Where Have All The Ghosts Gone?

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There are many ghost stories and lore in the Chicagoland area.  Many of these stories are recorded in books concerning area ghosts.  Chicago is not unique; most places have their recognized local haunts.  Every city seems to have books about their “locals”.  However, by the time these stories become popularized I suspect the ghosts are long gone.  Hauntings don’t last forever. 

Take the story of Resurrection Mary, which is the classic hitchhiker ghost.  There may have been something real to this story long ago but it’s unlikely the spirit still wanders the streets looking for a ride.  These popularly known stories soon get told and retold with embellishments added that they soon enter into the realm of modern folklore and urban myth.  When “haunted” places are stops on ghost tours, we can be sure nothing remains to scare us.

Where are the current “live” ghosts?  Are they all gone?  Few current ghosts get any recognition.  Perhaps we are just smarter now and less gullible.  Are all known hauntings now debunked?  I suspect ghosts are still all around but remain unrecognized.  Perhaps in the 21st century our attention span has diminished with so many distractions.  It would take something really dramatic to get noticed and ghostly phenomena are subtle at best.

chicago haunts autographChicago area ghost enthusiasts have many useful references for local ghost lore.  One book I recommend is Chicago Haunts by Ursula Bielski.  I even have an autographed copy I bought long ago at a book signing.  This past Halloween there was a local television show about area ghosts shown on a public TV station.  It was “Hauntings of Chicago” hosted by author Ursala Bielski.  Below is this show in two parts.  It is not comprehensive, and deals with the past, but is worth a view.

Why Condo/Apartment Buildings Don’t Report Being Haunted

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listening for ghosts

We’ve all heard of haunted houses.  They are a staple of both literature and real life.  But what about a haunted condo or apartment building?  We don’t hear much about those.  If anything, there should be more hauntings in a high-rise then in a single house, with the number of people who live in such buildings and all the drama and death that goes with the many residents.

Apartment buildings and condos seem to be spook proof, but I’d guess only because nobody would pay attention to them.  Living in a building tends to be noisy.  I live in an older high-rise, and there are always sounds in the background.  Someone could be talking in the hallway just outside earshot, but enough to notice.  On occasion I can hear the “tap tap” of someone walking above my unit in high heels.  Oh!  What is that?  I note an argument in the unit to my left with shouting noticeable.  If all this dim noise happened in a single residence, we’d swear it was haunted.  In a multi-unit dwelling, it’s part of the ambient background sound.

If there were an actual haunting, who’d notice?  On occasion, as I lay in bed and all is quiet, I will simply listen.  I pay attention to every little sound.  I can hear the clock ticking.  The heat will turn on and then off.  Somebody is doing something in the unit above me.  There is always the background sound of a large building.

However, recently I’ve heard something different.  It doesn’t appear often, but it seems like at least once a night.  On occasion I hear a fairly loud rap in the room.  Exactly where it comes from I really can’t tell.  It sounds like someone is striking wood with their knuckles.  It happens only once and that is it.  I really would not pay much attention to it, except it appears to be coming from inside my unit.

Since then I’ve been paying more attention to my surroundings as I prepare for sleep.  One night as I lay alone in bed, it felt like my bed swayed just the tiniest bit, as if with the most subtle shake.  I was perfectly still.  An earth tremor?  That is possible but Chicago rarely has tremors.

Then I recalled a phone call I got from the building’s management a couple months ago.  Someone in a unit somewhere in the floors directly above me said they felt their unit shake.  She asked if I ever experienced shaking or swaying in my floor’s unit.

“No” I replied, “Never did.”  She was satisfied with my answer and I believe the individual’s complaint was dropped.  Now I’m beginning to wonder.  Someone must have experienced something, a shaking of some sort, probably when they were in bed.  What exactly did they experience, if the building itself did not tremble?  Someone would not complain to the management if they did not actually experience something disturbing.

