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!


Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Burning Need: Chicago's Ghostly "Hands of Death" are Not Alone. A Roman Museum Holds a Whole Collection of Phantom Handprints

For generations, Chicagoans have shared two tales of ghosts who made an unusually lasting impression on observers: these spirits are believed to have left their very handprints behind, literallly burned into the environment and left as phantom calling cards for the living.

On Good Friday in 1924, firefighter Frank Leavy left his ghostly handprint on the window of his firehouse, Engine Co. 107 and Truck Co. 12, at 13th Street and Oakley Avenue.  He had been washing the window that afternoon when he rested his soapy had on the window and predicted that "this is my last day on the fire department."  Leavy died fighting an office building fire later that day at Curran Hall, and as his buddies sat and chatted in the bay the next day, they happened to glance at the window he'd been washing: imbedded in the glass was Frank's ghostly handprint.  Known forever as "The Hand of Death," firefighters still tell the tale of Leavy's hand; his prediction of his own demise, and the attempts to remove the reminder. His colleagues scrubbed, employed harsh chemicals, and tried to scrape it off.  According to legend, an administrator came with Frank's file from headquarters and compared his fingerprints with those on the window. They matched perfectly.

A second event continues to be talked about with great fervor by believers in Chicago and around the world: the burning of the cemetery bars by the city's most famed phantom, Resurrection Mary.  In the 1970s, curiosity-seekers came by the hundreds to view the front gates of Resurrection Cemetery on Archer Road, where--one night, around 1am--a mysterious young woman had been seen standing, grasping the bars of the gate, apparently locked inside. When police arrived to let her out, they found no one there. But the bars she'd been clutching were pried apart--the strong bronze mangled by incredible force--and seared with the imprint of a woman's hands.

My friend was telling me yesterday about an obscure museum in Rome where he had recorded for electronic voice phenomenon--ostensibly the voices of the dead--to be used for his experimental musical recording, "The Phantoms of Purgatory Souls." 

The museum is called the Museum of the Holy Souls in Purgatory and is tucked away in the back of the Church of the Sacred Heart--the only gothic style church in Italy.

On display is a collection of artifacts displaying burn marks reportedly made by the hands of spirits: handprints burned onto the nightcap of a man whose deceased wife appeared to him asking for prayers; a book which developed similar ghostly burn marks after its owner's mother-in-law appeared to her asking for prayers; bibles burned with phantom fingers.

The museum was founded by a French missionary priest, Father Jouet, who strongly believed that these artifacts are signs of the reality of Purgatory. Catholics believe that when a soul leaves its Earthly body, it almost always spends some time in a place called Purgatory before being allowed into Heaven.  Purgatory is a place of repentance, amend-making, and "paying off" debts of sin while waiting to join God.  According to Catholics, our prayers can make the difference as to the length and severity of the stay in Purgatory. Some paranormal investigators believe that the ghosts we encounter are these souls, either asking for prayers or remaining hostile and unrepentant even in death. 

I sent a photograph and short write-up to the museum about the bars at Resurrection Cemetery, though my friend says they stopped taking artifacts when the founder passed away.  Hopefully it will at least go in their files as a further testament to this remarkable phenomenon. 

You can purchase the recordings for Phantoms of Purgatory Souls at Michael Esposito's website, You can read an excerpt about Leavy's "Hand of Death" in Great Chicago Fires: Historic Blazes that Shaped a City by David Cowan by visiting; and you can read more about Resurrection Mary's most memorable visit in Chicago Haunts: Ghostlore of the Windy City by Ursula Bielski, available at

The Blog is Back...

After a very long hiatus, we are back.  For several years, I had been posting our news, events and musings on Facebook, but I felt that the blog would be a better way to make all of this accessible to facebook users, twitterers, and web surfers all at once.  Thank you for stopping here to take a look. Please subscribe to receive all of our blog entries.  And thank you for visiting!