Thursday, March 29, 2018

Does Chicago Attract Fire?

Years ago, I remember talking to someone about how Chicago seems to attract disasters centered around fire. If you say the words "Chicago" and "fire" in the same sentence, everyone instantly thinks about the Great Chicago Fire of October, 1871. The fire burned for over two days, killed up to 300 people, and destroyed 3.3 square miles of the city. It was a horrible tragedy, although not many realize that at that same time. Peshtigo, Wisconsin was suffering a similar but worse fate: a firestorm with 1500-2500 people killed. The entire Midwest had been struggling through a dry summer and by that fall, the heat and the drought made conditions perfect for catastrophic fires.

But Chicago didn't stop with the huge fire of 1871. 

On December 30, 1903, the Iroquois Theater Fire killed 572 people on site with an additional 30 dying later, bringing the total count up to 602. The alley behind the building is considered to be haunted (people trapped inside the building, jumping to escape the flames, were also jumping to their deaths in this alley). Amazingly enough, the theater was rebuilt and opened asst one point as the Oriental Theater. It has since morphed into the Ford Theater and is a popular destination for musicals.

Goodyear's dirigible, the Wing Foot, crashed into the Illinois Trust and Savings Building on July 21, 2019. Twelve people in the building died when the fuel from the dirigible sparked a fire that barred any rescue attempts. 

There was a huge fire on May 19, 1934 at the Union Stock Yards. Thankfully, no one died in the blaze, but it took 1600 Chicago firefighters, helped by additional men with equipment from 31 different suburban firehouses, to put it out.

In 1946, The LaSalle Hotel caught fire on June 5. According to Troy Taylor of Weird and Haunted Chicago fame, the owner of the LaSalle had claimed it was fireproof. The fire that blazed through the building saw 200 injured, 30 hospitalized, and 61 killed.

All of these fires that saw so much loss of life are tragic. But perhaps the most biggest heart breaker was the fire at Our Lady of Angels School, December1, 1958. The fire claimed the lives of 92 children and 3 nuns. Veteran Chicago journalist Hugh Hill, who had been a cub reporter at the time, was sent to the school after being told that it was "just a fire at a school." What he found would stay with him the rest of his life. On a documentary about the tragedy, he spoke about parents coming to the makeshift morgue to identify their children, sometimes making that identification by a necklace or a shoe, because that would be the only thing recognizable. He said the morgue was the scene of quiet shock, and that the entire site was hushed with grief. That fire left scars on the neighborhood, the parish, and every family it touched. It also led to changes in fire and safety codes across the entire country.

All large cities have tragedy in their histories, and that is no surprise. I would have to do a lot more research to see if my old home town has had more than its share of fires but so much of its fairly short history (compared to other world cities like Beijing or London or Rome) is written in flames. And I can't help but wonder why that would be.

Information on the Union StockYards Fire and additiona linformation on the LasSalle Hotel Fire from www.ChicagoTribune.

Information on the rest taken from Weird and Haunted Chicago, Troy Taylor.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Desperately In Need of a Scary Story?

 I read about ghosts. I write about ghosts. I apparently have a bit of an obsession about them. And in this blog I try to share stories. However, even I, the sort of crazy person who says to perfect strangers "Tell me a ghost story" will occasionally run out of fresh tales. So then what?

I have two plans of action for such a dilemma: 1. Books, and 2. TV.

And that, folks, is where I am today (and likely to be some time in the future, as well.) So today I will resort to my all-time favorite paranormal reality TV show - The Dead Files.

If you haven't seen this show, you're missing something. No one else has paired up a physical medium with a retired NY homicide detective (who would think of something like that?) And no one else conducts investigations like these two. The premise is that someone is having paranormal difficulties and so Amy Allan (the medium) and Steve DiSchiavi (the retired police detective) will investigate the situation, each in her or his individual manner. Amy will take a walk through the house, picking up on what or who is there. Steve will interview the residents or owners, then do historical research including interviews with local historians, law enforcement personnel, and genealogists. Then they get back together with the people who are having the problems, explain what they have found, and tell them what to do to resolve the situation and reclaim their peace and serenity.  (The only other problem-solving show I've ever seen was probably The Haunted Collector with John Zaffis. Believe me, he'll turn up here again at some point.)

In all the time that I have watched this show, I have seen Mr. DiSchiavi uncover murders, suicides, massacres, accidents, almost anything that could cause a tragedy and a psychic disturbance. And I have seen Ms. Allan come up with ghosts, poltergeists, PK manifestations, demons, curses, and really unsettling entities that she explains "were never human." YIKES.

