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
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
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
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
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?
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
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.
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