Showing posts with label cemeteries. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cemeteries. Show all posts

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Podcast: Rambling in Rose Hill

Here's a shot that should tell you just about all you need to know about how our trip to Rose Hill went:

Yeah. About like that. We were joined by Susan Sherman, who explains how she is now part corpse due to a recent surgery, and was with me at the "Murder Castle" investigation a couple of years ago.  We wandered around Rose Hill trying to talk history, but getting distracted by our inner 12-year-olds as we saw graves with names like "Butts."

You can download the 36 minute podcast from , or on feedburner (scroll to the bottom), or via iTunes , where you can subscribe for free. Or just listen on this nifty little widget:

Some pictures:

Charles Hull gets a fine statue while his wife, kids, and housekeeper get some little plaques. His wife Mellicent, buried near him, is sometimes thought to haunt Hull House, his Halsted Street home that became a settlement house under Jane Addams.

The Couch Family plot makes it look as though Ira Couch is here, though there's no record that he (or any other body) was ever removed from the tomb at Lincoln Park. His wife is definitely here at Rose Hill, though; I've seen the probate record, and the funeral expenses mention Rose Hill. Her son James had been buried there in 1892 when the family decided against using the Lincoln Park tomb (though newspaper accounts make it look as though people thought the option was on the table. 

Exterior and Interior of the Harris (of Harris Bank) mausoleum, with a pit and a ladder leading down into a crypt (or underworld, maybe). 

You are in a mausoleum. Hallways stretch north and east. A staircase leads down. 

The Tiffany stained glass window in the Shedd crypt shows a dude in a hooded robe with a sword in one hand, a torch in the other, and a key dangling from his neck. It is impossible not to start singing "Stairway to Heaven."

The reclining statue that was moved here from the old City Cemetery in Lincoln Park (whether the actual bodies were removed is probably anyone's guess, though there hasn't been nearly as much speculation as there was about Ira Couch).

Another episode will be coming soon! 

Friday, February 7, 2014

Are Bodies Buried Beneath Comiskey Park?

An 1886 map of the area
It's commonly said around the south side that Comiskey Park (either the old one or the new one, depending on who you ask) was built over an old cemetery, and that the bodies are still there. Sometimes it's specifically specified that it's the bodies of Civil War soldiers.

I've been on the trail of this one for a while, and coming up blank. Maps of the area from a decade or two before first Comiskey was built show a blank space where the old park was, and a bunch of smaller buildings where the new one is (plus some more blank space - see clip from the map on the right). Lakeside Directories from the 1870s and 1880s that list all of the cemeteries in town don't say anything about a cemetery anywhere near there.

But such directories aren't necessarily comprehensive lists of burial grounds; they leave out some major ones (such as the Potter's Field at Dunning) and all of the smaller family plots. There are literally dozens of "lost" cemeteries in the city, so it's not impossible that some bodies were in that spot at one point.

However, the story almost certainly grew out of the park's proximity to the site of Camp Douglas, the Civil War prison camp, which was a straight shot down 35th street (then known as Douglas Street, in fact). Roughly 6000 confederate prisoners of war died there, and it's actually close enough that people surely used the former grounds as parking for Sox games at various times.

How many bodies were buried on the prison grounds, though, is sort of unknown - most of the bodies were turned over to CH Jordan to be buried at City Cemetery (about where the baseball fields in Lincoln Park are now), though it was widely believed that in many cases, the staff at CH Jordan often just pocketed the $4.75 they got per burial and either sold the body to a medical school (saving the grave robbers some digging) or simply dumped them in the Lake.  (CH Jordan is a topic for a whole other post).  There was a small cemetery someplace on or near the prison grounds that was used to bury prisoners who died of cholera. How many of those bodies were eventually moved is probably anyone's guess.

So, as near as I can tell, there are no bodies underneath Comiskey, or the new US Cellular Field, but I'd love it if anyone can chime in with more data here!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Hyena Jim Terrorizes Chicago, 1897

Newspaper archives are full of odd stories about the Lincoln Park Zoo (which was, after all, built on top of the old City Cemetery). One particular story that amused me last week concerned a guy in the early 1920s who was devastated to hear that his pet monkey was the wrong kind of monkey to use for "gland transplants," a then-in-vogue operation in which be surgically attached onto one's one in order to rejuvenate one's youthful vigor. The article about the guy ended with him hopping a cab to the Lincoln Park Zoo to scope out the action at the monkey house to see if any of the apes had more suitable...glands...that he could use.

But few zoo stories stayed in the news quite as long as the tale of Jim, the hyena who escaped from the zoo in 1897, a story that lasted a good week and kept the north side in a state of panic.

Skeleton of a "cave hyena" from an 1880s issue of
Scientific American
Jim escaped from the zoo by gnawing a hole into his cage in June, 1897. Since hyenas can be deadly, mothers on the north side were told to keep their children indoors - as the Tribune put it, "the watchful mothers of Buen Park were kept in a constant tremor all day by the dear that their little ones should be picked out to supply the "piece de resistance" of a black Forest feast. Reporters noted that the north side ws awfully quiet; in an age when kids generally roamed free in the streets, scarcely any were allowed outdoors for fear that they might meet with Jim.

 Forty-eight hours after the escape, Jim had taken up residence in Graceland Cemetery, where he scared the crap out a night watchman - imagine being a night watchman patrolling a cemetery and have the shadowy, lanky figure of a hyena cross your path. By the time the zookeepers arrived, the whole north end of the cemetery was full of laborers who had stories to tell about "how narrowly he escaped from being devored alive." One employee said that "Jim" was as big as any lion, and twice as vicious.

