Chicago is the third largest city in the United States and an “alpha city” in the global economy. With a population of over 2.8 million, it is the political and economic powerhouse of Illinois. With so many people living and dying here, it comes as no surprise that Chicago would be home to so many ghosts. Entire books (and their sequels!) have been devoted to the ghostlore of the Windy City. At Mysterious Heartland, we have poured over dozens of these stories to bring you the top 10 most haunted places in Chicago!
10. Lourdes High School (Former)
Richard T. Crowe, Chicago’s most respected authority on local ghost lore, taught English and journalism at Lourdes High School in 1972/73. During that time, he heard stories about a nun who haunted the third floor. Tales of the phantom nun had been told for decades. Heavy footsteps were sometimes heard echoing down the empty corridor, and a ghostly spectre was seen on more than one occasion. Stitch Hall, an auditorium added during the 1950s, also reportedly experienced this activity. Several years ago, Lourdes closed and John Hancock High School opened in its place. It is unknown whether the ghostly activity has continued.
9. Ford/Oriental Theatre
This theatre has had many names—Iroquois, Oriental, Ford—but none have been able to erase the stain of tragedy from this place. On December 30, 1903, five weeks after the Iroquois’ grand opening, the worst theatre fire in American history tore through the building, claiming the lives of 572 people. Another 30 later died of their injuries. In the alley behind the theatre, 125 bodies were piled up, some of them after having leapt to their deaths from the fire escape. Today, the area is relatively quiet, but residents of the building behind the theatre occasionally report feelings of uneasiness, as well as unexplained sounds they believe are tied to this disaster.
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 neighbourhood next door. According to Richard T. Crowe, when the funeral home finally moved out and a bar moved in, many locals were weary of patronising 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 realised 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. Adobo Grill (formerly That Steak Joynt)
Currently a Mexican restaurant, this location was formerly the home of That Steak Joynt, one of Chicago’s most famous haunted restaurants. According to Dale Kaczmarek, a Chicago medium held séances in an upstairs dining room in the 1980s. During one séance, a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times became violently ill. Waiters claimed to see shadows moving through the restaurant and felt touched by unseen hands. One waitress was violently dragged toward the staircase. Whatever had grabbed her left a burning red mark on her wrist. Kaczmarek added flickering lights, chills, phantom footsteps, floral scents, and strange howling noises to the list of strange occurrences. So far, the hauntings seem to have subsided, or at least the new owners are not talking about them.
6. Holy Family Church
Built between 1857 and 1859, Holy Family Church was one of the only buildings of its kind to survive the Chicago fire. Its very origins were connected to the spiritual. According to Father McCarthy, the church’s pastor in 1973, its altar was positioned above a stream that ran under the church, which itself was considered sacred ground by Americans Indians because of a battle that took place there. Traditionally, divine intervention is credited for preventing the church from being consumed in the Chicago fire, since Holy Family is located only a few blocks from where popular belief asserts the fire started. Additionally, statues of two boys holding candles hang high above the altar. These are thought to be representations of the spirits of two altar boys that led a priest to a dying woman in need of receiving last rites. Once, Father McCarthy also witnessed a figure standing in the choir loft, although it had been closed to the public for years.
5. Tonic Room
Ever since the Roaring ‘20s, the building now home to the Tonic Room has had a colourful 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
4. Drake Hotel
The opening night of the Drake Hotel was both magnificent and tragic. It was magnificent because the Drake was to be one of Chicago’s most beautiful hotels; it was tragic because, according to legend, it was the night the “Woman in Red” ended her life. On New Year’s Eve in 1920, a man and his fiancé (who was clad in a brilliant silk gown) attended the gala held in the Drake’s Gold Coast Room on opening night. The man stepped away and did not return, so his fiancé went looking for him. She found him, enthralled by another woman, in the Palm Court parlour. Devastated, the Woman in Red climbed to the roof and jumped to her death. Since then, guests at the Drake have reported seeing her ghost in the Gold Coast Room, Palm Court, and on the top floor and the roof. She seems to be condemned to replay her final night.
3. 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 an even a mentally retarded girl named Sharon. Unfortunately, the Red Lion is currently closed pending remodelling.
2. Excalibur Club
Constructed from rough granite blocks that give it a castle-like appearance, this Romanesque Revival building has had a long and colourful 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, Scott Markus (author of Voices from the Chicago Grave) 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 favourite subject around Halloween for local radio and news stations.
1. Congress Plaza Hotel
The Congress Plaza Hotel has the nefarious distinction of being one of Chicago’s largest and most haunted hotels. According to Ursula Bielski, some even believe one of its rooms inspired Stephen King’s short story “1408.” Since 1893, the Congress has played host to gangsters, celebrities, millionaires, and presidents. In recent years, it has suffered from the longest hotel employee strike in history. Its ghosts are numerous. Security guards have heard organ music and the sound of skate wheels sliding across the floor in the Florentine Room, a former roller skating rink, after the guests have gone to bed. Wedding attendees have gone missing from photographs taken around the grand piano in the Gold Room, and a one-legged man has been seen in the south tower. In the north tower, moans have been heard coming from the elevator on the fifth floor. Finally, the twelfth floor is believed to be home to a room so frightening that its door has been permanently sealed and hidden behind wall paper.
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! Three years in the making, the 3rd edition of Hunting Illinois is your ticket to adventure in your own backyard. This edition contains 60 new listings and 35 new pictures, for a total of 260 haunted or mysterious locations and more than 120 photos and illustrations. Divided into eight distinct regions and listed by county and town or neighbourhood, each location features a description, directions, and sources from a wide variety of books, articles, and websites. Haunting Illinois challenges you to get off the couch and start exploring our wonderful State of Illinois. Go here to order!