Chicago is a city of ghost stories generated by a haunting past of tragedies and murders. When you step into the paranormal tales of the Windy City, you instantly feel the terror of a raging fire, the horror of a gangland massacre, the aftermath of being trapped in a burning theater, and dead people lying underneath your very feet.
Death Alley Ghosts
On the tragic afternoon of December 30, 1903, the Iroquois Theater (currently Nederlander Theatre) caught on fire and around 2,200 patrons were trapped inside. The poor architectural design that bottlenecked people clamoring to escape down a common staircase created panic as they struggled to get out of the burning building through a single entrance.
Touted as a fireproof theater, the flames blazed rapidly. Droves of people attempted to exit through the fire doors, but found them locked. Six-hundred and two people inside the theater perished, and 212 of those were children. Their bodies were stored in a makeshift morgue in the back alley that became known as Death Alley.
Strange paranormal activities and hauntings started soon after. People using the alley report seeing apparitions and hearing disembodied cries. Other encounters include being touched by invisible ghost hands, and some people have been pushed by an unseen force.
Ghosts of the Great Chicago Fire
How the fire actually started is unknown, but the common story told was a cow that belonged to Mrs. O'Leary kicked over a lantern that set Chicago ablaze. The three-week long drought exacerbated the fire, as did the poorly constructed aged buildings that went up like kindling when the wind blew the sparks over them. The 8:30 pm fire on that October 8, 1871 night killed 300 people and burned over three square miles of Chicago. One-hundred-thousand people lost their homes. Firefighters valiantly battled the flames, but the fire was out-of-control. The next night, the fire began to burn itself out and rain started to fall. It was a few more days before the charred embers cooled.
There are many ghosts still seen today who were victims of the Great Chicago fire. For example, Father Damen prayed that Holy Family Church on West Roosevelt Road be spared, and it was. Father Damen died in 1890, but locals have reported seeing his ghost ever since, still standing vigil over his beloved church and community. A ghost dressed in clerical attire has been seen moving through the church. He's even been seen wandering through St. Ignatius School, which is near the church.
The undocumented story of a brave city worker who manned the Tower water pumps so the fire fighters could combat the fire is often told. When the fire engulfed that area, rather than burn to death, the man hanged himself from the top floor. People have reported seeing his shadow hanging from the window of the top floor.
Haunting of Valentine's Day Massacre
The gangland Valentine's Day Massacre of February 14, 1909, left seven gangsters dead. The feud between bootlegger gangs over a dog track and the attempted murder of Jack "Machine Gun Jack" McGurn of Al Capone's gang was the motivation for the ambush. Capone decided to retaliate with a hit on Bugs Moran and his gang at the SMC Cartage warehouse on North Clark Street.
The warehouse is gone, and only a vacant lot remains. However, people report hearing phantom submachine gunfire known as Tommy guns. The apparitions of men dressed in gangster era apparel are seen. Some witnesses claim to see the seven bodies lying on the ground. In the nearby senior housing facility, residents claim to see ghostly gangsters barging into their room at all hours of the day and night. People walking their dogs claim the poor animals whine and howl and refuse to go near the area.
The story of haunted objects is exemplified by the massacre bricks from the building people purchased. Many of the brick had bullets in them. Some of the owners claimed to be haunted by the ghosts of the slain gangsters, while others believed that anyone who owned one of the bricks was cursed and would suffer from bad luck, bad health, and even death.
The frightening tale of Resurrection Mary warns people to avoid driving near the Resurrection Cemetery at night. Resurrection Mary is often seen standing by the gates of the cemetery. She will stop unsuspecting passersby and ask for a ride. Once she climbs into your car and you move back into the road, and glance in your rearview mirror, a chill will rake up your spine, and dread will fill the pit of your stomach because she'll be gone. Vanished.
Resurrection Mary has been seen at the cemetery since the 1930s. She wears a white 1930s party style dress and carries a matching clutch. She's a pretty young woman with blonde hair and blue eyes. Some people have described her as also carrying a pair of high heels. Some people see her before they get to the cemetery, but when they draw near the gates, she asks the driver to stop and gets out. As she walks toward the gates, she vanishes.
Gangster Resident Ghosts at Congress Plaza Hotel
The Congress Plaza Hotel was a favorite place for gangsters to hang out. The infamous Al Capone once lived on the eighth floor of the hotel during the 1920s and 1930s. Many of his fellow gangsters and friends lived there or frequented the bar. His ghost is seen in the bar, the hotel lobby, and in the halls of the eighth floor.
The third and fourth floors of the South Tower are said to have the most ghostly activity. Surprisingly, the staircase between these floors is another place of unusual paranormal activity.
If you're seeking a ghostly encounter, then request Room 441. It's said to be haunted by a dark female shadow that kicks hotel guests awake, throws objects, and makes frightening sounds. It's rumored to be the inspiration for the fictional suicide story, 1408.
Peg-Leg Johnny is mischievous and enjoys turning electronics off and on. He likes to turn the lights out when you need them and turns them on when you don't. It's said that he was murdered and his body discovered in the hotel alley.
The apparition of a young boy is seen throughout the hotel, often running after guests. He's the ghost of a young boy whose mother threw him out a hotel window and then jumped to her death, too. There are many other nameless ghosts who appear unexpectedly, often startling hotel guests. If you wish to bump into one of the resident ghosts, you can join in the hotel's annual Haunted Halloween Ball.
Graves Underneath Lincoln Park Zoo
Did you know that Lincoln Park and the Zoo are resting on top of 10,000 graves? Just before the Great Chicago Fire, the city was in the process of moving the city cemetery that occupied the land of the present-day park and zoo. All of the stone markers had been removed and wooden markers left in their place. These wooden markers were destroyed in the fire.
It was impossible to identify where the remaining 10,000 graves were, and the project was abandoned. The current park and zoo were built over those unmarked graves. The lone mausoleum in Lincoln Park is a haunting reminder of all the bodies lying underneath the park.
Is it any surprise that these public spaces are haunted by the restless dead? For example, when the barn at the zoo was being built, the workers dug up a body, but left it in the ground and built the barn over it. Zoo employees frequently hear doors slamming on their own, lights flickering, and phantom footfalls. A woman in white is a frequent visitor of the Lion House, but quickly vanishes whenever people notice her. The zoo staff and visitors report seeing people dressed in Victorian era clothing fading in and out and appear oblivious of their surroundings.
Famous Chilling Chicago Ghost Stories
Famous Chicago ghost stories center around tragic events and untimely deaths. Gangster, forgotten gravesites, fires, and the tormented souls left in their wake continue to haunt the Windy City.