A storm came down and put a stop to the hunt, and Jim took the opportunity to flee the cemetery - workers continued to scour graceland, then expanded the search to Calvary cemetery, as well, figuring that perhaps Jim had decided that cemeteries were the place to be. The next day, he was found to be lurking around Edgewater, then apparently made his way out to the west suburbs, where he was finally shot outside of an old folks' home near Forest Park.  By then, his reign of terror had lasted nearly a week.  His body was supposed to be stuffed and mounted, though I've no idea what became of it.

Even now, large animals still find refuge in Graceland now and then. Coyote sightings there are common.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Podcast: The Detective's Grave

Time for a new podcast! You can download today's episode from feedburner,,  or iTunes.

Today, we're back at Graceland Cemetery, searching for the grave of a deranged Victorian private detective. My job is pretty sweet.

I've lately been back working on the HH Holmes case, trying to gather, evaluate, and catalog all of the best data available. Researchers into the case will often come across the name Robert Corbitt (or Corbett), author of The Holmes Castle, possibly the first book on Holmes. He pushed the odd theory that Holmes was actually innocent of murder.  One does notice a pattern in article on him: one day he'll be saying he's found the evidence that will convict Holmes, then something bad will happen to him, then he'll be saying Holmes was innocent. The book is very rare now, but the text is collected in The Strange Case of Dr. H.H. Holmes.

Plenty of evidence suggests that he was a bit on the paranoid side, at the very least. He spoke to reporters often saying he knew that various Holmes victims had checked into various hotels under assumed names, or that he'd seen them on the street, but was never really able to back his claims up. Records and stories of him don't paint much of a flattering picture.

Above: the nifty grave of Timothy Webster,
a Pinkerton detective who helped save Abraham
Lincoln from an 1861 assassination attempt. The
"Harve Birch" mentioned on the stone is a
character in a James Fennimore Cooper
novel. How often do you see a pop
culture reference on a tombstone?
However, whatever his shortcomings as a private detective may be, had was actually present at the "murder castle" investigation, may have known Holmes personally (they certainly exchanged letters), and wound up in possession of a LOT of Holmes data that modern researchers can only dream of (letters, account books...even Holmes' own pistol and knife!) He is also the guy who discovered the "glass bending factory" that we've come to know as "The Body Dump."

Anyway, Ray Johnson and I have been preparing an article on Corbitt, and found that he'd died in 1932 and the body was taken to Graceland cemetery. So on this cold December day, we headed up to the ol' graveyard in search of his grave. Along the way, we say several graves of people related to the Holmes case, including detective Allan Pinkerton, and discussed the cool stuff we saw along the way.  Ray and I will be recording a couple of podcasts about how we do this sort of research, including trips the archives, cemeteries, and more.  We hope to have a few new episodes up very soon!  Get Ray's book, Chicago's Haunt Detective

Again, you can download today's episode from,  or iTunes  (the episode may take a few hours to get to iTunes).
Or just listen right here:
 And if you're not sick of me, I also recently did a podcast interview for Your Chicago that was a lot of fun:

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Inside the Couch Tomb: Pictures!

The Couch Tomb at the south end of Lincoln Park has been sealed for at least a century. We've spent a few previous posts going over what might be inside, including:

Who's Buried in Ira Couch's Tomb? New Info
Some More Couch Tomb Data (Couch family probate and death records)

The short version is this: at the south end of Lincoln Park stands the tomb of Ira Couch, the last major relic of the days when the park grounds were City Cemetery. Couch died in 1857, and
may have been joined in the tomb by as many as seven other people, ranging from family members to family friends and perhaps a stranger who died in the Tremont House, the hotel Ira owned at Dearborn and Lake (where the parking garage is now). Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth both stayed there after Ira's death.

Ira died in 1857, and was interred in the tomb when it was built the next year. Why the crypty remained on the grounds after the rest of the cemetery was moved is something of a mystery itself, but the mystery that occupies us the most is whether Ira (or anyone else) is still in the tomb. The are no markings on the tomb saying who might be in there other than the name COUCH up at the top.  Ira's grandson estimated that about 8 people were in there as of 1911, but there are reasons both to doubt him and to believe him.

The front is covered by a large metal door that is very well attached to the stone - if you think I've never had a drunk on the tour hop the fence and try to open it, you'd be wrong. Plenty of people who grew up in the city, especially in the 90-or-so year period when there was no fence around the mausoleum, have stories of trying to break in; there's even a nick near the door handle where it looks as though someone tried to crowbar their way in. But it's stayed sealed.

The door is not really a door at all - it's a metal slab with a handle that's probably just for decoration. There's no keyhole, no latching or locking mechanism, and no hinges. It appears to be welded to some L brackets on the inside. But on a tour last winter, I noticed a bug crawling underneath it and realized that there was a crack under the "door" about the size of one's pinky finger.

A thorough check of the Cemetery Care Act didn't make me think it was illegal to take pictures of the inside of a tomb, so, using some very high tech equipment that I call The Tomb Snooper 500 (an iPhone taped to a wire hanger), I've been able to get some photos of the inside of the tomb, one of which will be published in GHOSTS OF CHICAGO, my new book on Chicago ghostlore.

   I was going to hold off on publishing the photos until the book came out, but I'm scheduled to sign advance copies at the Llewellyn booth at the ALA (American Library Association) conference here in Chicago on Sunday, June 30 at 1pm. So the cat'll be out of the bag as of then, and I might as well publish here, for the first time, photos of the inside of the Couch Tomb.

What's behind the door is.... another door. Behind the slab/door is a small antechamber headed off by a larger, more impressive door.

It's so covered in dust and grime that it's difficult to tell what it's made of; there are some early references to the tomb having a marble door or slab behind the front door, but there are some spots that might be rust. On the right is a shot of the stone wall on the left, and the door (with a knob of some sort visible) on the right.

It's a pretty large and impressive door, with a rounded protrusion on the right on which the door probably pivots when opened.  These are the two best shots that I could get; getting a good picture in such a small, enclosed place is difficult even when you can focus properly. 