Who knows, maybe this old building has its ghosts, for all the people who have died here.  Perhaps ghosts are trying to get people’s attention, but nobody notices.  Shaking beds and knocking on tables is not enough to get noticed in this place.

A scarier thought…what if something is actually wrong with this building.

Building's view

Building’s view




Listening For Ghosts

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Over the Thanksgiving holiday I’ve stayed over with my relative George.  During my first night’s stay at this fairly old house, everyone had gone to bed and the house was quiet.  I decided to stay up a little later and so I turned on the TV with the volume low so as not to bother anyone.  After a time I heard a knock in the adjacent kitchen which was loud enough to get my attention.  Since nobody was awake I ignored it.  Later I heard another loud rap.  I got up and looked in the kitchen and nobody was there.  Curious.

The following evening I mentioned my blog and asked George about any ghostly or paranormal experiences he may have had.  He thought a moment and said he has heard some strange noises in the house.  I asked him to elaborate.  He said sometimes he’d hear footsteps as the floor creaked.  It even happened in his own bedroom as he lay in bed.  Also…sometimes he heard the door handle to the kitchen door rattle, as he sat in the living room.

I suggested that together we try listening for ghosts.  This is my ghost-hunting tip #1.  Temporarily disregard technology with all the various audio/visual recorders and electronic devices.  The first step is to simply listen for ghosts.

It was a quiet night and we simply sat and listened.  The house was totally silent.  Yet, as we remained motionless and listened, we heard all manner of sounds.  Immediately we heard airplanes overhead.  This house is not far from O’Hare airport.  The sound of the plane was clearly heard in the house, as if the walls almost didn’t exist.  We could hear many sounds outside.

As we continued to simply sit and listen, we noticed the kitchen’s refrigerator.  When it activated there was a slight “thump” and then it hummed until it deactivated with a similar “thump”.  Was that the rap in the kitchen I heard the previous night?

Then the basement-heating unit when on and there was a rumble in the heating duct system.  When it stopped, the duct system still had its little knocks.  Then the basement sump pump went on and there was another quite rumble that we would hear only if we remained quiet.  Sound traveled in this old house if you would only pay attention.

Later I was in the basement by myself and listened.  This house’s “language” was more pronounced in the basement, a symphony of sounds.  Little ticks and knocks and creaking was constant.  We ignore these sounds but they are part of any old house.  And each house has it’s own unique sounds; no two are the same.

The point of listening is to become aware of the natural sounds of house.  Once we became aware of them we could determine if any of the sounds George heard were…unnatural.  George mentioned the sound of footsteps as the floor creaked.  I tested the floor with my own weight, and sure enough the floor noticeably creaked.  However, I never heard anything that creaked without weight on it.  Creaking floorboards were not part of the regular symphony of this house’s sounds.

The doorknob jingling was intriguing.  He said the sound was not as if someone was trying to turn the doorknob.  It was more a tapping on the doorknob.  We checked it out.  I tried to replicate exactly what he heard.  I noticed that one side of the door’s knob was a little loose.  I just tapped it slightly, and he said that was exactly what he heard.  My video illustrates this.

The tapping doorknob is strange and I don’t have an explanation for it.  It may be some subtle force was interacting with something loose enough to respond to it.  Add in the footsteps, and I’d say there is at least a possibility a ghost is wandering here.  I asked how long this has been going on, and he said it is infrequent but he can’t recall exactly when it started.  Wandering ghosts?  Or just an old house groaning?

The ghost sitting at the end of the bar

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Most first-hand ghost stories we hear took place long ago, years or decades.  Encounters with actual ghosts are rare, usually once-in-a-lifetime events.  I had the luck to hear a true ghost story that took place only a couple of months ago.

Betty is a lady in her early 40s.  She was to meet up with a girlfriend at a tavern and then go out for dinner with some other friends on a girls’ night out.  Her girlfriend agreed to meet her at a tavern they hadn’t been to for years.  In fact, Betty hadn’t been at this bar in over four years.

