At Mysterious Heartland, we have patronized many drinking establishments in the course of our travels to mysterious places all over the Prairie State. However, sometimes the pub is our destination, since there are many said to contain “spirits” of a different nature. Which one will prove to be the most haunted of them all?
10. Sober Duck/Brewhouse (Former)
On June 27, 1968, a bartender at the Sober Duck Disco and Rock Club named Albert Cranor committed suicide with a gunshot to the head. During life, his friends and coworkers called him “Rudy.” After death, they blamed icy chills during the summer and flying shot glasses on his ghost. One waitress claimed a disembodied head appeared and warned her of the club owner’s impending death. The owner of the building died soon after. Tom Blasko, who had leased the building for his club, asked two priests to perform an exorcism. In August 1979, they said the rites inside the Sober Duck, and the disturbances stopped. The club’s name was later changed to the Brewhouse, and it burnt down under mysterious circumstances in 1992 after having been abandoned for over three years.
9. Bucktown Pub
The Bucktown Pub is believed to be haunted by a former owner named Wally who committed suicide in 1986. After the bar was purchased from his widow, the new owners made some adjustments to its interior. Much to their surprise, bottles and even coasters and napkins were mysteriously rearranged during the night back to the way they had been when Wally was in charge. The jukebox also turned on and off at will, and employees have reported seeing or hearing someone who vanished when they turned to greet the anonymous visitor.
8. Ethyl’s Party/Tito’s on the Edge
Between 1908 and 1995, Coletta’s Funeral Home stood on the edge of China Town and catered to the Italian neighborhood next door. According to Richard T. Crowe, when the funeral home finally moved out and a bar moved in, many locals were weary of patronizing the new establishment. Even one of Tito’s own bartenders refused to go into what was formerly the embalming room and the cold storage area in the basement. The building’s new owners quickly realized it was haunted. Employees sighted a man dressed in a brown trench coat, a thick white cloud, and even an extra band member who was seen on stage for a few moments before vanishing. Tito’s on the Edge is now known as Ethyl’s Party, but the strange activity remains.
7. The Dormitory/Parkway Inn (Former)
In the late 1940s, Bernie Shelton, a member of the infamous Shelton gang, had aspirations to become the leading crime boss in Peoria, despite growing pressure from an alliance of St. Louis and Chicago gangsters. Carl and Bernie Shelton, brothers, both had a $10,000 price on their heads. Carl was murdered in 1947. On July 26, 1948, as Bernie was leaving the Parkway Inn (later it was called the Parkside Inn or Parkside Tavern), he was shot through the chest with a .351 Winchester Rifle by an unidentified man hiding in the woods below St. Joseph’s Cemetery. He was mortally wounded and died at the hospital. Since Bernie’s death, owners and patrons of the tavern reported lights turning on and off, sudden chills, items moving, and the feeling of someone breathing on their necks. Additionally, gunshots have been heard and patrons have reported seeing lights above the tavern coming from St. Joseph’s Cemetery. The Parkside Tavern is now known as The Dormitory.
6. Ole St. Andrews Inn
During the 1950s, this bar was owned and operated by Frank and Edna Giff. Frank had a legendary taste for vodka, and he had no reservations with sharing a few rounds with his patrons. His lifestyle caught up with him, however, when his wife found him behind the bar, dead at the age of 59. Edna sold the establishment to a Scot named Jane McDougall, who opened it as the Edinburgh Castle Pub. To Jane’s surprise, when she came into work every afternoon she found that her stock of vodka would be measurably lower than when she closed the bar the night before. Jane became convinced that no living person was responsible for depleting her vodka. She believed that Frank Giff, along with his taste for his favorite drink, had returned from the grave. When the Edinburgh Castle became the Ole Saint Andrews Inn, poltergeist activity continued. Patrons often felt cold spots, and women in particular felt unseen hands touching their hair and shoulders.
