Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Devil in the Details: The Painfully Prosaic Truth about Anton LaVey's Chicago

Without question, one of the most consistently compelling tales on our Chicago Hauntings Tour route is the story of the iconic Hancock building, that trapezoidal behemoth on the blustery Lake Michigan shoreline.  It seems that, by now, everyone knows the legends of this mysterious structure: the many apparently unexplained deaths by "suicide," homicide and freak accident; the legendary ties to the Ghostbusters script; the whisperings that ragtag crackpot Cap Streeter lay on his deathbed and cursed the land on which it sits.  But no folklore about the building draws in more curiosity-seekers than the claim by the late Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey that he was born on the property where this enigmatic structure now stands.

LaVey, the colorful character who professed a "religion" of individualism and materialism --and who wrote a whole bunch of pretty interesting essays during his "reign" as the high priest of his own Satanic Church--was born in Chicago on April 11, 1930 and died in San Francisco, after a larger-than-life adulthood in his "black house" on    street.

In his sometimes critically-acclaimed volume of essays, "The Devil's Notebook," LaVey put forth his now-infamous "Law of the Trapezoid," in which he referenced the very building in question, believing that the strange angles of this and other modern structures could wreak havoc on the tenants inside.

But what of LaVey's sensational claim that he, in fact, was born on the very property where the building would be erected, some forty years after his birth?

The truth is that LaVey--born Howard Stanton Levey-- does have a rather mysterious birth record, but only because his parents do not seem to have had a common residence at the time of Howard's arrival.

The former Franklin Boulevard Hosptial, birthplace of
Howard Stanton (Anton)Levey
Michael Joseph Levey, Anton (Howard)'s father was born in Chicago in November of 1903, and married Gertrude Augusta Coultron, daughter of Russian and Ukrainian emigrants to Ohio.  Michael was a salesman who changed jobs often, dabbling in numerous products with myriad companies.  Though no marriage record could be located for he and Gertrude, 1930 found the then-27-year-olds pregnant with their first child.

Fasincating connections have been made online to a Michael and Gertrude Levy, who in 1930 lived near the Evanston, Illinois border of Chicago, in the historically and architecturally pristine Casa Bonita apartments.  But though the connection would be lovely--the building is known by many paranormal researchers to have a "dark" feel and history--the connection is nonexistent.

Anton's mother, Gertrude, is listed as residing with her parents in Garfield Park
just five days after Anton's birth.
At the time of Anton's birth, his mother, Gertrude Levey was living in her family apartment at 3820 West Maypole Aveniue, in the (then) rather affluent Garfield Park neighborhood.  But while both the U.S. Census of 1930 lists "Gertrude Levey" as both "daughter" and "boarder" on the Census chart recorded April 16, 1930--five days after Anton's birth--neither Anton (Howard) Levey nor his father, Michael, are recorded as members of the household.  In fact, in 1930, the only M. Levey residing in Chicago with a telephone registered to his name was an "M.L. Levey" living in the 500 block of West Monroe Street. 

As for rumors that the young Anton may have been born in a relative's home at the Hancock site--a common occurrence well into the 1940s--a look at the infant's birth certificate, right, nixes that possibility.  The document clearly states that Howard Stanton Levey was born on April 11, 1930 at the Franklin BoulevardCommunity Hospital (later Sacred Heart Hospital).  The certificate also states that both of his parents, resdied at the Maypole Avenue address.

By 1933, the Leveys had left Chicago, presumably on the heels of a new sales job in Modesto, California, where they moved into a ten-year-old bungalow at 416 Sycamore Avenue. pictured below.  The entire family would remain in the St. Francisco Bay area for the rest of their lives, but little Howard would never cease to feel his "Chicago" roots--even going so far as to "plant" some in his own imagination.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

I spent the afternoon today with fellow historian Clarence Goodman, mapping out one of three routes for our new walking tours of Chicago's "Dead and Undead," past and present. 

