed about as fact. Some of these are still a part of the "official" story of Holmes, even though they were discredited the same week that they broke.

Still, I can't resist a story about a disembodied head.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Richard T Crowe: RIP and Happy Hauntings

Richard T. Crowe, Chicago's original professional ghost hunter, died yesterday of pancreatic cancer, according to a Facebook posting from his sister.

Richard has been running ghost tours in Chicago since the early 1970s and was, for many years, the first man you'd call with a ghost story. He was featured regularly in newspaper articles and late night radio programs, as well as appearing on Oprah and Unsolved Mysteries.  In 1973, ghostlore was so unknown in the city that Midlothian police asked to comment on his stories about Bachelor's Grove cemetery told the papers that they didn't even know there was such a cemetery (though, in fact, they'd been responding to calls about vandalism and grave-robbing there off and on for years). "I think there are some things that can't be explained," Crowe said at the time. "but most people who tell of ghosts are off the wall!"

Truer words have seldom been spoken, and I can think of no better way to sum up the situation one faces as in the ghost biz: some things can't be explained, but you have to watch out for people who are just plain off the wall.

No one did more to keep Chicago's ghostlore alive over the last forty years. Happy hauntings, Richard. If you're sticking around for a few days, we'll keep an eye out for you on the tour tonight.

His sister has also posted the following:

Funeral services for Richard T. Crowe are as follows...wake will be from 3-9 p.m. on Monday, June 11, 2012, at Modell Funeral Home, 5725 S. Pulaski Rd., Chicago, IL 60629 (1-773-767-4730). Funeral will be Tuesday, June 12, 2012 at 9 a.m. from the funeral home to St. Patricia Church, 9050 S. 86th Avenue, Hickory Hills, IL 60457. Interment, of course, will be at Resurrection Cemetery. Again, thanks to all for your support and myriad kindnesses throughout Richard's ordeal."

Friday, June 1, 2012

Has Anyone Seen this Bridge?

Here's an Essanay film from 1912 - does anyone recognize the large bridge that appears at the beginning and at the end? It looks ABOUT like "Suicide Bridge," the high bridge over the lagoon at Lincoln Park (which would have been an appropriate place to film these scenes, given the content).  Does anyone recognize it as another local bridge?


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