This door may have once been the front door, really. Some early drawings show a sort of gate where the front "door" is now. THis might have been visible through the gate for the first 50 odd years of the tomb's existence.

Cool as this is, it gets us no closer to determining who is or isn't inside of the tomb.  I feel as though I've gotten past level one, but I'm stuck on level two. There are times when my job is not unlike being stuck inside of one of those "interactive fiction" text adventure computer games from the 80s. Interactive nonfiction!  Hector and Erin joked on our last podcast that if we ever see inside of door #2, there'll be a person inside saying "sorry, Mario, but our princess is in another tomb."

As we've seen in previous posts, no one is sure who is/isn't in the tomb anymore. Rose Hill says Ira is there, but have nothing more than his name on a family plot to back it up. There's no record one way or the other regarding IRa, or any of the others entombed here, being moved.

Of course, anyone who wants to learn more about the tomb and City Cemetery should peruse Pamela Bannos' Hidden Truths. I called Pamela and sent her the "door" pictures a few months ago; Pamela is reasonably sure Ira is in the tomb, and probably in one of those Fisk Patent Metallica Burial Cases, the really ornate metal coffins with viewing windows over the face that were all the rage when Ira died. He had to be transported back from Cuba, necessitating a good casket, and, anyway, if you're springing for a $7000 tomb, why not pay the extra hundred for the best coffin on the market at the time? If he is in there, and in one of those cases, there's a chance that he could even still be recognizable. I run into stories of Fisk cases being dug up fairly often; the corpse seems to be in good shape about half the time.

My new GHOSTS OF CHICAGO book covers the ghosts that have been reported in Lincoln Park since the very early days of the park, when police officers there were more apt to blame the ghosts on the suicides that often occurred in the park in those days. It's out in September, but up for pre-order now, and will be officially released in September. On Sunday, June 30th, I'll be signing copies (presumably the typo-laden advance proofs!) at ALA at 1pm at the Llewellyn booth.

More pics:

Here's a small shot of the back side of the front door (well, mostly the wall next to it), showing what appears to be the metal to which the front door/slab is attached:

And here's a shot of the lower left portion of the interior door, showing the ground in front of it. There doesn't seem to be a crack under this one. There appears to be some metal hooks at various points around the edges of the door.

And one more shot showing the door and the ceiling above it, view a view of the doorknob:

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Julia Buccola: The Italian Bride - new findings, photos, and podcast!

Following a long research project, today I've published an article on The Order of the Good Death about Julia Buccola-Petta, the "Italian Bride" of Mt. Carmel cemetery.

Most Chicago ghostlore fans know the basics: at Mt. Carmel stands a statue of a woman, Julia Buccola, in her wedding dress. Beneath the life-sized edifice is a photograph of the Julia in her coffin. Though she appears not to have decomposed much, an inscription below states that the photo was taken when she had been dead for six years.

Legend has it that her mother, Filomena, had nightmares in which Julia demanded that her body be disinterred, and, though there are various scientific explanations, some say the well-preserved state of her body is a sign of holiness. I've been researching the story heavily for the last few months, including conducting interviews with Filomena's great grandchildren, who provided a few photographs that have never been in circulation before.  Much of what I found came too late to be added to my new Ghosts of Chicago book, so I'm publishing it online, both here and in a new article for Caitlin Doughty's Order of the Good Death.

Photo by Hector Reyes

And for you Chicago Unbelievable followers, I'm presenting here a new podcast on the subject (our first in over a year!), and, below, a detailed timeline of the Buccola and Petta families, as pieced together from records and interviews, with never-before-seen photos:


1909 - Enrique (Henry) Buccola arrives in Chicago from Palermo Italy. His brother Giuseppe (Joseph) appears to have already been in Chicago; his widowed mother Filomena and sisters, Rosalia and Guilia (Julia) remain in Palermo, Italy.  

Joseph and Henry Buccola. Henry
paid for Julia's exhumation and the
new monument. Courtesy of
Antony Edwards, used by permission.
1910 - According to the census, Henry is living in Chicago with Joseph Buccola and his wife Anna in Chicago (per the census). Henry is working as a tailor, Joseph is a designer. Both are going by the "Americanized" versions of their names in records.

1911 - Rosalia Buccola emigrates to Chicago from Italy and marries Mariano Lunetta

1913/01/24 - a Sadie Lunetta is born to Mariano and Rosalia. She appears in some records as Lynn Sadie, and in most census forms under the name Rosaline. 

1913/08 -  Filomena Buccola, (Joseph, Henry and Rosalia's mother), and Julia Buccola, (their sister), arrive in New York from Palermo en route to Chicago, where they'll eventually move in with Henry in what is now the West Ukranian village.

1913/09 - The famous "Devil Baby" rumors swirl around Hull House. Filomena and Julia didn't live in the Hull House neighborhood, but I've always liked to imagine that one of Filomena's first acts as an American might have been to join the crowd of other old world women who went to Hull House demanding to see the (non-existant) devil baby.  

1915/09/15 - Joseph Lunetta is born to Mariano and Rosalia.

1917 - Henry Buccola, working as a tailor and living on the 2200 block of W. Erie, lists Filomena as solely dependent upon him financially in a draft card. Julia presumably lives with them, as well. 

1917 - Joseph's draft card shows he's working at the same place as Henry, though living a mile or two north.

1920, May - Julia is licensed to marry Matthew Petta.

1920, June 6 - Julia and Matthew marry at Holy Rosary Parish on Western Avenue (which still stands). They establish a home a couple of blocks away in an apartment building on West Huron Street, a block or two from Henry's house (it, too, is still standing today). The apartment is pretty much in shouting distance of the house on Erie where Henry and Filomena are probably still living.

Filomena and Flora, her granddaughter,
in Chicago, a year or two before
Julia was exhumed. Courtesy of
Antony Edwards
1921 - March 17 - Julia dies giving birth to a stillborn son, just over nine months after the wedding. Her funeral is held at Rago Brothers, next to the church, and she is buried at Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillside two days later. 

