Chicago often ranks among the most haunted cities in the United States, but not everyone is a fan of ghost stories. When I asked Northwestern University professor and historian Bill Savage to weigh in, he said, “Chicago is haunted not by ghosts, but by the city's neglect of the working class.” Whether you believe in the supernatural or not (I’m with Bill), most of Chicago’s enduring ghost stories contain at least a kernel of historical truth. With that in mind, here are the ten “most haunted” sites in the city.
Everyone’s favorite lakefront park wasn’t always so picturesque. For the first 27 years of Chicago history, Lincoln Park was the city cemetery, home to more than 12,000 corpses. The only remnant of that era still visible today is the Ira Couch Mausoleum at Stockton and LaSalle, but check out Pamela Bannos’s exhaustive research on the park’s morbid history.
Museum of Science and Industry
There are at least two noteworthy ghosts to watch for here. First, the World War II-era commander of the museum’s German U-505 submarine committed suicide on board, apparently by shooting himself in the face in front of his crew. Second, the infamous lawyer Clarence Darrow—of Scopes “monkey trial” and Chicago’s Leopold and Loeb fame—has been seen perched upon the rear steps after his ashes were spread around the Jackson Park lagoon.
Congress Plaza Hotel
Kind of a no-brainer, considering it’s been around since the 1893 world’s fair, when H. H. Holmes met his victims in the lobby before luring them to his murder castle. Since the 1940s, guests have seen the ghost of Al Capone, who once owned and worked out of a suite on the eighth floor. Lights tend to flicker, strange noises seem to emanate from the walls, and the hotel is often said to have inspired Stephen King’s 1408.
The creepy thing about the Hancock—other than its appearance in Poltergeist 3—is that a lot of people have died here, sometimes suspiciously, sometimes in freak accidents. The most famous example is Chris Farley’s 60th floor overdose in 1997, but people have been falling through windows since the 1970s, and falling scaffolding killed three people as recently as 2002. Some people blame the triangular trusses.
This residential street a few blocks west of Soldier Field was Chicago’s original Gold Coast in the late 19th century. Some of the world’s most influential architects built Victorian mansions here for Marshall Field, George Pullman, Philip Armour, John J. Glessner, and the rest of the city’s elite. The street’s haunted reputation stems from the mysterious death of Marshall Field’s son on November 22, 1905, in the family mansion designed by Daniel Burnham at 1919 S. Prairie Ave. According to the family, the 37-year-old heir accidentally shot himself while cleaning his rifle before a hunting trip.
Eastland Disaster Site
On July 24, 1915, the SS Eastland was tied to a dock in the Chicago River, right across from the Reid, Murdoch & Co. Building that today houses Encyclopædia Britannica. The top-heavy passenger ship was loaded with Western Electric Company employees and their families on the way to a company picnic on the other side of Lake Michigan. When the ship rolled over onto its side, more than 800 passengers and crew members were trapped and killed, including 220 Czech immigrants who worked at the company’s plant in Cicero. The founder of the Chicago Bears, George Halas, would have been on board had he not been running late.
Read-Dunning Memorial Park
From 1870 to 1912, the quiet Northwest Side neighborhood of Dunning was home to the Cook County Insane Asylum, a sprawling Victorian compound where “patients” were kept in miserable conditions, “crowded and herded together like sheep in the shambles, or hogs in the slaughtering-pens,” according to a Tribune reporter in 1874. Today, as many as 38,000 inmates are buried in a mass grave beneath Read-Dunning Memorial Park.
Two miles east of O’Hare lies the homestead and family burial ground of Che-Che-Pin-Qua, a chief the Potawatomi, Chippewa, and Ottawa nations known to Chicago’s earliest settlers as Alexander Robinson. Hikers in the forest preserve have reported strange noises and lights since at least the 1950s, when the home burned to the ground. Last year, Robinson’s missing headstone was found and returned to his descendants.
One of Bertrand Goldberg’s “corn cob towers”—the one on the right-hand side of Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album cover—has been plagued by weird deaths since before it was even completed. In 1961, three construction workers fell to their deaths from the 43rd floor, followed by another in 1962. Over the next decade, residents of the east tower committed suicide in their rooms, jumped off their balconies, and were murdered on the street below.
The epicenter of Gold Coast elitism between World War I and World War II is reportedly home to at least four ghosts: the Woman in Red, who threw herself off the roof on opening night in 1920 after seeing her fiancé with another woman; the grieving parents of Bobby Franks, the 15-year-old boy beaten to death by Leopold and Loeb in the “crime of the century”; and the Woman in Black, the unidentified perpetrator of Chicago’s strangest unsolved murder mystery, the 1944 shooting of high-society matron Adele Born Williams.