When Betty entered this tavern she noted it had been spruced up from the days it was a dive bar.  The clientele were younger compared to the older crowd who frequented this bar before it was updated.  An improvement, she thought.

Betty sat at the bar by herself waiting for her friend to arrive.  Minutes passed by when she glanced down to the end of the bar.  There sat someone she recognized from years ago.  It was Richie, a truck driver who was a regular at this bar.  He looked the same, wearing his baseball cap with his curly red hair.  He had a mug of beer.  Betty waved at him and he nodded and gestured back in acknowledgement.

Betty’s attention wandered around the tavern.  When she glanced back at Richie, she saw he was gone.  “Goodness” she thought, “He must have been thirsty.”  He slammed down that beer fast enough and was gone.

Her girlfriend soon arrived and they left the bar to meet with their friends.  Later in the evening she mentioned to her friends she saw Richie at the old bar.  One of her friends knew something of Richie, and asked if she really saw him.  “Why do you ask?” Betty inquired.  The friend said Richie died three years ago.


This tale almost sounds like an urban legend except it is true.  Betty witnessed an apparition.  Richie appeared physical in appearance.  Betty had no clue anything was amiss…until perhaps when Richie vanished.  A full body visual apparition is the ultimate in ghost encounters, and truly rare.

This event took place only two months ago.  If Richie died three years ago, that suggests this tavern has essentially been haunted for the past three years.  Hauntings don’t last forever and fade away.  To discover a currently active haunting is a real find.

Who is Richie?  How did he pass away?  And why would his ghost continue to haunt this tavern?  What happened?  I intend to look into these questions by visiting this tavern.  A tavern is a public place where a ghost enthusiast can discreetly investigate.  A chat with the bartender…”Do you remember Richie?” can get the ball rolling.  A current, eyewitness account ghost encounter is worth pursuing.

Any ghosts in the old condominium?

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There is an idea that ghosts haunt cemeteries or desolate, abandoned ruins. Why would a ghost want to wander such areas? Ghosts would likely haunt the location of where they died or experienced a tragedy and not where they were buried. I’d guess hospitals are likely the most haunted of places but you won’t find ghost hunters getting permission to wander hospital corridors with EMF meters.

If possible ghost enthusiasts should check out places where people die regularly. I did this recently. I went to a high-rise condominium that was built in the 1960s. Over the decades this building had a lot of older people living in it…and dying in it. Dozens of people have passed away at this place. However, the tricky part is trying to investigate the premises without drawing attention to one’s self. Who wants to get arrested for trespassing/ghost hunting?

Fortunately the hallways of this old condominium building are mostly empty. I wandered around discreetly taking pictures of the empty corridors. However, the longer I lingered the greater the chance someone would pay attention to what I was doing. My level of anxiety eventually prodded me to the sensible decision not linger for long.

Afterwards is the fun part, checking out the photos. Would anything anomalous appear in them? In one corridor I got orbs. Some consider orbs as potential manifestations of ghostly energies. Usually they’re just dust near the camera’s lens reflecting the camera’s flash. An orb has to have something special to be considered even remotely paranormal.

In this corridor I caught what appeared to be an orb in motion (pictured above). I find these intriguing. Usually an orb-in-motion is a raindrop or a bug caught in the camera’s flash. However there was no rain or insects in this hallway. Could it be dust in motion? Can’t rule that out. There is only one way to know for sure and that is to take pictures with a 3D camera. If an orb or apparition appears in 3D, then we have something. Otherwise we are wasting time. It is time for ghost enthusiasts (myself included) to put away the digital camera and invest in a digital 3D camera.

Early days of the ghost hunting subculture

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A decade ago I became casually involved with ghost hunting. I didn’t intend to get involved with ghost enthusiasts and their investigations. However, I had a friend Jamie who introduced me to the ghost hunting subculture, and I was intrigued.

