Monday, February 25, 2013

Some recent "ghost" shots from the tours

Kiersten, a tour passenger on Friday night, snapped this cool shot - it was the hit of the tour when shown off on the bus! While I'm generally inclined to think of these "stairs" shots as reflections and smears (reflected ears are a common culprit), this is a really nifty one appearing to show two vaguely humanesque forms. I've adjusted it just a tiny bit to make it more visible:

Cool! As I always say, there's no such thing as good ghost evidence, only cool ghost evidence. But sometimes I don't even care about the fact that there's probably a more "rational" explanation, because the photo is cool enough on its own terms, even if it IS just an optical illusion. 

As far as "women on the stairs" at Hull House go, there was a woman on the tour recently who told me she was a clairvoyant, and that there was a ghostly woman who came to the stairs to say hello to me every night. I always take these things with a grain (if not a whole shaker) of salt, but stories about a woman haunting the place go back well over a century; Millicent Hull died there around 1860, and a number of other women quite likely did during the 1870s, when it served as a home for the elderly run by the Little Sisters of the Poor. 

While we're on the subject of recent Hull House shots, a number were taken like this recently:

On phone screens, in particular, it can look like a feminine form in the window. Having seen a few lately, I took this one myself in attempt to reproduce the effect, and confirmed that it was just the fireplace. A picture frame on the mantel forms the "head."

Elsewhere in town, we've had a number of nifty shots at the "alley of death and mutilation" behind the site of the Iroquois theatre.  There was one woman on my tour on Saturday who said that she felt like a hand was touching her face in the alley, and in one picture of her, it does look as though there's a handprint on her face. This calls to mind all SORTS of folklore motifs, like the story of the "banshee's hand" leaving permanent marks on people's faces, or stories of handprints never fading away, which show up all over the world, including Chicago's Frank Leavey story.

Now, one thing worth noting is that sometimes it's been said that women or are pregnant or new mothers feel as though a kid is holding their hand in the alley. If the woman in question now finds out she's expecting, that'll be one heck of a story!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Chicago's Magnetic Well

Throughout the 19th century, and into the early 20th century, there were occasional claims of "magnetic wells," wells that dredged up water said to be high in "magnetic" content that contained mysterious medicinal properties.

Around 1869, there was considerable media attention given to some "magnetic wells" in Michigan. Now, from the articles, it seems that people had tried a LOT of experiments throughout the 19th century to add electricity to water and found that, though it could conduct electricity, it couldn't maintain an electrical charge or any magnetic powers, even if they pumped it full of "a powerful current sufficient to magnetize a bar of railroad iron," as a writer for the Chicago Times claimed to have tried once.  But the water in these Michigan wells seemed to have magnetic properties.

In Chicago the next year, one David A. Gage, who seems to have been something of an inventor, discovered a magnetic well of his own in the suburbs, on a farm two miles north of Riverside (right around Forest Park, I'd say).

According to a statement by the farm's manager, they had brought in a man named Mr. Ross who had experience in digging "artisan wells," and he found that the ground he was drilling down was different than any other ground he'd seen - the rock was much harder than most. Water was struck when he reached 613 and a half feet down, and after drilling down 11 more feet they were pumping out 100,000 gallons per day (this may have been a typo; other sources put the figure at 1500). And the farm manager found, quite by accident, that if he put steel tools into the water, they turned into magnets. A chisel dunked in the water and set up on a block of wood floating in water started pointing north, like a compass.

Scientific men were called in, and a cask was sent to the Sherman House hotel. According to papers, scientists were baffled by the stuff. I've been unable to find out much more about magnetic water, though claims of such wells came up now and then over a fifty year period. I can imagine that in this era of "electrolyte water" and vitamin water, magnetic water would go over like gangbusters. Indeed, just googling "magnetic water" shows that a number of people are claiming health benefits for things like this.

In those days, even in such a notable era of fake medicine, it doesn't seem to have done so well, at least in Chicago. In other cities whole resorts were built around magnetic wells and claims were made that the water could cure diseases, but the story of the Chicago one petered out pretty quickly. The New York Herald reported that visitors to Gage's farm reported that the water tasted oddly medicinal, and   Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, always ready with a snarky comment, said that the people of Chicago tested the magnetic water and decided that they preferred whiskey.

I'm assuming this is the same David A. Gage who later served as city treasurer and wound up owing the city half a million bucks, but articles from that big scandal don't seem to mention anything about the well. Looks like another research rabbit hole for me!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The New Booze, 1920

In 1920, "new" illegal booze hit the market as soon as the old stuff was prohibited. Before the gangsters got all their ducks in a row and started brewing regular old beer in the same breweries that had operated before, the market was flooded with terrible "bathtub" spirits.

In September, about eight months into prohibition, a "roving reporter" for the Tribune asked a few people on the street what they thought of the new stuff, which was obviously not that hard to get. Their responses are priceless.

“There’s a fight in every pint and a murder in a gallon. I used to drink the old stuff, but I’ll tell the world I leave the new alone.” 
—J. W. Gibson, salesman

“I liked the old stuff better. It was much cheaper and you didn’t feel so bum the next a.m. The only difference I see is that they’ve raised the price of headaches.” 
—J. W. Johnson, chief vault clerk

“You could take a half dozen shots of the old stuff and never feel it. If you take two drinks of the new booze, it’s good-bye, George.” 
—Harry Brown, broker

“The effect is altogether different, judging by the stories I read in the papers. I would say the new booze excites a man to do things he never would have done under the influence of the old.” 
—John Schmidt, investigator

“Because they can’t get it they want it all the more. The new stuff is causing more deaths every day. It knocks you off your feet, and after taking a half dozen shots you want to climb a tree.” 
—M. Winsberg, saloon proprietor

It's probably worth noting that only the investigator said he only knew about it from reading it in the papers, which comes off like saying, "Well, I haven't tried it, but my friend has, and he told me...."

This article was uncovered by William Griffith while researching his new book for Globe Pequot Press, American Mafia: Chicago, due out later this year!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Wonderful Snapshot of Chicago Fifty Years Ago

I was hipped to this by the wonderful Samarov tumblr. Wonderful 12 minute color film of Chicago in 1962 with narration by someone trying his best to be Nelson Algren. The el DOES make endless circles around my heart as the city sings me a lullaby of lunatics and lovers.


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