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.