1922 - Joseph Buccola serves as witness to Mariano Lunetta's naturalization as a U.S. citizen.

1923/04/08  Henry Buccola marries Anna Covolo in Chicago. Anna was born to Italian parents in Venezula and spoke Spanish.

1924 - Henry and Anna's daughter, Flora, is born. 

1925 (or so) - Matthew Petta, Julia's bereaved husband, marries Margaret Collins,  mother of a young boy named Eugene Miles. Eugene's father is listed in the 1930 census a Missouri man; more info on him is unknown. Margaret is an Iowa woman of Irish descent.

1926/03 - Henry's son Gaetano ("Guy") is born in Chicago. Around this time, Henry and Joseph both move to Los Angeles, where the climate is closer to that of their native country. Filomena will spend the rest of her life going back and forth from Henry and Anna's house in Los Angeles to Rosalia and Mariano's in Chicago. She appears to have made the move with Henry and his family.

1926: According to the family, it was after the move to L.A. that Filomena began to have nightmares about Julia. The exact content of the nightmares is not known, though folklore in Chicago states that Julia was demanding to be dug up, or that Julie was still alive. If nightmares weren't involved, it may be that Filomena wanted Julia moved out of a Petta family plot (though there's no evidence that she was ever buried in a spot other than her current one).  In any case, Filomena begins to lobby for Julia to be disinterred. If this is really when the nightmares started, it was a fairly quick process. 
the monument

1927 - Julia is exhumed from her grave (at her brother Henry's expense). Records do not indicate that she was moved; she seems to have be re-interred in the same plot. No primary sources or records regarding the circumstances of the exhumation have ever been uncovered, or of how in the world they got permission to do it, but a photo of Julia in her coffin is taken, establishing that it happened. Her face is still recognizable.

1927-8? - An elaborate new monument is commissioned at Henry's expense - the current version with the life-sized statue, two messages from Filomena, two photos of Julia in her wedding dress and the one of her in her coffin, well preserved after six years in the grave. The name Filomena Buccola appears twice on the gravestone: the front reads "Filomena Buccola Remembrance of my Beloved Daughter Julia Age 29 yrs." An inscription on the back says (in Italian) 
"Filumena (sic) Buccola I offer this Gift to My Dear Daughter Guilia."
The seldom-noticed inscription on the back

Notably,  Julia's married name, Julia Petta, appears nowhere on the monument. 

There is no record as to what the original monument (if any) looked like or said.

The immense cost of the new monument (believed to be in the 10k range) creates a great deal of friction in the family - Henry Buccola's wife is said to be furious, and Henry himself apparently isn't happy about it, either. But the monument is built. No one knows now what the cost is, but family lore speaks of Henry lamenting that if they just had that ten thousand dollars, they'd be set for life. 

1928: Flora, age 4, is unable to speak. A doctor says it's merely confusion based on the fact that four languages are spoken in the house  (English, Italian, Spanish, and Filomena's thick Sicilian dialect). Anna, her mother, decrees that only English will be spoken in the house. Flora will eventually be able to understand Italian as an adult.  

Filomena in the 1930s with Rosalia, her daughter
(Julia's sister). Courtesy of Antony Edwards
1930 - In the census, Filomena is listed as being back in Chicago, living with Rosalia and Mariano and their children, Rosaline (Lynn Sadie) Lunetta (17) and Joseph Lunetta (14).

The same census shows Henry Buccola  in Los Angeles with his wife and two children, Guy and Flora. He is now working as a designer for women's clothing. Joseph Buccola is now in LA, as well, doing the same work. 

1932 - Henry's family (probably including Filomena) move into a new house in L.A. The family still owns the house today.

1930s: In the new house, Flora shares a room with Filomena. Later in life, she'll tell her children stories about Filomena loudly praying the rosary at all hours, prompting her to shout "Shut up, Nonna!"

1934/06 - A son - with the same name as Julia's stillborn child - is born to Matthew and Margaret Petta back in Chicago.  

Filomena with grandchildren Gaetano (Guy) and Flora
in California. Courtesy of Antony Edwards.
1940 - The census states that Filomena is now living with Rosalia and Mariano in an apartment just around the corner from Julia's old place. By now, Rosalia and Mariano's daughter, Rosaline / Lynn Sadie is in Los Angeles.

Matthew Petta is operating Matty's Inn, a tavern, on Clark Street, near Division. He and Margaret also have an infant daughter (who passed away in 2013 while this article was being prepared).  Eugene is 16 (his father is now listed as Matthew, not a missouri man), their other son is five.

1943/01/16 Mariano Lunetta dies at 61 - burial at Mt. Carmel.

1943/05  Lynn Sadie Lunetta, age 30, is licensed to wed Arthur Golluscio (b 1891) in Los Angeles.  They are married 5 days later in a ceremony at which the officiant is a minister of the "Temple of Light Institution of the Masters." Henry Buccola, her uncle, serves as a witness. 

1944/09/23 - Henry Buccola dies in  Los Angeles.

1945/03 - Rosalia Buccola-Lunetta dies in Chicago; Filomena moves in with Jospeh Buccola and his wife in Los Angeles.

1945/05 - Matthew Petta dies in Chicago, aged 55, and is buried at All Saints. His widow moves the children to Iowa.

Filomena's burial plot (space 8), a few feet to the left
of Julia's (space 5), at Mt. Carmel Cemetery. 
The Muscato family plot is between the two.
1945/10 Filomena dies in Los Angeles. She is buried in Chicago, a few feet away from her daughter's grave.  Her space is unmarked, but only a few feet away from the massive monument that bears her full name twice.