Yesterday we were in Lincoln Park, sunshine bright but cold wind slapping us off Lake Michigan as we walked a route that began at the Chicago History Museum, planted squarely on the grounds of the City Cemetery where historian Pamela Bannos has placed more than 10,000 unmarked graves.  It was fascinating to me as a lifelong northsider that I'd walked so many miles of the north side as an adolescent but had never walked this particular way.  At 14 with no spending money except the $3 a day in lunch money I hoarded, we walked for fun, walked for therapy, walked to pass the time before the Internet and smart phones. Even our video games cost quarters at the 7-11 at Grace and Western, and those were precious quarters.  We walked from my house in St. Benedict Parish, west of Wrigley Field, the six miles to Oak Street Beach , to Navy Pier farther on, to watch the fisherman play out their daily stands before the Pier was rehabbed into a shopping and dining mecca, to the Art Institute in the Loop for a hundredth look at "Nighthawks" when the museum was free with a school I.D. 

But the best destination was Lincoln Park, home to some of my best friends (who I met at Medusa's, the all ages nightclub we swarmed to, near Clark and Belmont. We spent many, many hours sitting and talking in the "Zookery" behind the Zoo, throwing to the ducks torn up Wonder bread which we'd bought from the grocery store in Carl Sandburg Village. But for the first time yesterday, I walked through the park from Clark and LaSalle streets, past the statue of LaSalle who we thought could also pass for Clark (and who, Clarence noted, had one hand behind his back, on his sword, in perhaps the first version of the legendary "Chicago handshake.")  After the walk through the park to the embankment over the Lagoon, we stood under the statue of General Grant, in the stone walkway that had been built just for this, with arches overlooking the great Lake beyond.  "This'll be spooky at night," we both said in unison.

This was the beginning of the route of our Lincoln Park version of "Dead and Undead:" a collection of 2-mile, 1.5-hour in-depth tours looking at Chicago's ghostly, criminal and just plain strange history.  And as the walk went on, we passed the site of the Suicide Bridge, the slayings at the site of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, and the drugstore which paid a pivotal role in the Tylenol murders of the 1990s.

Today, we were in the South Loop.

Walking (or driving or talking) with another Chicago historian is always very exciting to me as we all have our own slightly different version of the "material" we encounter.  I'm the ghost girl, of course. Though I'm told I do it pretty well indeed, it's all I do.  Clarence is the crime guy, the assassination guy, the alternative history guy. He points things out to me that make me speechless and thrilled to be always learning.  As we walked, I pointed out to him the haunted addresses of Prairie Avenue, those vanquished and those still standing, and we talked for a long time about the Pullmans, the Fields, the Glessners--all names as stately as their homes at first glance, but with tragic histories and endless ghosts haunting their family trees.

Then Clarence showed me the former headquarters of Chess Records, and the memorial to legendary bluesman Willy Dixon, before we hurried on to the former site of the Lexington Hotel, where Geraldo Rivera famously opened the "vaults of Al Capone" on one of the most watched nights in television history.  From there we were both stunned to get close for the first time on foot to the incredible beauty of the first automobile showrooms in Chicago on South Michigan Avenue's "Motor Row," with the tile and relief work on some of Chicago's most stunning facades, former stomping grounds of Chicago's first car owners.

Our walk down Michigan brought us to the boarded up facade of the Epitome Restaurant and E2 Nightclub, site of the horrific E2 Stampede of 2003, which led to the deaths of 21 people--and which eerily and sickeningly echoed the Iroquois Theater Disaster of 1903, one hundred years earlier. 

We then walked right through a film set for Chicago P.D. on our way to the old Levee in Chinatown: Chicago's vice central with the abandoned site of a young Al Capone's first Chicago gig, the structure which housed Big Jim Colosimo's--the seedling of Chicago's horrific Gangland sex trafficking industry (but on the surface a fine Italian restaurant with "10,000 yards of spaghetti always on hand")--the Bucket of Blood (believed by many to have been the birthplace of the Bloody Mary cocktail), and the site of the legendary Everleigh Club, arguably the most notorious brothel in American history.