Here's an example: on one show, an entire family was experiencing apparitions, unexplained noises, feelings of being watched, and constant nightmares, among other things. Ms. Allan told them what she had found on her walk, and Mr. DiSchiavi backed up her findings with his research. THEN she said something like "But the other thing going on is that your children are experiencing alien abduction, and I can't help with that." Um... Uhhh...

My sister, who thinks Communion is one of the scariest movies she has ever seen, would have been running for the hills, at that point. Seriously? Alien abduction? But Ms. Allan has talked about aliens in more than one episode and she's not necessarily talking about beings that hover over the house in spaceships and zap sleeping humans into their labs. Frequently she'll mention that "alien" can mean a being from another dimension. Some poor folks seem to have portals to other dimensions in their backyards. Or their basements. Or their upstairs hallway between two bedrooms. YIKES again.

I realize that for complete skeptics and other non-believers, this is probably heading off into the territory known as madness or nonsense or fantasy. That's their prerogative.

But I also know that The Dead Files frequently goes back to the places they were called to (this version of the show is called The Dead Files: Revisited) to see how things have been resolved or changed if the clients followed Amy's advice. Lots of times there is a really happy ending, but not always. Sometimes, the family or owners will have been told to move away, and so there can be no follow-up at the original site of investigation.

I suggest that if you're ever looking for a scary story, like I frequently am, that you give this show a try. I'm not trying to write an ad for them, either. I'm just saying that as far as freaky tales go, they have some of the best  I've ever seen.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

New Appliances, Recent Upgrades, and Oh, Yeah, a Ghost

 Home, Sea, Coast, Scotland, Lost Places

I think there are some jobs that would make a person more likely to run into ghosts. If you're following my Facebook page, then you'll know I recently posted about a doctor who collected stories of the strange and paranormal from other doctors.** Since they frequently deal with life-and-death situations, I guess it wouldn't be much of a surprise that doctors would run into ghosts from time to time. The stories featured in the aforementioned collection are amazing.

I know that the police run into that, too. I read a whole book about that and will post it on Facebook in the near future.

But what about less obvious jobs that might bring one into contact with the unknown? Hotel workers, for instance? There are any number of haunted hotels in any given city. Or how about home re-modelers? Paranormal aficionados all know that renovating a home can bring things back to life. It's almost a given in a house with a history. And then there's the real estate agents themselves.

Jim and I were talking to a real estate agent we know just the other week, and when he asked me what I write about -and I told him I write ghost stories- he said, "Did I ever tell you about that one house?" 

That brought my full attention around pretty fast. "No," I said. "What house?"

He then told us about a house on a busy street that he knew. Apparently, the son of the owners was killed on the street right in front of the place, and now haunts it. "He shows up in various places," our friend said. "The new owners talk about him being there all the time. They don't know what to do about it."

"He probably doesn't know he's dead," I suggested. If the young man died suddenly in front of his home, he might have no idea that he "crossed over" and is currently continuing to live his life as he knew it. Except that he's not alive anymore, at least, not physically.

Our friend, who probably doesn't think about this kind of thing very often, shrugged and nodded at the same time. "And there's another place, too," he said.

I couldn't believe it. "You know of another haunted house?"
 "In this case, it wasn't the son, but the mother who died. She was an older lady. And now the people living there say they see her shadow around the house, all the time."

We all thought about that for a while. 

"I guess they don't know how to get rid of her, either," he said.

I had used the idea of a real estate agent running into a haunted house in my last book. Touching Shadow, Stealing Light, so it was very cool to run into a similar situation in person.

This was just a chance conversational topic that came up when we were all together, but I wonder if there's a way I can bribe him to tell me more stories. Maybe a nice dinner? Maybe a fancy lunch? He's been in the business for well over forty years, he must have more stories than the two little ones he shared. Maybe, if he ever has to list a house he thinks may be haunted, I can get him to give me a showing, just for the heck of it. 

And then maybe he's got some stories on the aftermath of selling a haunted house. I've seen stories in the papers about people who wanted to get out of a house sale after finding out their new digs were haunted. I've seen stories about whether or not an owner has to divulge that their listed house is disturbed. I'd sure love to get his take on all of that. In forty-plus years, I bet he's got a back log of bizarre stories. I'll have to see if I can get him to share some of that...

** Physicians' Untold Stories, Scott Kolbaba, MD

Thursday, March 8, 2018


I was going to blog about the paranormal, as always, but instead, let me introduce you to my brother-in-law, Paul.