2006 - Flora Buccola-Edwards, Julia's niece and Filomena's granddaughter, dies in Los Angeles, in the very house where she once shared a room with Filomena.  Described in her obit as a "fierce liberal" and "staunchly pro-labor," the family suggests donations to the United Farm Workers of America in lieu of flowers.

 note: I've left out a handful of exact dates, addresses, and the name of one person still living.

Note: I'm grateful for the family and children of Flora Buccola-Edwards for the photographs and information, especially Antony and Mariana Edwards.

Again, for the full story, see the article on The Order of the Good Death.

Podcast audio with slideshow:


Click to view in iTunes
All episodes are free!

Coming in September:

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Spinning Grave at Mt. Carmel

In section 19 of Mt. Carmel cemetery stands a monument sometimes known as The Family Group - an elaborate, and beautiful, statue that serves as a gravestone for Angelo and Rosa Di Salvo:

The carving is elaborate and remarkable. Though worn with time, one can distinguisht the grains in the woods, the jewelry on people's hands, and the folds of the dresses. On its own, it's perhaps the finest statue in a cemetery full of wonderful carvings.

But the most fascinating thing about it is that it moves! The statue actually spins on its base. It's not that easy to move (it's heavy, and I kept feeling awkward about what part of the statue on the left's body I was putting my hand on), but it does turn. Here's Hector turning it:

Little seems to be known about the Di Salvo family. The monument states that it serves as the burial place for Angelo and Rosa Di Salvo, who died in 1932 and 1927, respectively. Though there are photographs of them included on the monument, almost nothing has been found about them in the public records. Unlike many other mysterious statues and graves (see our upcoming podcast an article about their Mt. Carmel neighbor, Julia Buccola), we don't even seem to have any hearsay or legends about the family in this case. What we DO know is that the 1920s were apparently very good to them (well, if you don't count the fact that Rosa died in 1927).

As of 1920,  Angelo and Rosa lived with three children, Anthony, Clementine and Cecilia, as well as Clementine's five year old daughter, Lena (Clementine and Lena had a different last name, De Lucco; perhaps her husband had died).  They rented their house at 255 De Koven at the time, and Angelo did some sort of work in a factory while Clementine waited tables. Angelo and Rosa had come to the United States from Italy some twenty years before. 

 By 1930, however, circumstances appear to have been very different. Rosa had died by then, and Angelo was no long working at all, but he and Anthony were living in a $15,000 house (a very nice house at the time on Edgemont Avenue (near near what is now Roosevelt and Canal). 

Also absent, even from folklore, is what the statue is supposed to be OF, exactly. While many have noted that it looks like a 19th century family photo of some sort, what family is it? Are both Di Salvos buried here depicted among the five figures in the photo? Who are the others? And whose idea was the spinning monument, anyway?

 More information on the family and how their circumstances came to change so much in the 1920s would be appreciated!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Who's Buried in Ira Couch's Tomb? Some new info.

One of my favorite topics - one that pops up in my dreams all the freaking time - is the Couch Tomb, the mysterious vault that stands at the south end of Lincoln Park, the most visible reminder that the place was once City Cemetery (we spoke of the tomb in a podcast some time ago).  It was built in 1858 after Couch died in Cuba  (the Tribune once joked that he was among the first Chicagoans to go south for the winter) and was set up to hold about a dozen bodies; estimates often say that it's about half full (or, uh, half empty). It cost $7000 and was made of several tons of Lockport stone (reports vary between 50-100)

 Odds that there's anything in there now always seemed slim to me - it's not exactly air tight, so most anything that was ever there has probably rotted away by now.  I was never persuaded, though, that the bodies would have been moved.  This was a really, really expensive crypt, after all -  $7000, the cost of it, was about the same amount spent on the Republican Wigman a year or two later.

But I just ran across a thing in the Chicago Examiner archives from May, 1911, when the tomb was set to be opened for reasons unclear. This is a few decades beyond the last time the thing was known to have been opened - one later article said that the family had been unable to get it open without dynamite in the early 1890s (this would probably be the case now - it's awfully well sealed on all four sides of the door).

But in May, 1911, locksmith William McDougald was notified that he was to bring the proper tools to the vault and opened it - an order that made the Examiner. The park commissioners would not say WHY it was being opened - the paper dramatically stated that they maintained "a deep silence."

The order appears to have been a prank. The next day, the park commissioners said they knew of no such orders, and placed a policeman on guard. A.S. Lewis, the superintendent of the park, stated at the time that the tomb had not been opened since 1880 - and when it was opened then, all the bodies were removed. John Lindroth, a civil engineer who worked for the park board for years, concurred, stating that "I was in it ten years ago. There were no bodies in it at that time."

Meanwhile, though, the paper sought out Ira J. Couch, grandson of the original Ira Couch, who stated that "My grandfather, his father and mother and two of my brothers are buried in the tomb. I have heard, also, that four other people are buried there. The bodies have never been removed. We hold the title to the vault and can open it if we want to, but we do not want to."

Well, folks, this is a veritable treasure trove of primary sources! For one thing, we have a first-hand account of being inside of the tomb around 1901 - certainly the only such account that I know of. However, Lindroth saying it was empty isn't necessarily proof positive that there were no bodies in it - it could simply be that they had all rotted away by then. For a coffin to rot away the twenty or thirty years it would have been since the last interment would not be impossible. Also, I'm not sure he was telling the truth; this might have just been Lindroth's way of getting people to leave the thing alone. I really wish he'd said more about how he got in, as it was generally said at the time that one couldn't get in without blasting it open (it's not just locked, it's sealed), or why he would have been inside, or how he got the legal clearance to open the tomb without Ira J. Couch knowing about it.