Chicago Hauntings: Dead and Undead tours will take place every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from March through September, with Tuesdays covering the South Loop, Wednesdays the Lincoln Park neighborhood, and Thursdays the Loop and River North areas. 

No matter how long you have lived here, I feel safe to say: We will take you to places you have never seen up close, and tell you stories you've never heard.  Join us.  Say you saw us here on blogspot and get half price tickets.  or call us at 773.733.2711

Friday, January 16, 2015

Guns & Roses: Chicago's Bloody Valentines

Nelson Algren likened loving Chicago to "loving a woman with a broken nose."

Fittingly, Valentine's Day in Chicago has gone far beyond loving imperfect women.  It's oozed into the much less poetic territory of loving insane women, men with "the devil in them," as Chicago's matchless serial killer H.H. Holmes pegged himself, and loving (in that incomprehensible way of the doomed together) our world class gangland warriors, among them the ever-undisputed king of crime, Al Capone--without whom Chicago would be nothing more exciting than a particularly lovely and somewhat edgy example of what happens when people rally after a tragedy (see entry for the Great Chicago Fire).

As a ghostlorist, I would say that Chicago defines itself--right under the tendency to say "To hell with what just happened"--in her passion regarding both love and hate, devotion and disdain.

Every February, while the rest of the world with enough free time to care is getting ready to celebrate Valentine's Day, Chicago is getting ready to celebrate (you might be tempted to say "mark" but that wouldn't be right) the most infamous Valentine's Day in history: the blustery day in February of 1929 when Chicago became the center of one of the most controversial eras in American history.

"Prohibition"--nickname for the decade during which the United States experimented with temperance or Prohibition of alcohol (as the United States experimented with many, many ideas and still does)--brought fame to Chicago that would last, seemingly, to eternity.  As in many other cities throughout the United States, Chicago remained very wet throughout the decade.  Higher class operations were known as "speakeasies" while dram shops were called "blind pigs," where customers would pay to see live animals and drink alcohol behind unmarked doors.

Most not familiar with Chicago history see  Italian-American mob boss Al Capone as the unchallenged king of Chicago during this time; but in fact, throughout the decade, Al Capone went neck and neck each day with his rival, George "Bugs" Moran--head of the north side Irish mob in Chicago.   The two of them fought for control of turf in the "Beer Wars," much as the drug lords of Chicago and other urban centers fight today.

Their battles hatched some of the most lasting ghost stories in Chicago history, including stories about the hotels where Capone held court, fables about the sites of infamous shootouts, and the treacherous site of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, where seven of Moran's men were lined up on that bitter morning and gunned down against the rear wall of a now-demolished garage.  Even today, residents who live in the buildings adjoining this now vacant lot tell a curious tale:  after a fresh snow in Chicago, you can sometimes see the outline of seven bodies in the snow, right  where the rear north wall of the garage once stood.

In Chicago, coupled with these stories are the tales of some of the most ill-fated loves in American history.  Consider the love story of Adolph and Luisa Luetgert, (the "Sausage King and Queen of Chicago") which began as most immigrant love stories did on Chicago's northside, but which ended with neighborhood children singing rhymes about Luisa being made into sausage by her husband.

Or the story of the Woman in Red, a beautiful young woman who attended the opening night party at the Drake Hotel with her fiance, New Years' Eve 1920. Before the clock struck midnight, she discovered her love's betrayal and hurled herself off the roof.  

Then there is the story of Herman Schuenemann, the captain of the "Christmas Tree Ship," who sailed the Rouse Simmons to Michigan on his annual journey to bring Christmas trees back to Chicago--who was never seen again. It is said that the scent of pine needles can still be smelled at his wife's gravesite in Chicago, nearly a hundred years later.

And there is eternal tale of "Resurrection Mary," arguably Chicago's most famous ghost, who died on a lonely Chicago road in the wee hours of the morning--only to haunt the city's memory forever.  As Chicago's most long-standing dance partner, Mary has captured the imagination of generations hoping to help her find her way home at last.

