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C H I C A G O  G H O S T S:
"The Museum of Science and Industry"
from Ghosthunting Illinois
by John Kachuba

(Reprinted, with permission of the publisher, from "Ghosthunting Illinois" by John Kachuba.  Published by Ellis Books. All rights reserved.)

Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, located at 57th Street and Lake Shore Drive, is one of the country’s pre-eminent centers for informal science and technology education.

    It is also home to at least three ghosts.

    The beautiful domed and columned building was originally built as the Palace of Fine Arts for the 1893 Columbian Exposition and is the only surviving structure from that exposition. The museum, which is situated along the shore of the Jackson Park lagoon, looks more like an ancient Greek temple than it does a center of science and technology. Perhaps it is that feeling of antiquity that draws the ghosts.

    One of the museum’s most famous ghosts is that of Clarence Darrow, the celebrated lawyer whose battle with William Jennings Bryan in 1925 over the issue of teaching evolution in schools—a trial known as the Scopes Monkey Trial—has become a landmark case in the annals of jurisprudence and was also the inspiration for the play and movie, Inherit the Wind. Darrow figured prominently in many other high-profile cases, including the 1924 Leopold and Loeb case, in which he defended two stone-cold teenage murderers of a fourteen-year old boy and won them life imprisonment instead of the electric chair.

    Darrow lived in the Hyde Park neighborhood that includes the museum. He died in Chicago in 1938 and his cremated remains were scattered in the Jackson Park lagoon as he had requested. Every year a wreath-laying ceremony honoring Darrow is held at the bridge spanning the lagoon. In 1957 the bridge was dedicated in his memory and is now known as the Clarence Darrow Memorial Bridge.    

    Dale Kaczmarek, a Chicago ghost investigator who also operates area ghost tours, reported that a man on one of his tours took photos of the lagoon and captured the smoky image of a face near the bridge. Could it have been the ghost of Clarence Darrow?  

    “His ghost has been seen here in the museum as well,” said Travis*, a docent my wife Mary and me met at the Burlington Zephyr exhibit inside the museum. Travis was a baby-faced, rosy-cheeked young man whose new beard was just starting to grow in; it looked as though he had augmented it with charcoal. Travis wore the blue uniform and cap of a train conductor, but he looked more like a kid on Halloween trick or treating as Captain Kangaroo.  

    “People have seen an elderly man dressed in a suit, walking in the hall by the windows that overlook the lagoon. They say he matches the description of Clarence Darrow. He’s there for just a moment, then he disappears,” Travis said.

    Travis told us how the ghost interrupted a children’s Halloween story-telling session he was conducting at the museum. “I looked up and there he was. In the next second he was gone.”

    We were standing before the gleaming engine of the Burlington Zephyr, one of the country’s first diesel streamlined trains, as we spoke. The stainless steel Burlington Zephyr seemed to glow in the vast, dark hall of the museum. Three cars were attached to the engine; a mail car, a passenger car, and a passenger lounge at the rear of the train that featured a curved exterior and panoramic windows. Travis said he had more to tell us, but it was time for him to lead the next tour through the train. Mary and I climbed aboard with him and a handful of other visitors.

    The tour began in the mail car, with the history of the Burlington Zephyr given to us by Zeph, a robotic figure in the form of a talking burro so lifelike that some of the little children in the group patted its nose and tried to feed it some hay while it talked. The real Zeph joined the Dawn to Dusk Club of eighty-four distinguished passengers on the Zephyr’s maiden run from Denver to Chicago on May 26, 1934. Zeph came on board when the Rocky Mountain News offered the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad (CB&Q) a “Rocky Mountain Canary” as a mascot for the trip. It was only when the burro was delivered that Ralph Budd, CB&Q president understood he had accepted a burro and not a bird. Budd quickly ordered hay to be placed on board for Zeph, remarking, “One more jackass on this trip won’t make a difference.” Zeph sped off into history as the Zephyr broke all train speed records of the day, traveling 1,015 miles in 13 hours and five minutes, the longest non-stop train trip the world had ever witnessed. The Zephyr’s average speed was 77.5 miles per hour, although it peaked at 112.5 miles per hour.

    The Zephyr’s sleek styling and incredible speed made it an instant celebrity and the train starred in the 1934 movie, The Silver Streak. Streamlining became all the rage in design, copied in everything from cars and airplanes, to toasters and vacuum cleaners and Madison Avenue ad agencies appropriated the Zephyr for advertising campaigns.

    The next car was the passenger coach. Unlike the stuffy old Pullman coaches, the Zephyr’s coach was as streamlined as its gleaming exterior. The clean lines and sleek design were accented by indirect lighting, plush upholstered seats, and colors in soothing pale green, cool blue, and light brown. Passengers could order 20¢ hamburgers and hot dogs, or other food from the kitchen. They were served by the all-female Zephyrettes, on-board hostesses who saw to the passengers’ every need.  There were no Zephyrettes on board that day to assist the life-sized plaster passengers who now sat scattered among the plush seats. Each of the figures had a speaker built into it so that it could “talk” to the others about the train and the journey. It was an eerie feeling, sitting next to these immobile figures, never knowing when the one right beside you might suddenly speak. I noticed that those same little children who so happily had fed the fake Zeph now clung to their parents.