After all, of course, we can't discount the testimony of Ira J, who presumably would have been in a position to know whether or not the bodies were moved. He may have been mistaken, but I can imagine that this was the sort of topic that came up around the Couch family dinner table occasionally. Particularly given the fact that his brothers were there - if they had been moved in 1880, he should have known, and he should certainly have been informed if the tomb had been opened in 1901 (the Couch family was still prominent in Chicago then). He had been in charge of the family's estate since 1899, when his grandmother died;  some have pointed to the fact that Mrs. Couch is at Rose Hill, not interred in the tomb, as an indicator that the bodies had been moved, but the cemetery was long out of use by 1899 (I had no idea she died so late until today - the park hadn't been a cemtery in decades by then, and that would have been years after the supposed incident when they couldn't open it without dynamite to put Ira's brother in).  Incidentally, Mrs. Couch's obituary states that her husband and father-in-law are in the tomb; a 1936 article on the family in the Trib said that Ira J. and his son, Ira L, made an annual custom of visiting the tomb. Ira L eventually moved to Omaha, and said as late as 1960 that there were seven bodies in there. In a 1993 article the family no longer knew for sure.

So, we have some fine new information here from 1911, but still no proper closure! I wish Lindroth had explained why he would have been in there ten years earlier.   For much more about City Cemetery, see Pamela Bannos's "Hidden Truths"  As a minor update, Pamela tells me that, even having traced all of the Couch family genealogy, this would be the first she's heard or Ira J having any brothers. Perhaps they were stillborn? Furthermore, Ira Couch's parents died well after the era when it would have been legal to inter them in Lincoln Park. However, if they died within Ira J.'s lifetime, one would assume that he knew where they were interred. Curiouser and curiouser!

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Haunted Coffin Handle of Graceland Cemetery

In 1907, the Trib asked for readers to send in accounts of paranormal experiences. One anonymous guy sent in a second-hand story of an man in the Austin neighborhood, a "stalwart Norseman" who had experienced something that had "transformed a skeptic into an ardent believer in the occult."

The "norseman" was a widower with four children. One day, while visiting his wife's grave at Graceland, his oldest daughter found a gorgeous silver coffin handle lying around - one which had apparently broken off of a recently-exhumed coffin. It was said to feature "exquisite workmanship," and the daughter took it home with her.

That very night, as the man sat smoking in his library, he heard the vestibule door swing open and a mad flurry of feet charging in. But when he got up to investigate, there was no one there, and the door was still locked.

The incident happened again night after night, and the footsteps extended their reach from the front vestibule to all over the house. "The noises," the teller wrote the Trib, "increased until pandemonium reigned every night, and the family was panic stricken and nightly locked themselves in their rooms." Furniture began to moved around, and the piano opened and closed violently. The family, in the typical style of ghost hunting of the era, would charge downstairs with guns, but would find nothing.

They were just about to abandon their haunted house when the father, on a thorough search, found the coffin handle in a basket of curios in the fireplace. He took the handle and threw it as far into the alley as he could - and that was the end of the ghost.

This particular  sort of "took an object from a graveyard" story (a pretty standard folk motif) always leaves me with a lot of questions. In this case:

 - Why not return it to the cemetery?
 - So, was the ALLEY haunted now that the coffin handle was there?
 - Why make such an effort to throw it? You could get it further away if you just TOOK it someplace. I'd kind of expect it to crawl back, like the cat in "The Cat Came Back," if I didn't get it further from the alley.

At least it's not as bad as the "Golden Arm" story, in which a guy decides not to bury his wife with her golden arm and gets haunted by her. Who the hell gets a false arm made out of gold? Most of the variations on that story don't say how the woman died, but it was probably either of curvature of the spine or running out of money and starving to death because she blew all of the family money on a ridiculously impractical golden arm (and god knows what ELSE such a person was spending money on). I have no sympathy for anyone wanting to be buried with such an expensive item. Leave it up in the world where it can still do some good, why doncha? Also, gimme your organs.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Headless Ghost of Winnetka

I normally don't get into stories from the suburbs around here, but you'll have to excuse me - I'm a SUCKER for headless ghosts. Over on another blog I've reviewed several variations of Legend of Sleepy Hollow. 

Sheridan Road used to be known as a real hotspot for ghosts - occasionally local papers would run features on all the murder sites and haunted spots you would see driving along it; it even put you in spitting distance of H.H. Holmes' place in Wilmette, and one story told a lurid tale of a woman finding a skeleton buried near there after having a dream about someone being buried in the woods (more on this later - I'll check into it).

But chief among these was stretch of Hubbard's Woods near the ravines that was haunted by a headless man. As of 1902, the latest of the articles, residents still remembered the "headless horror" of 1881, when a headless corpse was found in the woods. Local legend had it that every night, on the anniversary of the murder, the headless ghost would wander through the woods, searching for its head.

In may, 1881, a twelve-year-old boy was going hunting for birds' nests in the woods when he came upon a headless corpse about fifty feet north of Green Bay Road. It was leaning as though the head "must have rested upon the swelling base of the tree as upon a pillow," and would have been face up, except, well, there was no face. The head was nowhere to be seen. The pockets had been turned inside out, suggesting a robbery. THe head-chopping was so cleanly done that some thought that a machine must have been used, like a guillotine. A bearded human head had been found upon the lake shore about six weeks prior, in a direct line from where the corpse had been found.

Clues came in fairly quickly. Cards from a hotel in BRemen, Germany were in the pockets. A new search of the area where the head had been seen yielded a high-crowned black derby hat with some human hair and blood in it.   The clothing had bit slit lengthwise, as though the killer had intended to strip it all off, but then got nervous and left it. There were signs of a terrific struggle.

The city had the body buried in a shallow grave near the tree where it was found (to the consternation of residents), then hastily dug up to see if it could be matched to a body-less head that was exhumed from Dunning (I couldn't tell if this was the same head that had been found on the beach, which some reports say had washed away). When dug up, the body was no more than three feet down, and in a pool of stagnant water. The smell was about as one would expect, and the corpse, though only just buried, was barely recognizable as anything that had ever been human. The head, too, was in bad shape, but was found to be a reasonably good match - close enough, anyway. The two articles were put into one box and taken out to Dunning.

