Thursday, July 19, 2012

Late Thoughts on the Late, Great Richard Crowe

When we stopped subscribing to a printed newspaper, I realized I was going to lose touch with local news. But it still came as a bit of a shock when I learned, over a month late, that one of my favorite Chicago icons, Richard Crowe, had passed away June 6, 2012.

For anyone not from the immediate area, Richard Crowe was the very first Chicago ghost entrepreneur. He started doing Chicago Supernatural Tours back in 1973 and I must admit I took my first tour with him a year later. At that time, the idea of getting on a bus for a four-hour ride while the man at the front regaled us with stories of ghosts related to Chicago's frequently bloody past as we toured the city was mind-boggling. This was a grown-up doing a bus tour for no other reason than to share ghost stories. I was on board in more ways than one.

My second tour with Mr. Crowe was years later, and by then he offered the option of a midnight ghost story cruise. My younger daughter and her best friend accompanied my husband and me as we gazed at Chicago buildings from the river and the lake, and heard tales of what went on in these particular haunts. Ghost stories told under dark Chicago skies in an open boat are weirdly atmospheric. And a lot of fun. 

A few years ago, my daughter and I took what would be, sadly, our last tour with our favorite guide. By now, Mr. Crowe had added eateries and late-night shopping to his tour as we stopped at favorite locales like The Billygoat Tavern and Chinatown. I won a prize on that tour for knowing that Ira Levin was the author of Rosemary's Baby.

Recently, I heard that some folks actually left his tours mid-route because they were disappointed. I've always wondered if they expected him to conjure up a spirit while he was speaking. Having been on ghost tours in different locations, including York, England, I can guarantee that no ghost-tour guide promises a supernatural experience. They do, however, offer a wealth of local history and usually quite a bit of entertainment. Rumor has it that Stephen King himself took a Richard Crowe ghost tour.

I had the opportunity to chat with Mr. Crowe on those tours. I also met him at a signing where he autographed a copy of his book Chicago's Street Guide to the Supernatural for me. He was a friendly, warm giant of a man with a great voice for telling tales and a dry sense of humor. His love of his home town was evident in every story he told. And I doubt that any historical haunting in the Second City got by him. How fitting it is that he is buried in Resurrection Cemetery, home to Resurrection Mary, one of Chicago's most famous spirits and a mainstay of Chicago Supernatural Tours.

I will miss Mr. Crowe's annual Halloween visits on both radio and television talk shows, and his interviews with various newspapers. But I'm glad I had the chance to have met and talked with him. He's an integral part of the fabric that weaves my writing career together.

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