Chicago is filled with hidden history. From a cemetery concealed beneath the lovely green fields of Lincoln Park to a ghostly guest at a settlement house, some of our city's most historic sites have an untold, eerie side too. October is one of the best times of the year to visit these three (allegedly) haunted, yet history filled places.
Couch Mausoleum in Lincoln Park
Southwest corner of Lincoln Park, near north Clark Street and west LaSalle Drive
Did you know that the southern edge of Lincoln Park once served as the city cemetery? During the 1800s, Chicago buried its dead at the many religious graveyards and family-owned gravesites here, while the Potter's Field, located where the park's baseball diamond is today, welcomed indigent souls. Only one tomb survived the fire, the limestone Couch Memorial crypt, located at the south end of Lincoln Park, near the Chicago History Museum.
Ira Couch died in 1857 and was entombed in this large, iron-fenced mausoleum. Other family members were likely later interred in this family tomb, but no one one knows exactly who rests eternally beside Ira. Some say that the Couch family fought removal of the mausoleum all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court, but it's probable that the lone tomb still stands in Lincoln Park today because it was far too costly to remove the great stones since they are fastened together with copper rivets, rendering dismantling both next to impossible and costly.
In 1998, workers digging the site for the adjacent Chicago History Museum's parking garage in Lincoln Park (1731 N. Clark) discovered the remains of more than 80 people, including one perfectly preserved in a sealed, 19th-century iron coffin. Ira Couch may or may not rest alone in his iron-gated tomb, but certainly many of his unmoved contemporaries still lie buried near him in the surrounding park.
Jane Addams Hull-House Museum
800 S. Halsted Street
When pioneer activist, social worker and peacemaker Jane Addams arrived in Chicago in 1889, she had one goal in mind: to establish a space where newly arrived immigrants could both learn, create and dream their way toward the American Dream. Together with her colleague, Ellen Gates Starr, she established Hull House, Chicago's first settlement house, on September 18, 1889.
Forward-thinking Adams dreamed big. By 1907, the "fine old house" had morphed into a city block–long community center. Thousands of area residents poured in each week to learn to read and write, apprentice in a new trade, give birth, drop a child off at the in-house daycare, take part in a club, seek shelter from domestic violence, perform in the theater and check a book out from the library—it is impossible to gauge the impact Hull House's extensive social, educational and artistic programs had on the surrounding community.
The home is also the birthplace of many urban legends: A ghostly woman in white allegedly haunts the second floor, while mysterious monk-like figures have been spotted peering out the windows of the room on the southeast corner. According to an urban legend dreamed up during the settlement's most vibrant years, a mother once brought a baby born with pointed ears, horns, scale-covered skin and a tail to the settlement, where it was promptly locked up in the attic. Tenants living on the second floor always kept a large pitcher full of water on the attic stairs, holding tight to the belief that a ghost can't cross running water.
When curious neighbors began asking about the haunted happenings, Adams response was her tome, The Long Road of Woman's Memory (1922), an intimate collection of stories focused on the role of myth in women's lives.
Public tours are led by museum educators and last one hour every Wednesday and Sunday at 1 p.m. Meet in the entryway of the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum. No reservations are necessary; tours are free, but donations to the museum are encouraged.
Body Slices at the Museum of Science and Industry
5700 S. Lake Shore Drive
Imagine walking down a dark stairwell and suddenly spotting two cadavers, cut into half-inch-thick slices, pressed within plexiglass. For years, these gruesome body slices were hidden in a poorly lit stairwell, spooking little children who happened to come across them by chance. Parents, just as revolted, were then forced to answer kid question after question. "Are they really real dead people?" "Who sliced them up?" "Why?" And yet this wasn't a feature in a haunted house: the freaky yet fascinating body slices were kept hidden away in a stairwell, for years, at Chicago's renowned Museum and Science and Industry.
Who were the sad souls who forwent resting in peace for an eternity of creeping out kids from a plexiglass tomb? The two bodies were donors to a doctor who worked at what is now Michael Reese Hospital in the late 1920s. The collection was on display at the 1933 Century of Progress before being loaned to the newly opened MSI by the doctor. They lived on in the Blue Stairwell, always appearing to be on the brink of oozing out of their plexiglass encasing and making an escape toward a proper burial.
The infamous body slices instead joined up with their more modern friends—bodies meticulously preserved using special plastics and a technique called “plastination”—as a part of its dramatic health and wellness exhibit, "YOU! The Experience." Though in many ways the exhibit is a cemetery of sorts, the focus is on personal health and well-being and the extraordinary workings of our bodies.
All of the slices and specimens have been voluntarily donated by individuals who willed that, upon their death, their bodies could be used for the education of others.