For a time the body was said to be that of Bernhard Polzig, but checking on the origin of the clothes yielded a theory that it was a missing Bohemian man named Ignaz Hopf, who had recently fled Bremen and was probably murdered in March, only weeks after arriving in the United States. Who killed him, and exactly why, were never exactly determined.

In the 1890s and early 1900s, the Trib occasionaly made mention of the belief among the locals that the headless ghost walked around the ravine, at least on the anniversary of the murder, looking for its head. Whether they actually believed this, and if anyone actually claimed to see it, were not mentioned. By the time these stories came out, the way the story was being retold differed a bit from the way it actually happened; in the retellings people usually said that a  bunch of boys found the head after the body was found.

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!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Haunted Hooters? (Grave Robbing Week)

New Episode!
Grave Robbing
in Lincoln Park

Chicago Unbelievable

Download mp3

More Podcasts

Rotters by 
Daniel Kraus. 
grave robbing!

Adam and
Daniel are
a part of the
same violence

The downtown Hooters on Wells has long been rumored to be haunted. Well, really, almost every restaurant has, but the "haunted Hooters" has gotten a lot of media attention over the years (for obvious reasons), despite the fact that no good story has come up to explain who or what could be haunting it. The stories are just the usual "strange footsteps" type of stories. You usually see it listed on the same sites that say Al Capone once owned the Congress Hotel (which is nonsense).  I never took them seriously.

But we may have found a story for it - and solved another Chicago ghost mystery in the process!

In the 1950s, a Tribune article about long-forgotten haunted houses in Chicago spoke of a house on Erie Street that was said to be haunted. Having once been used by a medical college that often purchased bodies from resurrectionists, it was said that human remains had been found in the yard, and that on quiet evenings, neighbors could hear the clip-clop of hooves and the sound of body snatchers unloading coffins from their wagons. Exactly which house on Erie this was was wasn't recorded, though, and our previous efforts to pinpoint a location have been fruitless. Whether the ghost story was real or not, I've always wanted to know where the house was. It would be a great addition to ghost tours (especially considering that it was probably right near my tour routes).

In the course of researching for Grave Robbing Week, we may have not only figured out where the house was, but found a backstory for Hooters, too. An 1875 body snatching case centered around an alley, house, and barn in the vicinity of Erie and Wells - right about where Hooters is now. Could this be the house the Tribune meant? And could the same ghosts be the ones haunting the Hooters?

Well, naturally, that all depends on whether you believe in ghosts in the first place, but we've finally got a back story that just might fit.

It goes like this....

In January of 1875, The Tribune announced that body snatchers, resurrection men, and other such ghouls were out of business in Chicago. New laws gave medical schools fist dibs on the bodies bound for the new Potter's Field in Jefferson Park, so the market for bodies no longer existed in the city.

But no such law existed in Ann Arbor, Michigan or Iowa City, Iowa, which became the major markets for bodies stolen from Chicago.

Only a month after saying body snatchers were out of business, the Trib was providing grim accounts of a new body snatching case on the North Side.  Body snatchers, it was said, were digging into the graves, opening the caskets, and drawing the body out with a hook.

The bodies were then being routed through the alley behind a charnel house at 167 N. Wells (pre 1909 numbering; it would be the 660 block today) and loaded in barrels for shipment to Ann Arbor. They were first caught in the act by a man who lived around the corner at 155 East Erie (214 West in modern numbering), who saw them messing with barrels in the barn behind his house and the alley behind a house that fronted 167 Wells (the 660 block in modern numbering). These two buildings formed a sort of border right around the current location of Hooters.

So, well, there's your back story, Hooters. You're welcome.

Could 214 W Erie be the house the Tribune wrote about? Maybe, maybe not. The 1950s article seemed to imply that the house was long gone, and the building that was at 214 Erie in 1884 is still there now - it's an 1883 brownstone now called Flair House,  the home of Flair Communications. A plaque outside states that the original owner was an Irish milk merchant. However, the address was, in 1884, said to be the home of W.H. Watson, who testified that he had heard the ruckus in the barn behind his house, and in the rear of the house fronting Wells Street. The records I'm finding on the vicitnity are a bit contradictory (as it often the case), but here's a little map of the block as of 1906, just over 20 years later:

Hooters would be on the bottom right corner, and the scene of the crime would have been out behind it. The Flair House would be the spot  at 155 Erie listed as "horse shoeing." It COULD be the same house the Trib was talking about - goodness knows that we've found houses that are usually said to be long gone are actually still standing before, and the story about it being used by the medical college could easily have been hearsay attached to the ghost stories that circulated decades later.  It's also worth mentioning that the Trib didn't say the house itself was haunted - the story was about the area around it. The person to whom I spoke at Flair House told me that the garage , at least, is pretty spooky.

The grave robber in question was one L.R. Williams (though he variously gave his name as George Smith or George Wallace), a medical student from Rush who had been in business for a few months. In February of 1875, the police caught him and another man loading a barrel onto a wagon. The police chased them through the nearby alleys, firing several shots in the process. The two men (later reported to be brothers), had been fired at by sextons before without getting hit, but this time one of them was shot as he fled. Reports of how badly he'd been hurt varied.

The one who was shot escaped and, as far as I can tell, was never heard from again. L.R. Williams was released on a $1500 bail, then promply "jumped bail" and disappeared. As far as I know, they never caught him. How many bodies they may have routed through the barn and charnel house is unknown, but at least five barrels full of bodies were found. In inquest was held at which the story of the area around Erie and Wells came out.