5. Cigars & Stripes
Cigars & Stripes has been a long-time haunt for Berwyn beer and cigar aficionados, but its owner and his customers believe it may also be a haunt of a different kind. According to an article in the Berwyn/Cicero Gazette (available on the Cigars & Stripes website), several customers have seen a “shadowy figure” without arms or legs floating down the hallway toward the door leading to the beer garden. Ronn Vrhel, owner of Cigars & Stripes, has heard phantom footsteps on the basement stairs as well. The ghost of Rose, a former owner of the establishment, is believed to linger in one spot at the bar and play “match maker.” She is even credited for bringing together at least one pair of newlyweds. Typical poltergeist activity, such as glasses tipping over and lights turning on and off, has been experienced as well.
4. Tonic Room
Ever since the Roaring ‘20s, the building now home to the Tonic Room has had a colorful history that lends itself to tales of the paranormal. A brothel was once located in the upstairs apartments, and the tavern was a popular hangout for a North Side Irish gang. When they first opened their establishment, the owners of the Tonic Room discovered Egyptian iconography painted on the basement ceiling and a pentagram painted on the basement floor, leading to speculation that it had been a meeting place for an American chapter of the Golden Dawn. One elderly woman claimed to have witnessed a ritual murder there in the 1930s when she accompanied her father to a secret meeting. According to author Ursula Bielski, patrons and staff have reported seeing apparitions in both the basement and the main bar.
3. Spirits Lounge
In 2006, Gary Graham and Tim Brueggeman purchased this old Masonic temple and planned to open it as a bar, restaurant, and banquet center. The two made extensive renovations, knowing the building already had a reputation for being haunted. Unusual occurrences happened almost immediately upon its grand opening in 2007. Built around 1900, the Piasa Lodge of the Freemasons occupied the building for nearly a century. According to Gary Hawkins, who placed the former lodge on his ghost tour, it is occupied by dozens of ghosts, including two master Masons named James Brown and Frank Harris, a woman named Mrs. Smalley who haunts the lady’s lounge, and two children. Four Confederate soldiers who died of smallpox are also believed to haunt one of the former temple’s two basements, which were all that remained of an older building over which the Piasa Lodge was built.
2. Excalibur Club
Constructed from rough granite blocks that give it a castle-like appearance, this Romanesque Revival building has had a long and colorful history. Built in 1892 by the Chicago Historical Society, since 1931 it has been home to the Loyal Order of the Moose, the WPA, a technology institute, a magazine company, and finally, a nightclub called the Limelight. When the Limelight opened, its staff almost immediately noticed unusual activity, especially on the third floor. On the pool table, balls rolled around on their own. The sound of heavy boxes moving in the storage room was often heard, even though the room was locked and empty. Hauntings continued when the club became the Excalibur in 1990. One bartender was reportedly trapped in a bathroom stall for several minutes, as though someone was holding the door closed. On one visit, author Scott Markus claimed to hear keys rattling and witnessed a figure that seemed to vanish behind a support column. Thanks to these and many similar incidents, the Excalibur is a favorite subject around Halloween for local radio and news stations.
1. Red Lion Pub
Described as “the most haunted pub in Chicago,” the Red Lion was an obligatory stop on any haunted tour of the Windy City. For decades, it was the spot to go to have a drink and hopefully encounter something otherworldly. According to Chicago ghost guru Ursula Bielski, the owner of the previous establishment to occupy that building, Dirty Dan’s, used to invite patrons to “come and meet the ghosts.” The Red Lion is thought to be haunted by several phantoms, including a vibrant woman dressed in 1920s attire, a cowboy, a bearded man, and a even a mentally retarded girl named Sharon. Unfortunately, the Red Lion is currently closed pending remodeling.
Check out these places and more in Michael Kleen’s Haunting Illinois: A Tourist’s Guide to the Weird and Wild Places of the Prairie State! Haunting Illinois contains 200 mystery sites and 85 individual illustrations. In this book, Michael not only examines the sites, but also the hobbyists and professionals who have devoted their lives to exploring the strange and unusual in our great state. Divided among eight distinct regions and listed by county, each location features a description, directions, and sources drawn from a diverse variety of books and articles. Haunting Illinois challenges you to get off the couch and start exploring our wonderful State of Illinois. Go here to order!
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