    The last car on the tour was the lounge car. Large windows completely lined its sides and rounded back end. A film projected onto the windows gave the illusion of movement while the jostling floor mimicked the rocking of the train along the tracks.

    As we stood behind a velvet rope we watched three robotic figures dressed in the style of the 1930s, seated in comfortable upholstered chairs. Ralph Budd sat on the left wearing a three-piece suit. His sister, Mrs. Katherine Wilder occupied the center seat. To her left sat her young daughter. They all moved as they chatted with each other, subtle movements such as the turning of a head, a hand moving to one side, the flexing of a foot.  There was something secretive and mysterious in these movements, as if the robots were afraid of being caught in the act. I would look at the figure of Budd as it spoke, turning its head to look at me and then detect some movement from one of the other figures. Wasn’t Mrs. Wilder’s hands folded in her lap before? Wasn’t the daughter looking to her left only a few second ago? The figures were more than lifelike, they were just plain creepy.

    The tour ended in the lounge car and we all debarked from there. Travis had a break for a few minutes so we resumed our conversation while Mary wandered off to explore more of the museum.

    “That was a great tour,” I said.

    “Thanks.” Travis took of his conductor’s hat, wiped the sweat from his brow with his coat sleeve, and put the hat back on. Apparently, fake conducting on a train that couldn’t go anywhere was harder work than I thought. “What did you think of the animatronics?” Travis asked.

    “The which?”

    “Animatronics, the robots.”

    “Really good,” I said, “a little freaky maybe.”

    Travis nodded. “We have to turn them on, you know. They’re not able to move unless we do.” One of the people who had been on the tour was walking near us and Travis waited for her to pass by before continuing. “So how come the figures in the lounge car move on their own, without being switched on? Mrs. Wilder, especially. She’s been seen moving her head when the power’s off.”

    “Do you think the car is haunted?” I asked.

    He shrugged and drew me to a display board near the train. One of the panels described an accident at Napier, Missouri on October 2, 1939, in which the engineer and another person aboard the Burlington Zephyr were killed.

    “Maybe there’s reason for it to be haunted,” Travis said.

    We had walked around to the front of the sleek locomotive, its single headlight piercing the gloom of the great hall. Though at rest, it looked as though it could spring to life at any moment and hurtle through the museum, with or without the dead engineer at its controls. More people passed by and Travis lowered his voice when he said, “The train isn’t the only thing in the museum that’s haunted. Have you heard about the U-505?”

    I knew something of the history of the U-505, the only German submarine ever captured by the Americans in World War II.  The U-505 was commissioned in Hamburg, Germany in 1941 and was involved in several battles and by 1942 was already responsible for sinking eight allied ships. On June 4, 1944 the USS Guadalcanal task group in the mid-Atlantic Ocean attacked the U-505. The Germans attempted to scuttle the sub, were unsuccessful, and so, surrendered to the American forces. The capture of the sub was the first time an American naval force had captured an enemy ship on the high seas since 1815, when the USS Peacock seized HMS Nautilus during the War of 1812. The submarine was towed into port in Bermuda where U.S. and British military experts could study it. Its capture was kept a secret until after the war.

    In 1946, the U.S. Navy planned to scuttle the German submarine by using her for target practice. The existence of the sub came to the attention of the Museum of Science and Industry’s president, Leonard Lohr, who revealed ten-year old plans for the museum that included a submarine among its future exhibits. The people of Chicago raised $250,000 to purchase the sub and tow it to the museum where it was designated as a war memorial and became a part of the museum’s exhibits.

    But none of that was what Travis was talking about. He was talking about ghosts aboard the U-505.

    “What kind of ghosts?” I asked.

    “The commander,” Travis said, “a man named Peter Zschech. In 1943, the sub was attacked with depth charges by a British ship. The attack went on for a while and Zschech just lost it. While the depth charges were exploding all around the sub, he killed himself in the control room.”     Travis told me that the U-505’s First Officer took over and skillfully evaded the attacking ship, bringing the sub safely back to port in France. “Some people here think that Zschech is still aboard his sub,” Travis said.

    He said that before the museum opens, a staff person boards the sub and walks through its length to turn the lights on inside. One day, as a member of the staff walked through the darkened sub to turn on the lights, he suddenly felt an unseen presence with him.

    “The guy said that the presence ‘tried to enter him’,” said Travis. “Those were his exact words, ‘enter him’.”

    Another docent was straightening up the commander’s bunk, Travis said, when he felt someone right behind him. He whirled around but there was no one there.

    Female docents especially seem to be having a tough time with the commander’s ghost. One young woman had just made a rather insulting joke about the commander, according to Travis, when a steel door suddenly slammed closed on her hand, injuring her. Another woman felt a hand come out of nowhere and grasp her shoulder. Of course, there was no one else in the room.

    The U-505 exhibit was undergoing major renovations when Mary and I visited the museum. It will be interesting to see if the ghost of Commander Zschech becomes even more active as a result of being stirred up by the commotion, or whether he decides to ship out for some otherworldly port. But even if Zschech leaves, the ghosts of Clarence Darrow and those aboard the Burlington Zephyr remain to keep you company when you visit Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.

(Ghosthunting Illinois--and other books by John Kachuba--may be purchased at Amazon.com.  See what else John is up to at JohnKachuba.com