The second city of America has drawn almost as many characters as New York or Los Angeles. It’s the gateway to the Midwest and a hub of industry to rival any in the world. The lakes, the railroads, and the rivers all drew those seeking their fortune and a new life. Many lives were ended here, some in spectacular fashion.
Our tour of Chicago centers on Lincoln Park and it’s many haunted places. For instance, you might easily pass by The Tonic Room, without guessing that it is the most haunted bar in the neighborhood, but just about every bar in Chicago lays claim to at least one ghost. This one has some very special ingredients for its phantasmagorical cocktail of the living and the dead.
Satanic rituals and sacrifices
Before it became an atmospheric live venue (with a great beer selection by the way), it was the alleged headquarters of the Order of the Golden Dawn, an Egyptian themed cult. The Golden Dawn participated in occult traditions dating back to antiquity — including astral projection, clairvoyance, exorcism, alchemy, and more.
One woman even claimed to have witnessed a ritual murder here in the 1930s, when she attended a secret meeting with her father. The Society’s members purportedly included Irish poet W. B. Yeats and artist and occultist Aleister Crowley.
After the secret society was forced out by worried neighbors, it became an occultist shop, owned by Frederic De’Arechaga. He called it El Sabarum, meaning ‘of many gods.’ After many years of suspicion and maltreatment by the neighborhood, he finally moved the shop. However, a dagger was left in a basement wall above a pentacle painted on the floor. When the shop became The Tonic Room bar an early owner tore the dagger from the wall, and shortly after that, ghostly havoc was unleashed. Spirits were seen regularly as if something had been unplugged. One bartender was rendered temporarily paralyzed and refused to say what he had seen. Returning the knife to the wall did diminish the sightings for a while.
A horrible day at the asylum
Another concentration of supernatural sightings is found at what is now ironically The Alphawood Foundation Building, a grant-giving charitable organization. Before this, it was the Hobbs Institute for the insane, much like the more well-known asylum Read-Dunning institute a few miles to the East, Hobbs Institute was a dumping ground for those that society did not want to see. This included the destitute, mentally ill, even unwanted wives, accused of insanity or adultery by uninterested husbands.
There are more than a few tales of early and brutal death at this place. Like Frozen Mary, an unwanted bride, sent here sane, but reduced to a shell of a human being by the ghastly standards of ‘treatment’ at this hell hole. She was treated with ice baths, one of which took her life after a scream that the whole neighborhood heard. Her ghost wanders the halls shivering and skeletal, seeking her sanity.
Chicago gangsters and speakeasy
A short walk away from the former asylum, the John Barley Corn Memorial pub has a much more pleasant but no less colorful history, including a stretch as a speakeasy that has been reproduced in fiction and film for decades. The bar was boarded up so the police could not see inside, and a Chinese Landry next door became a front. Booze was smuggled in under piles of dirty laundry in carts, and patrons entered through the laundry’s steam and smells. The place became a favorite hangout of notorious bank robber John Dillinger, who haunts an alleyway nearby, and was said to buy rounds of illegal booze, using the money he stole from banks.
And then there was the moose head. The head of a very large moose hung on the wall when a man named Sam Sanchez bought the pub in 1984. Nobody knows who shot the moose, but it watched over the patrons faithfully for many years. Until one night, the head simply plummeted off the wall, crashing to the floor and startling everyone in the place — who then drank a round on the house to the memory of the moose.