Haunted Locations to Visit in Chicago

image by Raymond Tambunan

by Daniela Morales

At the intersection of history and fantasy lie legends — and more specifically, ghost stories. I’ve always been fascinated with the tales my mom or aunts have shared of inexplicable things happening. I’m thrilled knowing that someone close to me had an encounter with the paranormal. 

But if you’re like me, that’s as far as your relationship to the paranormal extends — aside, of course, from movies and TV shows exploring the implications of all those tales being real. 

An urge you may have might be to search for paranormal adventure by visiting allegedly haunted places. If it’s an urge you’re willing to follow this will be one handy list. 

Site of the Battle of Fort Dearborn

The story of this haunting goes back to before Chicago was even founded, to August 15, 1812. During that time, the War of 1812 between the recently created United States and Britain raged and in what is now the intersection of Michigan Avenue and the Chicago River lay Fort Dearborn, the westernmost post of the US at the time. 

The fort was surrounded by various Native American tribes, including the Potawatomi, who at the time were caught in between the war and trying to preserve their way of life. 

On July 17, 1812, the nearest outpost to Fort Dearborn, Mackinac fell, leaving Dearborn isolated from being supplied or reinforced. This led General William Hull to order the fort’s immediate evacuation. 

However, once the force inhabitants started their trek across the Midwestern fields on August 15, they were ambushed by Potawatomi warriors, angry at being deceived by the fort’s captain, Nathan Heald. 

Heald and the Potawatomi had previously reached a deal in which Heald promised them the fort’s food and other provisions in exchange for safe passage, but at the last minute, he destroyed the supply of alcohol and ammunition. 

The ambush ended with 67 people dead. It is said that phantoms from that battle still wander the area to this day. 

Lincoln Park

Before being known as a popular recreational site, Lincoln park served as a small public city cemetery. The graves within it were mostly the resting places of victims of smallpox and cholera.

The area started to become more residential and people worried about the health hazard of having the standing water from the graves flowing into Lake Michigan. They took their concerns to the city, and actions were taken to remove the bodies from the cemetery.

By 1860, the cemetery had taken on a new identity, closer to what it’s like today. However, not all the bodies from the cemetery were relocated, and frequent discoveries of bones at construction sites lead to the theory of thousands of bodies still lying underneath the park.

James M. Nederlander Theater’s Death Alley

If you’re a fan of theater, you might have gone to the Nederlander Theater (previously known as the Oriental Theater) to watch a play or a musical. This theater, however, holds a history of tragedy. 

In its place once stood the Iroquois Theater. One December morning in 1903, during a matinee showing of a musical, a stage light caught on fire. 

The theater’s crew was unable to control it and the audience tried to escape, but they were unfamiliar with the exit doors and how to open them. 

Frantic audience members in the balcony found fire escapes leading to Couch Place. They failed to lower them all the way to the ground because the metal stairs were frozen. In desperation, they jumped into the alley. 

Some met their ends after jumping while others, cushioned by those who had jumped before, were able to escape the deathly fire. 

Now, it is said that if you walk into the alley, you will feel ghost hands grab your shoulders, or even hear your name whispered in your ear.  

Site of Eastland River Disaster, Chicago River

On July 25, 1915, the S.S. Eastland, tasked with taking Western Electric employees, families, and friends across Lake Michigan to Michigan City for an employee picnic, capsized.

The boat had been docket at Clark Street Bridge, in the Chicago River. Families had arrived early in order to get good seats, and as they milled around the boat, it began tilting from one side to another.

Many dismissed it as a joke, until it tilted so far to one side that people began to slide across the floor. By the time Captain Harry Pedersen sounded the alarm, it was too late to evacuate.

There was no time to launch any life boats or hand out life jackets. Of the 2,572 passengers on board, 844 died in a matter of minutes. Most of the aftermath was composed of trying to get back the bodies trapped under the ship. Eventually, the bodies were stored in nearby locales to await identification.

People have reported seeing ghosts and feeling a general sense of uneasiness at these spots, extending even to the spot where the disaster occurred in what is now the Chicago Riverwalk.

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