Join Chicago Hauntings' guides Clarence Goodman and Ursula Bielski Fridays and Saturdays in February for a closer look at the most passionate stories in Chicago memory, as we go in search of "Guns & Roses: Chicago's Bloody Valentines."  Tours are Fridays at 8 and Saturdays at 3, including Vaentine's Day, February 14th. For tickets, visit

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Haunted Treehouse: Ghosts of Marina City

Every year we give a tour of Chicago's "Strange Angles": those mammoths of modern architecture which--despite inspired intentions and innovative designs-- have somehow gone terribly wrong.  Chicago can claim numerous such structures, including one of the most enigmatic on Earth: the John Hancock Center, known as the inspiration for "Ghostbusters," as a key element in the curse of the "Poltergeist" films, as the home of a colony of migrating spiders, and as the scene of almost a dozen unexplained and very dark deaths since its completion.

But the Hancock is hardly alone in its haunting of the city's skyline.

Last night, while hosting a ghost tour for the Chicago History Museum, I was once again approached by a young woman who works near Marina City, the twin "corncobs" on Chicago's riverfront which have been an unmistakable part of the city since their completion in 1962.  Like many who live or work in or near the complex, which includes hundreds of apartments, a rather unnerving parking garage, and the House of Blues music hall, the passenger on my tour wanted to know, "What's up with Marina City?"  By her question, she was referring to the endless stream of reports of apparitions, shadow people, malfunctioning electronics, icy drafts, and feelings of depression or oppression which have plagued residents for decades--but only in the East Tower. Why the prevalence of phenomena . . . and why only in one of the buildings?

A visit to the Chicago Tribune Archives offers some chilling possibilities.

During construction of the towers, in 1961, three workers were killed when a scaffold plummeted a full 43 stories.  That same year, six men were badly injured when a workers' elevator plummeted; a seventh was injured trying to help them.  The next year, in 1962, worker William Jones was stricken by a dizzy spell while working on a scaffold at the 40th floor.  He plunged to his death on the State Street Bridge below.

Accidents at the construction site were joined by a long string of dark deaths between 1966 and 1976.   In August of 1966, Roy Holland, a real estate developer, was found to have been dead for three weeks when his body--and three suicide notes--were discovered in his 48th floor apartment. In May of 1967, 39-year-old June Fleck lept from her fiance's 50th floor apartment shortly before they planned to marry.   In January of 1969, a retired government worker shot his 88-year old mother and then turned the gun on himself in their 46th floor aparartment. In June of 1973, 42- year old Sandra Easton, a computer programmer, lept to her death from her 52nd floor apartment, crashing through the canvas roof of the complex's ice rink (today the site of Smith & Wollensky restaurant).  Just two years earlier, Easton had been saved from an earlier attempt to jump.  In 1972, 25-year-old Gloria Kirpatrick, 39th floor resident and manager of the Marina City Theater (now the House of Blues) was stabbed to death outside the building.  In January of 1976, 25-year-old Kenneth Parvin fell to his death from a 57th floor apartment, landing between the two towers on Marina City Drive.  Whether the death was accidental or intentional, or the result of foul play, was not known.

Every one of these incidents--accidents, murders and suicides--occurred, incredibly, in the East tower.

Floor plan of Marina City "treehouse" apartment.
Paranormal theorists might be tempted to blame the architecture of the towers as a possible reason behind the dark actions of numerous residents here. Marina City apartments contain almost no interior right angles. The residential floors consist of a circular hallway wrapped around the elevator core,  with 16  wedge-shaped apartments  arranged around the hallway. Each wedge is trimmed with a semi-circular balcony outside a glass wall. Architect Bertrand Goldberg explained during construction that the design of each tower was meant to provide a widening vista to residents as they entered their apartments.  From the small entrance, at the narrowest part of the wedge, the apartments would open up to the wide glass wall and even wider balcony, offering the city and the lake outside--like living in a "treehouse"  was how the architect described it.  Could it be that this well-meant design has actually inspired some residents to take the widening vistas one step further?  Could the contrast between the tiny apartment and the wide open space outside have caused an impulse for escape in more than one tenant?

