The things I do. This was originally planned as a top ten list of haunted places around the city, but I had to stop short of my goal when I became convinced I would never sleep again. Maybe it's because I'm Catholic, but I've always had a healthy respect for the supernatural. Ghost stories, however, have always terrified me. Plus, there's nothing like being a single gal in the city, staying up late reading these horror stories for nights on end, to really get the blood pumping. At 2:30 a.m. I am still in a state of hyperawareness (My God, did my apartment always creak this much?), and I cannot bring myself to turn off the light. Consequently, this is an abbreviated list of some famous and not-so famous Chicago ghosts and hauntings. Feel free to complete the list with your own favorite local ghost story.
776 S. Route 59
Employees have experienced several types of supernatural activity at this west suburban store. Warehouse workers report cold spots and feelings of unease while store employees repeatedly observe securely placed items falling off shelves. Though the Wal-Mart is now open 24-hours, before the policy change, several late-shift workers encountered, on various occasions, a woman in white wandering through the aisles after closing. When they would try to escort this mysterious customer from the store, the woman would vanish.
660 N. Wells
Before Hooter's moved into its location on Wells Street in 1991, the building had been home to several failed businesses in the 1980s. While Hooter's was able to overcome the jinx, restaurant employees and managers are convinced the building is haunted. Waitresses report hearing phantom footsteps in the basement storage area or hearing their named being called when no one is around. Phones and electrical equipment periodically malfunction, and bartenders have watched as the jukeboxes turn themselves on and off. No specific explanation can be found for the occurrences.
632 N. Dearborn
Not far from the Hooter's restaurant is the popular Excalibur nightclub. The building Excalibur occupies was built in 1892 and housed the Chicago Historical Society collections from 1892 until 1931 when the Society moved to their current Lincoln Park location. A wide variety of tenants used the building in the intervening years until it became a nightclub in 1985 with the opening of the Limelight. Rumors that the building is haunted began circulating shortly after the Limelight opened. Objects would move on their own. Glasses would fall and shatter for no apparent reason. Several Limelight employees reported hearing their named being called and often claimed the voice strongly resembled someone they knew, though that person was miles away at the time. When Excalibur took over the space in 1989, the strange occurrences continued. Visitors experience roaming cold spots, and at least one manager has arrived in the morning to find glasses smashed and liquor bottles broken -- though the building's motion detectors had remained silent.
3. Harpo Studios
1058 W. Washington Blvd.
On July 24, 1915, more than 800 passengers of the Eastland steamer died when the ship capsized on the Chicago River. The 2nd Regiment Armory at 1054 W. Washington was quickly established as a temporary morgue and nearly 200 bodies were transported to the building. When Oprah Winfrey established her Harpo Studios in the Armory building in 1989, it came as no surprise when employees discovered the building was haunted. Security guards working the night shift reported crashing noises, the sounds of dozens of invisible footsteps marching across the lobby, phantom laughter, and the sounds of a woman sobbing. Others have encountered a ghost known as the "Gray Lady" seen floating down hallways in vintage dress. Harpo employees have no doubt the Eastland tragedy left an indelible impression upon the building.
2. St. Rita's Church
6243 S. Fairfield
I vividly remember the first time I heard about the terrifying apparition at St. Rita's Church. My fifth-grade teacher told my class this story, and I had nightmares for days. Though now the story seems fantastic, I still cannot think of it without experiencing a brief stab of the fear I felt when I was 10. Over a dozen parishioners were keeping vigil in St. Rita's on All Souls Day, November 2, 1961, when the church organ began playing on its own, a series of random notes. The congregation turned to look at the organ in the loft above the main doors and observed six robed figures -- three in white and three in black -- flanking the organ as it continued to play. The figures were described as semitransparent, neither hands nor faces visible through the fabric. The parishioners rushed in terror to escape the church, but the doors refused to open. Horrified, they watched as the figures floated down to the main floor and glided over the pews to the front of the church while a voice was heard saying "Pray for us." A wind blew through the church, and the doors flew open, allowing the parishioners to escape. Officially, the event never took place. Parish priests described the story as a teenage hoax or deny it ever happened at all. The witnesses, however, (some of whom are still living) stand by their account of the events of that night though it has never been repeated.
1. Bachelor's Grove
Midlothian Turnpike & 143rd Street
Bachelor's Grove is in the number one spot because it is widely regarded as the most haunted spot in Chicago. This tiny, disused cemetery near suburban Midlothian has been the site of countless paranormal sightings for more than five decades. Repeated vandalization and desecration led to the removal of many of the graves to other cemeteries in the 1970s, and the cemetery was officially closed by the Cook County Board in 1977. However, this has not prevented pranksters, ghost hunters and other curious folks from visiting the site over the last 25 years. Eerie mists and glowing orbs have been repeatedly photographed among the remaining headstones at Bachelor's Grove. Visitors to the Grove have also encountered a phantom house. Throughout the decades, witnesses have invariably described the house as a 2-story Victorian, light glowing faintly from the windows, and a wing on the front porch. When witnesses attempt to approach the house, it reportedly shrinks and vanishes. A website dedicated entirely to documenting Bachelor's Grove provides detailed accounts of some of the phenomenon (see sources).
Bielski, Ursula. Chicago Haunts: Ghostlore of the Windy City. Chicago: Lake Claremont Press, 1998.
Bielski, Ursula. More Chicago Haunts: Scenes from Myth and Memory. Chicago: Lake Claremont Press, 2000.
Crowe, Richard T. Chicago's Street Guide to the Supernatural. Oak Park, IL: Carolando Press, 2000.
You control the content! Send your question to librarian@gapersblock dot com and it may be featured in a future column.