WILD NIGHTS: GHOSTHUNTING CHICAGO’S LINCOLN PARK ZOO: (PART 1)
Lincoln Park Zoo Lion House c. 1920. Photo from zoo collection.
As one of the oldest neighborhoods in Chicago, Lincoln Park is also, surely, one of the most haunted in the city. The home of George “Bugs” Moran, Lincoln Park saw some of the worst Gangland violence in American history, including the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Occurring in a narrow brick garage at 2122 North Clark Street, the slaughter was part of a Chicago almost as blighted as today’s city by turf wars, shootings and death.
Lincoln Park also hosted one of the terrifying deaths which became known as the “Tylenol Murders.” On October 1, 1982, flight attendant Paula Prince was found dead two days after buying a bottle of the cyanide-laced capsules at the Walgreen’s store at North Avenue and Wells Street, in Lincoln Park’s Old Town section.
The famed Second City comedy theater and school makes its home across Wells Street from Walgreen’s, in an ornate structure where a murder allegedly took place soon after its erection. According to my old friend, comedian and writer Kevin Dorff, the residue of that violence is believed to still remain, nearly a century later, manifesting to performers and staff over many generations.
Next door to the Second City was the infamously haunted restaurant called That Steak Joynt (now Adobo Grill), an old school eatery with one of the meanest ghosts in town, known to drag waitresses down the staircase and manifest as a pair of glowing eyes. Psychics and mediums claimed that a double murder had occurred in Piper’s Alley, the cobblestoned pathway which once ran along the building, and that the killer, in phantom form, was still at large on the premises. Adobo Grill denies any ghostly goings-on today.
Paula Prince, one of the victims of the 1982 Tylenol Murders, lived in Old Town.
That Steak Joynt (now Adobo Grill) was one of Chicago’s most haunted places.
Old Town is also home to St. Michael’s Church, where the Devil himself is said to have appeared in the Communion line one Sunday night in the 1970s, cloaked in a black hood and robe, with hooves instead of feet. And it’s the stomping grounds of Candyman. The Cabrini Green housing project, now gone forever, was the reported lair of the hooked killer of urban legend–and Sandburg Village the home of the heroine who tangled with his menace.
Without a doubt, one of the most legendary of Lincoln Park’s ghosts is that of the late John Dillinger, the swashbuckling bank robber who in 1934 wreaked havoc for months across three states before being gunned down in the alleyway just south of the Biograph Theater. They say you can sometimes still see his bluish form stumbling and falling on the pavement–or feel the icy chill of his spirit move through your own body there.
Despite these plentiful tales of the neighborhood, there is no part of Lincoln Park more haunted than the park itself, which was originally the home of Chicago’s City Cemetery, a sprawling burying ground stretching from North Avenue to Armitage and from the old Green Bay Trail (Clark Street) to Lake Michigan. The cemetery was short lived. Established in 1843, a cholera scare caused residents to fear that the burial of victims would spread the disease to the nearby water supply. Soon, the order was given for the disinterment and removal of the tens of thousands of corpses. The long process came to a shocking halt when, on the night of October 8, 1871, high winds blew flaming debris from a south side inferno across the river. The Great Chicago Fire, sweeping swiftly northward, pushed north side residents to flee into the cemetery grounds and, eventually, into the waters off North Avenue Beach.
The cemetery was almost completely destroyed in the Great Fire. “Headboards”–the wooden markers which designated most burials of the day–were reduced to ash by the conflagration, rendering plot after plot impossible to identify. With no way to discern where the myriad burials remained, the city simply continued its plans to create a lakefront park, and Chicago moved on. Apparently not all of the dead, however, did.
Artist and scholar Pamela Bannos (see her wonderful site here), after years of painstaking research, determined that as many as 15,000 bodies may remain in Lincoln Park today, under the Zoo, the ball fields, the grounds of the Chicago History Museum and even the posh homes of the Gold Coast; land south of North Avenue was home to an Archdiocesan cemetery concurrent with City Cemetery’s time here. A cousin of mine, a retired sheet metal worker, years ago told me strange tales of the bones often found on the properties of the mansions of Astor Street, Dearborn Street and other blocks. The workers kept close the business card of a local shaman, who they would call to collect the bones and re-inter them, in hopes that their owners would not wander the Earth after the disruption of their graves.