But even if we venture to accept this, why have these incidents occurred in only the East tower?  Though the jury may always be out on the answer, the established truth remains that the residue of these events--and their unfortunate victims--continue to make their home in their mysterious digs at 300 North State Street.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tonight: Step into the "Graveyards of Chicago"

Join me tonight as I lecture on--and sign copies of--Matt Hucke and my new book, the completely revised Graveyards of Chicago: the People, History, Art & Lore of Cook County Cemeteries. If you love cemeteries--or if you avoid them like the plague--you will love this program if you love history, art, family and personal life stories, or the beauty of the natural world: Chicago's graveyards have them all in abundance.

Mass burial of victims from the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus Fire, 1918. 
Monument to Frances Pearce and daughter, Rosehill Cemetery, Chicago.
I'm delighted to have been invited to share our new new book at this wonderful venue for history research, and I'm anxious to share with you some of my photos from a number of my very favorite Chicago-area cemeteries, including some you probably didn't know existed.

The event begins at 7pm.  I'll be speaking until 8, and then I'll have copies of the new book for sale and signing while guests have a chance to look at the images, family photos and maps from an exhibit I am assembling on Bachelors Grove Cemetery called "Lost in the Woods: The Real--and Unreal--Story of Bachelors Grove.   Books are $15 and the lecture is completely free!  Hope to see you tonight.

The Worth Historical Museum is located at the Worth Park District, 11500 South Beloit, Worth, Illinois. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

"Graveyards of Chicago" lectures, signings, parties. Join me!

I would like to invite one and all to a series of book signings of Matt Hucke's and my new book, the completely revised and reissued Graveyards of Chicago: The People, History, Art and Lore of Cook County Cemeteries (Lake Claremont Press. Chicago: 2013).

If you have not yet seen this book and enjoy cemeteries for their history, architecture and art, biography and legends, you will truly love this book.  I am very pleased to be able to offer the following events where I will be representing Matt and myself and talking about the book:

My daughters at Rosehill Cemetery in times past.
Grave of Lulu Fellows.
Wednesday February 26th:
Worth Park District Historical Museum
(Includes lecture and display of items from the
exhibit "Lost in the Woods: the Real and Unreal Story of Bachelors Grove)

Sunday, March 2:
Ashbary Coffee House
Book signing and chat with me!
Archer Road, Willow Springs, Illinois

Saturday, March 8:
Chet's Melody Lounge
The Gangs of Chicago (Graveyards)!
Book signing party, stories, and spaghetti dinner
Free dinner. Cash bar.
Come in your 1920s finest!
Archer Road, Justice, Illinois

Tuesday, April 15
Blue Island Library
Book Signing
York Street, Blue Island, Illinois

You can find all of my upcoming events at
I hope you can join me for one or more of these events. Thanks for reading!


Monday, February 17, 2014

The Vatican and the Voices:

What Does the Church Say About EVP?

One of the questions many people ask me, as a Catholic, is how I reconcile my career in paranormal investigation with my faith. 

According to the Catholic Church, they charge, ghosts don't exist.  When we die, we go to Heaven, Hell or Purgatory, and there is no allowance for the spirits of the dead to exist with us here.

The reality is not exactly on par with this statement.  Certainly, the Church believes in the survival theory. When our body dies, our soul lives on.  It is the foundation of everything we believe: that this physical life is not our "real" one; that our true home lies beyond the world of tactile sensation, pain and death.  The Church obviously exists because of the world of the spirit and for the care of souls.  But just what and where Heaven, Hell and Purgatory are have been far from clear cut matters in the Catholic catechism.  As far as disbelief in ghosts, Christ Himself mentions ghosts in the New Testament, as they are mentioned elsewhere in the Bible. 
Certainly too, the Church has always been clear on one thing: we are not to use the spirits to predict the future. The future is only the Lord's to know. But what about communication with the dead at all? What about reserch into Electronic Voice Phenomenon?  Some may be surprised to discover that, in supporting EVP research as a scientific avenue to understanding creation--and the life of the spirit--, the Church has been right there beside the best researchers all along. 

