More Prairie Avenue Ghosts

I love to walk up and down the historic avenue. I have read many historical novels such as Prairie Avenue by Arthur Meeker.  Its always a new field trip to walk with the ghosts on Millionaires Row and to read about them. Residents of the street have influenced the evolution of the city and have played prominent national and international roles moving there after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. By 1886, the finest mansions in the city, each equipped with its own carriage house, stood on Prairie Avenue. In the 1880s, mansions for George Pullman, Marshall Field, John J. Glessner, Philip Armour and Kimball. Mansions were located between 16th and 22nd streets.

A few of the mansions do remain such as the Glessner House which is a active museum and the Henry B. Clarke house, also a museum. The Marshall Field, Jr. Mansion at 1919 South Prairie Avenue, now condos, is marvel of preservation and sensitive reuse. And many say that Prairie Avenue is haunted.

Glessner House was designed by noted American architect Henry Hobson Richardson and completed in 1887. So different from the Victorian houses that were being built at the time and eventually those, for the most part, were torn down. The House is a National Historic Landmark and offers wonderful tours with many of the rooms accurately restored to their original appearance and decorative objects and furnishings have been added by the Glessner family. John Glessner lived there until 1936 and thousands tour the house every year. Henry Hobson Richardson never got to see his creation built since he died after he completed the blue prints. Many have seen him walk the halls. Even during the time the Glessner family lived there, Haunted houses.com claim that many family member felt a cold presence moving through the mansion,even today.

The Glessner House Museum offers haunted tours of historic Prairie Avenue. Director of the Glessner House has admitted that there is a strange feeling that has been experienced on the street. The Keith House, privately owned by Marcy Baim, is another on the street. It has been restored, at 1900 Prairie and offers special events such as weddings.

The Kimball House: The house was built in 1890–92 for William Wallace Kimball, a piano manufacturer. I still have a Kimball upright that was built in 1949.  Kimball reportedly spent $1,000,000 on the home. The house is located at 1801 Prairies and though some feel that the outside design is cold, the inside is beautiful with maple floors and 29 rooms which have been sub- divided though many have stayed the same such as the library, huge drawing room, and dining room that housed Mrs. Kimballs massive silver collection. She also collected many paintings by such artists as Rembrandt, Millet, and Monet including many others. But when Mrs Kimball died in 1921, the house was converted to a boarding house which eventually failed and was bought by Daisy Hull for 8,000 in backward children. But finally, the house, along with the Coleman house at 1811 were acquired by R. R. Donnelley in 1973 who donated them to the Chicago Architecture Foundation in 1991.  They leased and then sold the properties to the U. S. Soccer Federation for use as their national headquarters, which is how the building is used today. Mrs Kimball still walks the halls. Noises have been heard along with apparitions seen as well as the feeling of being watched.

The Marshall Field Jr House was designed by architect Solon Spencer Beman, the home sold to the son of one of Chicago’s most famous 19th century entrepreneurs for $65,000 in 1890. After a stint as a psychiatric hospital, the structure was sold to the Chicago Architectural Foundation in the 1970s before being partitioned into condominiums in 2007. There are six million dollar condos with a private courtyard in the back. In the past, there have been claims to hear footsteps and strange cries.

Chicago’s Most Haunted: The Congress Hotel / H.H. Holmes Murder Castle

What’s great about the Congress Hotel, one of the most haunted in Chicago, is you can go there, rent a room and stay the night.  Rates for rooms are not outrageous and you can spend as much time as you want to catch pictures of ghosts. They actually host a Haunted Halloween Ball at the Congress at 520 Michigan Avenue.

Originally constructed in 1893, the Congress Plaza Hotel featured cobbled streets, gaslights, and horse drawn carriages. The hotel was originally called the Auditorium Annex when it opened to house the throngs of visitors to the World’s Colombian Exposition.

Many famous people and presidents have stayed at the Congress which include Grover Cleveland, Teddy Roosevelt, and Franklin Roosevelt. And the most visible ghosts include Peg Leg Johnny who was murdered, a workman who was buried behind the walls in the balcony of the glorious Gold Room. The Gold Room and Florentine Room are still beautiful spots for special occasion parties and weddings.

The six floor has been known to have some strange experiences as well as the 12th floor where a mother and her children committed suicide throwing themselves out a window. Staff have claimed that one room is so dangerously haunted…they had to seal the room and no one will go near it.  Supposedly, one of the most haunted rooms of all is 441 and remember, it is not locked forever….you can stay there.

Another bizarre story at the Congress is that of the ghost, Dr. Henry H. Holmes who wanders the hallways looking for woman to to enrapture in his arms and murder at his Murder Castle. His real name was Herman Mudgett, Chicago’s first serial murderer, who went to work in a drugstore owned by Dr. E.S. Holton, in Englewood, a suburb of Chicago that is now part of the city.

And it was here Holmes would draw in young woman and visitors from the Fair. Missing woman were reported and some have said that Holmes had killed 27 women and other reports include even more even though there is no conclusive evidence of how many he killed. In July 1895, Chicago police and reporters began investigating Holmes’ building in Englewood, now locally referred to as “The Castle”. Though many sensational claims were made, no evidence was found which could have convicted Holmes in Chicago.

According to Exploring Illinois, Holmes, who graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School, had already racked up a fairly impressive resume of fraud, forgery and petty theft by this time, including, while still a med student, taking out insurance policies on cadavers he stole from the school. Holmes, though, was a hard worker at the drugstore and eventually bought it.

Holmes purchased an empty lot across from the drugstore, where construction began in 1887 for a two story mixed-use building, with apartments on the second floor and retail spaces, including a new drugstore,on the first. When Holmes declined to pay the architects or the steel company, Aetna Iron and Steel, they sued in 1888.[5]

In October 1895, Holmes was put on trial for the murder of Benjamin Pitezel, and was found guilty and sentenced to death. By then, it was evident that Holmes had also murdered the Pitezel children according to a Philadephia detective who found the children and had followed Holmes.

What was the murder castle like? According to Prairie Ghosts, the second floor however, proved to be a labyrinth of narrow, winding passages with doors that opened to brick walls, hidden stairways, concealed doors, blind hallways, secret panels, hidden passages and a clandestine vault that was only a big enough for a person to stand in. The room was alleged to be a homemade “gas chamber”, equipped with a chute that would carry a body directly into the basement. The basement was a chamber of death with devises and materials that indicated torture and murder.

The murder castle is no longer there and a post office remains in its original location but the story is well-documented in Erik Larsen’s, Devil in the White City and Leonardo Di Caprio plays Holmes in the movie. However, staff at the post office have seen strange sightings in the basement.