Ghost hunters have long known of the haunting of these old cemetery grounds by the dead left behind after the Great Fire, but while several investigations have been done on the public grounds of Lincoln Park and in some of the private homes and businesses of the surrounding area, no investigation had ever been done of the Zoo, which spread from it original enclosure over a large acreage, including much of the former cemetery grounds. When, then, the events manager called me in the spring of 2013 about creating a “ghost tour” of the Zoo for patrons as part of its public programming, I was beyond thrilled at the prospect, and we immediately set a date for an initial investigation night.
I knew exactly where I wanted to go on that first visit, because over many years I had been approached via letter, phone call and email about close encounters in, of all places, the women’s restroom in the Lion House basement. Time after time, women would report having used the facility and, while washing their hands or applying makeup, seeing in the mirrors men and women dressed in Victorian clothing. On the night of the first investigation that summer, myself and another investigator entered the restroom and were immediately struck by the layout of the room. Rows of sinks lined the two walls, parallel to each other. Above the sinks were rows of mirrors, creating an “infinity” effect from the two walls of mirrors facing each other.
Now, most paranormal investigators will concur that mirrors are one of those things–like salt or water–that have some definite power in the world of the preternatural. Steeped in folklore, these items really do seem to have some importance in the realm of paranormal experience. One theory is that entities can be easily “trapped” in mirrors. Presumably, the spirits enter them to explore the objects they see reflected, but suddenly find themselves engulfed in blackness, on the other side of the mirror’s glass–essentially inside the mirror.
Investigators Colleen Nadas and Ron Jamiolowski assemble
a “Devil’s Toybox” for use in EVP experiments.
This works the opposite way as well. My friend Colleen Nadas, a medium, likes to build and use a tool called “The Devil’s Toybox,” which is a kind of “ghost trap” comprised of a cube made of inward facing square mirrors, securely taped together at the seams. Investigators use contact microphones to record sounds from inside the box, believing that if a spirit attempts to investigate, it will find itself trapped because of the mirrors and start to make a fuss. Sometimes this “fussing” leads to great electronic voice phenomena, or EVP: recordings of the voices of the angry or frightened ghosts or knocking sounds from inside the box. In the Zoo’s Lion House, we instantly theorized that entities were routinely finding themselves stuck in these mirrors due to the effect created by the rows of mirrors facing each other.
Anecdotes collected from the Zoo staff confirmed that staff members had also experienced encounters here, especially hearing a man’s voice commanding, “Get out!” Amazingly, when I set up my laptop and began to record for EVP, within a minute I picked up a stern male voice warning, “Get out! There’s a woman here!” (Hear it here.) A future visit by a medium confirmed that one of the male spirits had taken on the task of keeping men–dead and alive–out of the women’s restroom.
As we continued our investigation, I took several series of photographs down the row of stalls leading to the end of the facility. During investigations, I like to take fifty to one hundred photos or more of each location to see if any of the frames contain an anomaly. When I played back the recording done during this time, I found that one of the male entities was a bit angry that I wasn’t paying as much attention to him as the area I was photographing, because he clearly says, “Will you look at me!” (Hear it here.)
As is typical with most investigators, I asked if there was anything I could do for the entities who remained in this spot. The same voice, now with a tinge of sadness, answered, “Help me…with leaving.” (Hear it here.) When I asked if there was anything the spirits wanted to tell us about their time on Earth, one can make out the sound of a lion’s roar and of the same voice saying, “I miss it.” (Hear it here.)
Shadow figure captured on the stall wall, center.
On a subsequent visit to the Lion House bathroom, I was amazed to find that I had photographed a shadowy figure silhouetted against one of the bathroom stalls. This photograph was one of a sequence of sixty I had snapped, one after another in quick sequence. Only this photo showed the image. The other investigators with me attempted to recreate the shadow by standing against the opposite wall, out of view, but could not.
On the first investigation night, after several hours of research and experiment, we decided to call it a night and began to disable and back up our equipment. I would say that, generally, when an investigator ends an investigation and says “Goodbye!” before turning off a recording device, the entities tend to scramble to say more, especially to give more pleas for help. Not so in the case of this location. At least one of the entities was eager to see us go. In response to my invitation, “Is there anything else you’d like to say before we go?” the sound of–perhaps anxious–footfalls can be heard, along with the words, “Turn out the light. Good night!” (Hear it here.)
The Haunting of Lincoln Park Zoo, Part 2: The Primate House
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