Far from classifying EVP research as dangerous or forbidden, the Church has been supportive to the point of encouraging of such research, and has worked closely with some of the phenomenon’s earliest researchers.

Two of the earliest investigators into the phenomena were Italian Catholic priests, Father Ernetti and Father Gemelli, who came upon the phenomena by chance while they were recording Gregorian chants in 1952.  While listening to some of these recordings, Gemelli heard what he identified as his father’s voice speaking on the audio recording, calling, “Zucchini, it is clear, don’t you know it is I?”  Zucchini was Gemelli’s boyhood nickname.

Gemelli and Ernetti were confounded and concerned by this apparent contact from the dead: enough, in fact, to approach then Pope Pius XII with the recording.  Pope Pius was nonplussed, soothing the priests with these words:

“Dear Father Gemelli, you really need not worry about this. The
existence of this voice is strictly a scientific fact and has nothing
to do with spiritism. The recorder is totally objective. It receives
and records only sound waves from wherever they come. This
experiment may perhaps become the cornerstone for a building for
scientific studies which will strengthen people's faith in a hereafter.”
It was perhaps not surprising that Pope Pius' cousin, the Rev. Dr. Gebhard Frei, co-founder of the Jung Institute, had made a name for himself as a parapsychologist.  Moreover, he had been close colleague to Constantin Raudive, who most “ghost hunters” recognize as one of the pioneers of EVP research.  As president of the the International Society for Catholic Parapsychologists. Frei stated:

“All that I have read and heard forces me to believe that the
voices come from transcendental, individual entities.
Whether it suits me or not, I have no right to doubt the
reality of the voices.”

Pope Paul VI, too, was well informed of the state of research into the EVP that was happening through a close friend of his own, Friedrich Jurgenson, whose work into EVP research impressed the Pope so deeply that he made Jurgenson a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory to honor his contributions.  Jurgenson was very pleased with the friendship he had formed with the Church, and he wrote to a colleague:
“I have found a sympathetic ear for the Voice Phenomenon in the
Vatican. I have won many wonderful friends among the leading
figures in the Holy City. Today 'the bridge' stands firmly on its

Later, the Vatican extended permission for its own priests to conduct EVP research. Father Leo Schmid, a Swiss
theologian, collected more than ten thousand Voices of Unknown Origin, which he documented in his 1976 book, When the Dead Speak.
Also well approved by the Vatican wathe work of s Father Andreas Resch, an EVP researcher who also taught courses in parapsychology at the Vatican.

In England in 1972 four senior members of the Catholic hierarchy
were involved in the famous Pye recording studio tests conducted
by Peter Bander. Of these tests, Fr. Pistone, Superior of the Society of St Paul in England

“I do not see anything against the teaching of the Catholic
Church in the Voices, they are something extra-ordinary
but there is no reason to fear them, nor can I see any danger.”

Similarly, His excellence, Archbishop H.E. Cardinale, Apostolic Nuncio to Belgium agreed:

“Naturally it is all very mysterious, but we know the voices are there for all to hear them
Most recently, Father Gino Concetti, one of the most well regarded of Vatican theologians, went on record with these words:

“According to the modern catechism, God allows our dear departed
persons who live in an ultra-terrestrial dimension, to send
messages to guide us in certain difficult moments of our lives. The
Church has decided not to forbid any more the dialogue with the
deceased with the condition that these contacts are carried out
with a serious religious and scientific purpose.”

Many thanks to Michael Esposito and Phantom Airwaves for sharing these statements with me.

-Ursula Bielski