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C H I C A G O  G H O S T S:
Bad Memories: The Dead Secrets of Marshall Field

Copyright by Ursula Bielski (2007)

The transformation of Chicago's beloved Marshall Field & Company into Macy's is now complete; the event which Field's loyal followers dreaded has come to pass.  But maybe it's a good thing.  Indeed, Marshall Field & Company was plagued with death and disaster--and their paranormal ramifications--for more than 100 years.

In December of 1903, a devastating fire at the nearby Iroquois Theater (now the refurbished Oriental/Ford Center) took the lives of 602 Chicagoans, many of them children attending a matinee performance at the site.  As the tragedy unfolded, the 8th floor of Field's was converted into a hospital where fire victims were bandaged with dishtowels from housewares; those who died during treatment were wrapped in sheets and blankets from the bedding department to await the coroner's wagons.

A year earlier, an elevator cable "gave way in an unexplained manner," causing the car to plunge ten floors, from the 9th level into the basement, killing the elevator operator and wounding one passenger.

In 1905, Marshall Field, Jr. was found shot to death in the bedroom of his own home on Chicago's Prairie Avenue, reportedly the result of a self-inflicted shotgun shot.  Field's family told police the death had been an accident: Marshall had been cleaning a hunting weapon when it accidentally discharged.  Neighbors weren't so sure, however, and the press soon leaked rumors of Field's longtime dealings in the old Levee vice district, where Chinatown sprawls today.  Had Field taken his own life to bow out of some untoward matter at Chicago's most prestigious brothel, the Everleigh Club?  No one really knows, but we do know that for a century the enormous Field, Jr. house (known as the Murray house from its first owner) stood abandoned: no one, it seems, could live in it. 

That is, until now. 

For the past several years, the 30,000 square foot property has undergone a massive gutting and reconstruction; the 43 rooms have been transformed into 6 condominiums, with price tags of $870,000 to 1.7million.  But are the new tenants really comfortable? 

We doubt it.  Along with the sinister mark of its previous tenant, the house bears another burden: like with the rest of Prairie Avenue, it was originally built on the killing fields of the Fort Dearborn Massacre of 1812.  That Anglo-Indian battle resulted in the scalping and killing of scores of Chicago settlers, whose bodies remained on the windswept sand dunes for four years, until soldiers returned to the burned out fort to rebuild it in 1816.  At the turn of the 19th Century, Prairie Avenue dwellers were already complaining about the paranormality of their lovely digs; today, with a new generation of affluence moving in, the new life in the neighborhood is joined, again, by the dead.

Throughout the mid-20th century, rumors arose of a number of employee suicides said to have occurred from the 8th level of the then open-air atrium in Marshall Field & Company; coworkers were said to claim that the victims all spoke of a "heaviness" or depression while working on that floor.  Could the use of the floor as a hospital--and morgue--for the Iroquois victims have left some kind of deadly impression on the building itself?

In 1972, a car rammed a crowd of pedestrians on the south side of Marshall Field and Company, continuing through a display window, killing one shopper and injuring seven others.

In 1973, almost exactly a year later, a Northside Chicago woman jumped to her death from the ninth floor of the landmark store, leaving behind a suicide note in the housewares department.

The tragedy surrounding the Marshall Field family and its world-famous department store has led some paranormal investigators to speculate on the reasons for the problem.  Many Chicagoans believe that the trouble may stem from Field, Sr.'s life of luxury on the Fort Dearborn Massacre site, sacred ground for Native Americans.  Could Field have built his mansion, as some claim, on the mass grave of the Native American dead?

Today, the proud and historic shell of the world's first modern department store has a new resident.  Like many Chicagoans today, it's from New York, and though the store pays a lot of lip service to the "legacy" of the great Marshall Field & Company, the new bosses likely have little idea of the history--and mystery--they've inherited.