Back then (not really long ago) ghost hunting was a true subculture few people heard about. That is hard to believe today. However not long ago the concept simply didn’t register on the public’s radar. If I talked about the topic, nobody heard of it. Blank stares. “What is ghost hunting?”

It was an interesting and exciting time. We felt we were entering a truly unknown world. Imagine doing something new, possibly groundbreaking. When I discussed our activities with non-enthusiasts, they thought I was…well, goofy. That was part of the thrill of an emerging subculture. We were doing something special yet it was not recognized by those outside the culture.

Today the story has changed. The media has totally absorbed this subculture, embraced it and commercialized it. Ghost hunting has gone mainstream. It is amazing how fast popular culture will consume a good idea. Ghost hunting makes for a cheap reality TV show. There are multiple successful cable TV reality series about ghost hunting. The Paranormal Activity movie franchise is making hundreds of millions of dollars. Once the wider world embraces a subculture, the subculture gets compromised. Mainstream acceptance pretty much extinguishes a subculture.

The original ghost hunters I’ve known have long lost interest in the pursuit. TV ghost hunting shows created an illusion of “expert” which does not exist. I can tell you for certain there are no experts. Nobody understands this phenomena; it is a true mystery.

Many ghost enthusiasts have moved on to newer things, as I have. My blog is one example of this new direction. This subculture still thrives but the wider culture has yet to recognize this new direction. We are still are on the cutting edge, but we now travel on a new blade.

Jamie had a ghost theme website on Geocities. Geocities, owned by Yahoo, was a hugely popular place for people to create websites long before WordPress or Facebook. Unfortunately Yahoo ended Geocities and all these sites created by the passion of thousands of individuals just simply vanished. The early history of the Internet, its Stone Age, was extinguished.  Do Internet fossils exist?

It seemed all the content from the early days of the Internet had been lost. However, there is a site named Oocities

They saved many of these sites before they vanished forever.  Digital fossils still exist!

The Oocities statement: “In October 2009 we archived many of the unique pages on GeoCities before they were taken down. Geocities started in 1994 and was one of the most important websites in the world until it was closed on 27.10.2009. Our aim is to save those pages which are worthy and unique scientific sources or are of great public interest as well as those, which are historically interesting or just representing the 90?s website culture and style.”

This is a great resource for older content, and I am glad Jamie’s ghost website had been included. Unfortunately not all his content has been brought across, but most has. Here is a reference to the early days of ghost hunting before it became popularized:

Jamie’s Chicago Gangsterland Ghost Page

Jamie’s site has a lot of information about ghosts. I’m glad it has been preserved.

Grandmother Tried To Shoot Her Brother’s Ghost

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I usually don’t repeat hearsay ghost stories in my blog; I don’t trust them. When someone tells me a first-hand, personal account I’ll take it seriously as a genuine experience. The experience was real, albeit explainable in different ways and not necessarily a ghost.

However, today I’ll repeat a hearsay ghost story, acknowledging it as hearsay. The individual who told me this story said his grandmother told it to him. I’m sure, but without the story told to me directly from his now deceased grandmother, how to judge her story? Maybe grandmother was hammered on rum or floating on weed at the time. Or it could have happened exactly as told.

The individual who related this story was born in Puerto Rico, where the incident occurred. His grandparents lived in a village on a small plot of land. He said his grandmother was a pretty but wild, fearless and fiery woman.  One day after a heated argument, his grandmother threatened to shoot his grandfather with her gun. His grandfather dared her and barely managed to shove the firearm out of the way as she fired at him, missing.  That taught grandpa a lesson…don’t piss off grandma!

One day the grandmother’s brother died.  It was a sad funeral, as they typically are.  But soon afterwards curious events began to take place at the grandmother’s home. There were strange sounds late at night, like someone was rattling the pots, pans and dishes in the kitchen. Objects seemed to have been moved at night. She would get up from bed thinking someone sneaked into her home and moved things around to annoy her, but she never found anyone.

