A first-person account from off the beaten track,
as told to Anne Ford.
“Most ghost-tour guides are guys in costumes swinging a lantern, walking people around, saying, ‘It was a night just like tonight . . . ‘ That’s fun to me for about 15 seconds, and then I start feeling like a first-class ding-dong. My tours are very down-to-earth as ghost tours go.
“I do all of my own tour research for the company that employs me, Chicago Hauntings. I’m in the archives room quite a bit at the Harold Washington Library, and also the one at the Daley Center, where you can order probate records and stuff. The research is what keeps the tours interesting for me. It’s just addictive. Every block I walk down in the city, I can tell you who got murdered there.
“H.H. Holmes is a real rabbit hole to research. He’s commonly listed now as America’s first serial killer. I don’t think of him that way, because he didn’t kill people just for fun. The people he killed, he killed because he could make money off them or they knew too much. He was more of a Walter White than a Hannibal Lecter.
“The site of his famous ‘murder castle’ is now mostly a grassy knoll next door to the post office at 63rd and Wallace, and there’s a little bit of overlap with where the post office is. I got to go into the basement of the post office with the History Channel a couple years ago, and my recorder picked up something that sounded like a little girl singing. We do know there was a little girl, Pearl, who was probably killed in the castle and probably buried in the basement.
“And then there’s Resurrection Mary, one of those vanishing hitchhikers. People offer her a ride home, and when they get to Resurrection Cemetery, she disappears. I decided to make a database of all of the firsthand accounts I could dig up—there are a few dozen going back to the early 1930s—and there are interesting patterns, like, she never actually says what her name is. Resurrection Mary just has a better ring to it than Resurrection Beulah.
“It’s hard to freak me out, but there was a time in the Congress Hotel I got overwhelmed with the sensation that something was chasing me down the hall. I ran like hell for the elevator; I wouldn’t have looked back for anything. It was probably just me being a chicken. Also, in the Florentine Room there, I’ve heard the piano play itself. Not a whole sonata, but a couple of notes.
“One place I investigated was this old funeral home. The new owner had turned it into a tattoo parlor. I remember the owner pointed at the staircase and said, ‘You guys see that fucking staircase? That’s what freaks me out. Twice I’ve been walking down that fucking staircase, and I’ve felt something trying to fucking push me. So I went, ‘Listen, motherfucker, if I die in this fucking place, it is fucking on.’
“And three weeks later, he died in the place. He had a heart attack and died a few feet away from the staircase. And they have since recorded his voice there, swearing. He’s one of a handful of phantom foulmouths in the city. There’s also supposedly the ghost of an old woman who curses people out at Bethania Cemetery. This is the kind of ghost I plan to be myself one day.”