Saturday, Nov. 14, 2009

Haunted Chicago

Ghosts of the Windy City

By David Luhrssen
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Whether literally or metaphorically, many places are haunted by ghosts of the past. Although the History Channel series “Haunted Histories: America’s Most Haunted Places’ (out on DVD) hedges its metaphysics a little, it learns toward the proposition that ghosts are real.

As the name suggests, the series travels widely, not just through legend haunted sites in New England but to places in the heartland like Chicago. In the “Haunted Chicago” episode, the City shoulders much folklore concerning restless spirits. The narrator even suggests that Chicago got off to a bad start in the early 19th century with the Fort Dearborn massacre by angry Indians trying to drive out settlers.

In “Haunted Chicago,” accounts by people who say they witnessed ghostly goings-on are more interesting than attempts to reenact the spectral encounters. Memo to cable TV producers: don’t try to conjure up the uncanny on a low budget! One of the more illuminating tales arises from the graveyard outside St. James Roman Catholic Church. The old parish is situated near a canal built in the 1830s by Irish immigrant laborers, sorely mistreated by their WASP overseers. The casualties of the project, an important spur to the early economic development of Chicago, were buried in the church’s cemetery. Legends grew that the trio of hooded figures glimpsed at night are monkish guardians of the workers, according them the respect they seldom knew in life. Along with historical context for Chicago’s growth, Loyola University’s Ted Karamanski concludes the episode by noting one of the probable significances of folklore: people will populate a place with their fears as well as their hopes.

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