 Given the possible connection to Hooters, it's rather odd to read the Tribune's lurid account of the two female bodies in the morgue during the coroner's inquest, which, disturbingly enough, was probably intended to be titillating:

Hard and stiff, the death rigor intensified by the bitter cold, there lay upon the next slab the naked form of A BEAUTIFUL WOMEN exposed to all the indignities...and of unsypmathetic and indifferent looks and touches. Stockings covered the feet and a portion of the shapely limbs, but the rest of her person was entirely nude. The head was turned to one side in a posture that would have been natural to animate modesty, and which, in the poor maltreated corpse, carried with it a pitying suggestion of womanly purity. Although the changes of death had somewhat altered the contour  of her body, the beholder could not but be struck with the shapeliness of her limbs and the general beauty of her person; but her parted lips and staring eye-balls made a gorgon horror of the face that in life had been comely and attractive.... in the corner of the room were four other barrels, and by looking in their open tops could be seen the other objects of THE BODY SNATCHERS' rapacity.....among the number was another woman whose luxuriant brown hair displayed its disheveled tresses above the top of the barrel and caught the glance of the spectator... her features were concealed by her position, but it could easily be seen that her frame was thin and wasted, and that she had been a woman above the average height.

In the other barrels were two victims of consumption (a boy and a man with a long black beard) and an old man. They were given far less description than the women.

So, this grave-robbing story is a possible lead on that pesky Trib story from the 1950s, and a possible story for the Hooters. I'm sure there are other possible stories, though. I've never really looking into the Hooters location. Odds that there was a murder there are one point or another are probably high. Erie and Wells wasn't always the nice area that it is now, after all.

For more on bodies in barrels, see here.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Podcast: Grave Robbing in Lincoln Park

New Episode!
Grave Robbing
in Lincoln Park

Chicago Unbelievable

Download mp3

More Podcasts

The first week of april will be grave-robbing week here at Chicago Unbelievable - we'll be talking about a bunch of cases of grave robbing in Chicago. As a preview, Hector and I have journeyed out to the old City Cemetery to talk about grave robbing with Daniel Kraus, author of the new book, ROTTERS, which is all about father-and-son grave riggers. It's out on April 5th!

Grave robbing in 19th century Chicago was very common - even during periods when the bodies bound for the Potter's Field (where they buried the unclaimed bodies of the poor and friendless) were given to medical schools first, there was still plenty of money in digging up bodies to ship to the University of Michigan medical school (U of M seems to have had a real reputation as a good place to sell bodies; I have to wonder whether this what attracted H.H. Holmes to the school!)

Kraus's book may be a novel, but it'll tell you all you could ever need to know about robbing graves for fun and profit. How long should

In Chicago, even city sexton (cemetery manager) got in on the act of digging up bodies to sell, and people were always getting caught with wagons, barrels, and sacks full of corpses. This seems to have happened in most of the local cemeteries, but for this podcast, we'll be talking about the big City Cemetery that was the city's main burial ground from the 1840s until the late 1860s. All but a handful of grave markers were removed over a century ago when the space was converted to Lincoln Park - but it's well known that plenty of the bodies were never moved. You know that little parking lot near the south end of the park that you use during Green City Market (when it isn't full)? When they dug out for the lot in the 1990s, they found dozens of bodies.

Next week (starting April 4th) is Grave Robbing Week here at Chicago Unbelievable - we'll be telling tales of grave robbing from Chicago history all week long!  We advise you not to check the blog too close to meal time for
a while.

For more about City Cemetery, see Pamela Bannos' Hidden Truths Website.


    Above: the Couch tomb in Lincoln Park - the oldest surviving
   structure in the "fire zone." But who's inside?

Rotters by 
Daniel Kraus. 
grave robbing!

Adam and
Daniel are
a part of the
same violence

Above: illustration I made for the WEIRD CHICAGO book, back when I worked with them.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The "Resurrection Mary" Gates

They're gone now, but for about thirty years an important part of Chicago ghostlore was the bent gates at Resurrection Cemetery. Two of the gates were bent, as though someone had tried to pry them apart, with scorch marks where the hands would have been. The story went that a man had been driving past and saw a woman holding the gates and screaming. He reported to the police that someone was locked in the cemetery, and they arrived to find no one there...only bent up bars.

The cemetery's explanation was always that a work truck had backed into the gates, and the scorch marks came from blow-torching them in attempt to bend them back into shape. Resurrection Mary fans scoffed.

A year or so ago, I was signing books at a large annual conference of writers, librarians, and teachers. A woman came up to me and introduced herself as the daughter of the guy who backed into the bars - she even said she'd seen the accident report. While it's always been said that the cemetery was terribly embarrassed by the bars, and outraged that people would blame a ghost, according to her it was always sort of a running joke to the cemetery maintenance staff. The "ghost bars" were considered particularly hilarious.

Now, this is the part where I must hang my historian head in shame. I didn't get NEARLY enough information from the woman. I was working at the time, and and in the process of divorcing myself from my old company and unsure whether I'd ever work in the ghost business again. All that can come of this is that I can say that I've heard from presumably trustworthy sources that the cemetery never took the "ghost bars" seriously, and were quite secure in their belief that it was all the result of a construction accident.

For a whole lot more information, check out our Resurrection Mary Roundtable podcast episode! We discuss the bars at length.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Let's start things off with a podcast!

What better way to celebrate a re-branded site than with a podcast?  When Hector and I went to Bachelor's Grove last fall, I thought we were recording the LAST Weird Chicago podcast (I hadn't worked for/with that company in nearly a year at that point).  I now realize that it was really the FIRST Chicago Unbelievable podcast!  To start things off, I've remastered and remixed that episode in MUCH higher quality and broken it into a couple of episodes, including much more of the trip than you ever got to hear before. You can download it from or wait a little bit until it hits iTunes.

There'll be a couple more "remixed and repurposed" episodes, but I promise you that we'll be bringing you BRAND NEW EPISODES very soon!  I'll add a "subscribe" button for iTunes here as soon as one is available.



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