My husband Jim is eight years younger than his next sibling, and that would be Paul. I first met this older brother back in 1976, I think. At that time, Jim and I were getting serious with our relationship, and though there was all kinds of family craziness around us then, Paul did tell me the first time we met face-to-face that he liked me.

After Jim and I married and started our own family, Paul and his wife Jan (and daughter Michelle) were very good to us. They babysat for us, they invited us to family dinner every Christmas Eve, including a church service for the holiday, had us over for various dinners, volunteered Michelle to hang out with our children, the whole bit. They lived a few 'burbs over and we were all busy, but we got together several times a year. And every year when I sent out our kids' school photos, Jan displayed them on the frame of her mirror.

I guess we can stray a little into the paranormal here. Jim told me that Paul had, well, a bit of the shine, as Stephen King would put it. Jim told me that he once took a deck of cards and played the "what card am I holding?" game with Paul, and that his brother named each card correctly for about five or six cards in a row before stopping. That's against the odds entirely, so I I think Jim is right about that shine. Besides, his brother was always extraordinarily lucky at casinos!

Michelle grew up, got married, and moved to North Carolina with her husband and daughter. Jan, being the devoted grandmother that she is, decided that she and Paul would move to North Carolina too, since they were retired and wanted to be close. After that, our visits became a lot less frequent, but we were in touch. We called, we exchanged cards, we emailed, we even visited on occasion.They all came back for my daughter Kelsey's wedding some years ago.

So this morning, Jim got the phone call letting him know that Paul had passed away in his sleep last night. Although he had been struggling with health issues for some time, his death was still unexpected. I'm writing this in a bit of a fog, actually, because it seems very odd to have this person missing, to have this sudden hole in the fabric of my life. And of course my thoughts center on Jan and Michelle, and on Jim and his other siblings. I lost a brother a while ago. There's nothing that ever fills that gap, nothing that ever smooths over the loss of that part of childhood.

But it helps to write about it, so thank you for bearing with me. When I think of Paul, I will always think of his really mischievous smile, his laugh, and his sense of humor. He was one in a million and I'm lucky to have had him in my life.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Ouija? NoNo

Image result for ouija board images 

Have you ever played around with a Ouija board? At a friend's house? During a slumber party? At a casual get-together? Ouija boards, or spirit boards, sometimes make their appearance at social gatherings when people are 1) curious, 2) bored, 3) drinking a little too much, 4) any combination or all of the above.

When we were kids, my sister had one. I don't know why. I don't think she bought it. I think she got it as a present. My question now would be "And why did that seem like a good present for a seventh grader?" But at that time, I think they were marketed by a major game company and sold as toys. YIKES.

Being curious about all things supernatural, it was just a matter of time before I decided to start playing around with the board, too. I think my sister and I did a few sessions, the giggly kind where you ask about boys, and love, and the future, and boys, and love. 

Later on, I tried a session with my best friend from school, and that is what got me RIGHT OFF of ever using one again. We were playing at my house during summer vacation between sixth and seventh grade and got it into our heads to give the old spirit board a try. And, as expected, we asked about boys and love. Then we started asking other kinds of questions about our futures and the answers started getting a little, well, snarky. After a while, they seemed to be sliding right into hostile territory. Our questions were receiving mean, snippy little answers, like you might get from the mean kids in your classroom, except these seemed even darker then that.

So then I got the brilliant idea of asking who was answering our questions. And the planchette spelled out B-E-E-L-Z-E before I snatched my hands away from that smoothly-gliding piece of plastic as if I'd been burned. My friend looked at me in surprise. "What's wrong?" she asked. "What's it spelling?"

"You don't know?" I couldn't believe she didn't. I was already packing up the board and the planchette into the box, fastening it shut and thinking I would never touch it again.

"Who is that?" she asked.

I put the board away and dragged her outside into the afternoon sunshine before answering. (I had to bring her outside to answer her: we were in THAT house, the haunted house of my childhood.)

She never really understood why that bothered me so much. I don't think I really understood exactly how disturbing that whole incident was until I experienced The Exorcist, both the book and the movie, some years later. Can we say Captain Howdy?

So now I do not go anywhere near those things. When my children were little I absolutely forbade either of them having one in the house and as far as I know, neither of them ever dabbled in exploring that particular activity. At least, not when they were still young girls under my roof. And now, as adults, both of them understand where I'm coming from.

As Aldous Huxley once put it, "There are things known and there are things unknown and in between are the doors (of perception)." I think there are portals between this world and others, and as far as I'm concerned, a Quija board is a huge, honking portal into dimensions I'd rather leave alone.

Have you every played with a Quija board?