After a week of this nightly disturbance, she was determined to catch the culprit. When it started again, she grabbed her gun and ran into the kitchen, then the living room, and then outside trying to catch whoever was responsible. “Where are you!” she cried out. Then she noticed someone hiding in a bush nearby. She pointed her pistol at the dark shape in the bush demanding to see them.

Out stepped her dead brother. Shocked, she tried to shoot this person, but the trigger wouldn’t move and the gun literally flew from her hand and dropped to the ground. Startled by the sight of her dead brother, she asked him what he wanted.

He said, “You must go to mass Sunday. And, take dollar bills, five of them, and give each dollar to a different person in need. If you do this I will leave you alone.” The spirit then vanished before her eyes.

Next Sunday she went to mass, and gave dollar bills to five needy people. Thereafter, there were no more disturbances.  The ghost of her brother never bothered her again.

I like this story, but it has the feel of an urban legend. I supposed it’s the ghost talking that makes me suspicious. And a ghost with a moral message! Yet, it could also be true as far as hearsay goes. Perhaps the grandmother did not hear a literal voice, but just had a “knowing”.

The actual story was probably more nuanced then what was related third-party. Which is why, when I ask about personal ghostly experiences, I ask for details. Secrets of the spirit world are often found in small seemingly unimportant details. I treat a personal ghost story like a reporter.

Crisis Apparition Stories

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One of the most common types of paranormal events is reputed to be the appearance of a crisis apparition.  The crisis apparition is said to be the spirit of the injured, dying, or recently dead who appear to the living shortly around the time of the crisis.  It seems there is a brief window of opportunity for a spirit to visit one final time before passing into the “other world”.

I had written before about how my father, as a young man newly engaged for marriage, saw an apparition of his mother-in-law in a hallway.  Later he discovered that his mother-in-law had died around the time of his vision, and he had no knowledge of this event.  Just a coincidence?  We may have dreams or imagine our loved ones often, and if this coincides with an accident or death, we’d easily imagine it a premonition or spiritual visitation.

Then again, it may not always be only coincidence.  I have a story of a crisis apparition from a friend of mine.  They have a family story they repeat often.  It takes place in the early 1970s.  At the time my friend was around twelve years old, and his family had gone on their annual summer vacation at Castle Rock Lake in Wisconsin.  His parents and siblings all went camping together.

One night while camping my friend’s mother awoke in great distress.  She had a vivid and startling dream of her own mother.  Grandma hadn’t gone camping with them; she was back at home in their two-flat apartment in Chicago.  My friend’s mother said something terrible had happened to grandma, and grandma visited her.  Mother wanted to leave and go back home immediately.  The family told her everything was fine; she just had a dream.

To humor mom, they sought out a phone to call home.  Back there were no cell phones.  They called but nobody answered.  Yet that really didn’t mean anything.  But mother insisted they leave camping early and return home now.  So they all packed up and left.  When they eventually got to their home, they discovered grandmother in her flat upstairs, dead in her bed.  My friend recalls, as a boy, how everyone was shocked at the death of grandma and didn’t understand how mother somehow knew.

In this situation, the vision/premonition prompted a change in behavior from the norm, and the premonition proved sadly accurate.

The crisis apparition seems to occur when there is a separation, as if the injured or dying wish to communicate with their loved ones.  This startling phenomenon does not seem to happen when loved ones are together, aware of the dying process and are gathered around.  Perhaps when a family is present the need to visit one last time is not felt necessary.

It is curious some people appear to be more sensitive to these things then most.  Perhaps many of us are mentally closed off to this stuff, and even if the deceased tried to appear we’d not realize their presence.  The crisis apparition may be quite common, except few are open enough to see.

Another theory holds this is in fact telepathic communication and not a visitation of a ghost.  It seems sometimes we can perceive if someone we have a connection with is in distress. It doesn’t have to be something truly traumatic.  How often has someone suddenly had a feeling of anxiety, only to discover later around the same time something stressful happened to a family member or a friend?

