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Reviews Wed Oct 25 2006

Happy Halloween, Chicago-Style

When I was a kid I loved ghost stories, even though they did give me nightmares. Although I read lots of scary stories, my favorite supernatural tales were about local Chicago hauntings. The legend of Resurrection Mary was a favorite, but it wasn't the scariest. Oh, no. I still vividly remember the first time I heard the terrifying story of what happened at St. Rita's Church at 63rd and Fairfield that one fateful All Soul's Day in 1961. I was in fifth grade, and one of my teachers told us the tale around this time of year. I didn't sleep for a week. And if you don't know the story of St. Rita's, then you need to check out these books.

Chicago Haunts: Ghostlore of the Windy City Rev. ed.
by Ursula Bielski
(Lake Claremont Press, 1998)
More Chicago Haunts: Scenes from Myth and Memory
by Ursula Bielski
(Lake Claremont Press, 2000)

These two collections by local historian and self-described ghosthunter Ursula Bielski are good places to start. The storytelling style is engaging without being sensationalist. Both books are well-researched and include source citations and bibliographies. Even if you are immune to the allure of scary stories, Chicago Haunts and More Chicago Haunts provide a unique perspective of the city's history. Chicago Haunts includes retellings of many of the most well-known Chicago ghost stories, such as the devil at Hull House, the St. Valentine's Day massacre, the tragic fire at Our Lady of the Angels and, yes, the incident at St. Rita's Church. More Chicago Haunts includes many lesser-known but no less compelling stories, from Maxwell Street apparitions to hauntings in Lincoln Square.

Chicago's Street Guide to the Supernatural: A Guide to Haunted and Legendary Places In and Near the Windy City
by Richard T. Crowe, with Carol Mercado
(Carolando Press, 2000)

As the founder of Chicago Supernatural Tours, Richard Crowe has been conducting ghost tours around the city for more than 30 years. This book is like holding a month's worth of tours in your hands. More than 70 sites are covered in this Street Guide to the Supernatural, which should keep even the most dedicated amateur ghosthunter busy for some time. The accounts of the apparitions and spooky occurrences that make each place notable are clearly written and sometimes include personal anecdotes from his tour experiences. Each site in the book is also accompanied by an address, photo and status of the haunting, such as "dormant," "ongoing," or "sporadic but active."

Graveyards of Chicago: The People, History, Art, and Lore of Cook County Cemeteries
by Matt Hucke and Ursula Bielski
(Lake Claremont Press, 1999)

Although not a ghost book exactly, any lover of ghost stories knows cemeteries are favorites sites for hauntings. Graveyards of Chicago introduces readers to more than 60 cemeteries and burial sites in and around Chicago. Each entry includes the address and phone number of the location, photos and brief descriptions with historical information about the cemetery. Celebrities, historical figures and other persons of interest buried at the cemetery are also noted.

Windy City Ghosts Rev. ed.
by Dale Kaczmarek
(Ghost Research Society, 2006)
Windy City Ghosts II Rev. ed.
by Dale Kaczmarek
(Ghost Research Society, 2006)

Author Dale Kazmarek, founder of the locally-based Ghost Research Society, is also well-known in Chicago's ghostlore community. These two collections are the result of Kazmarek's own research and experience exploring the area's haunted sites. The stories include supernatural occurrences at Lake Forest College, the George Stickney mansion and the LaGrange Public Library. There are also accounts of the I-57 murders, the crash of Flight 191 and the "ghostly boy of St. Charles Road," among many others.

Weird Illinois: Your Travel Guide to Illinois' Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets
by Troy Taylor, Mark Moran and Mark Sceurman
(Barnes & Noble, 2005)

Weird Illinois is not exclusively a ghost book, but it does include several chapters dedicated to "unexplained phenomena," ghost stories and cemeteries. It is also one of the best-looking books of the bunch, with appealing graphics and generously illustrated with full-color photos. Entries are brief and the tone is light-hearted, but Weird Illinois is undeniably fun to read. Plus, because the book covers the entire state, there are many anecdotes and sites in Weird Illinois that are not found in the other books listed here.

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