Again, it appears some people are sensitive to this, and others aren’t.  Can we train ourselves for sensitivity?  I’d say yes, if we wished it.  Opening our intuition is something we can all do, but many people can’t be bothered.  It is a choice.

A Real Ghost Photo Or Pareidolia?

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Pareidolia is when we see images we recognize in random shapes that seemed to look familiar. For instance, we may see the image of faces or animals in clouds. We tend to make sense of random patterns when they fit something we recognize.

I reviewed a photograph I took over a decade ago (above). This was before I had a digital camera, and for this photo I used a film camera.  The photo was taken at an old pub, and I thought the mural on the wall was interesting so I took a picture. There was nobody in this area at the time. When I later developed the film, this picture had a curious smoky image in it.

Studying the picture something became apparent to me; there was a face in the center of the vapor. In the photo above I drew an outline over where the features seem to be so it will be more visible. What struck me was that the face’s features were fairly symmetrical. The face even seemed to have an expression on it with its closed eyes, as if drifting in a slumber, half conscious between the world of life and death. Tendrils of smoke emerged for this central image with their own strange shapes.

Is this a photo of a real ghost or merely pareidolia at work? Certainly possible. Yet, pareidolia usually involves a caricature, something vaguely resembling what we imagine. When showed this photo to others, their reaction was either they couldn’t detect the face or OMG.

I would return to this pub hoping to get another picture of whatever possibly haunted the place. I never got another one, but I did get orbs, which don’t mean much either but are still interesting. Below is a photo of an orb that hovered…drifting. I wonder if it the orb could be the same smoky ghost except from a distance?


Story of the Gay Ghost

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Over a decade ago I was told this story by a lady who lived in an apartment in Villa Park, Illinois.  When she told me this story, it reminded me of an urban legend she may have overheard.  However, she said this was her own personal experience and spoke of it matter-of-factly.

Rebecca said after she moved into her apartment, she gradually became aware of something strange in her unit.  She wasn’t immediately aware of anything unusual, but over time she began to hear strange sounds.  As she sat in her living room she would hear footsteps in the hallway between her living room and bedroom.  She would get up and look to see what it was but the hallway was empty.  She was also unnerved to hear footsteps in the hallway when she was in her bedroom.

Another sound she sometimes heard was a sigh.  When all was quiet, she might hear someone sigh as if they were tired or perhaps sad.  She couldn’t make out the location of the sighing.  This happened often enough that she came to accept her apartment was haunted.  She was not afraid of these noises.  If anything, there was a feeling of sadness accompanying these events, nothing scary.

Rebecca said she became curious about who this unseen visitor might be and made inquires about the former occupants of her apartment.  She heard a story that a gay man had lived in this unit.  This person was supposedly murdered, the story being it was the result of a hate crime, and the killer was never found.  Rebecca felt this event was the motivation behind the ghost.

Rebecca said she eventually decided to speak to the ghost in her apartment.  She said she spoke aloud, talking to him as if he were in the room.  She expressed her sympathy for what happened to him.  She told the ghost she heard the story of his death.  She wished there was something she could do to make things right.  She felt bad for him and wished him peace.  He was welcome to stay if he wanted.

Perhaps an acknowledgement of his situation and an expression of concern was what the spirit wanted.  After she spoke, she never heard footsteps or the sighs again.  The ghost had departed.

Her story shared many elements of a typical ghost story: the anomalies, the back-story, and the final departure of the spirit.  It seems communicating with spirits is sometimes enough to awaken and free them, if they are stuck in-between worlds.  Rebecca speculated the ghost simply wanted the crime committed against him to be recognized by someone, even if only her.

Recently I have tried to verify the story.  Was someone who lived in this apartment ever murdered?  If I could discover the back-story was accurate, it would add support to Rebecca’s tale.  However, since the date of this event is unknown, and I have no name to research, I have run into a dead end.