Destiny Part Four: Blind or Blind-sided?

” The moment we want to believe something we suddenly see all the arguments for it, and become blind to the arguments against it.” George Bernard Shaw


 Destiny Part Three; Blind or Blind-sided

May 2014

Months had passed since I’d last seen Tony, when he contacted me on the Sunday before Memorial day with a lunch invitation. Happy to hear from him, I dropped what I was doing and headed over to his apartment in uptown. Within the hour we were headed to our favorite Greek restaurant in the suburbs. During lunch we caught up on what had been going on in each others lives. It sounded like he was doing well, shooting concert photography for an online site with the new camera he bought. On the drive back to the city the usual topic came up; getting back together. It had been three years since we broke up. We have had this discussion many times but failed to come to an agreement on how to fix what went wrong between us. We were still friends though; actually he was one of my closest friends. The conversation always went the same; I’d say let’s  go on a few dates and see if we can get along and his response was always let’s just book a trip and travel like we used to!

But this time his tone was a bit more serious; “Things were so amazing between us, all the places we went, the things we did, you have to admit we had such good times. It has never been the same alone or with anyone else. We are so good together, both photographers, both Italian, same interests…”

Hey remember that time in Vietnam, that we spend an entire night taking pictures of that bridge on the lake and we forgot to even eat? Most of the restaurants were closed by the time we remembered!

“Hoan Kim Lake!” I said excitedly, “that was so much fun. remember, I wanted you to return my food because it was cold and the waitress yelled at you in Vietnamese! Sorry but that was funny!”

“Oh yeah.. good times” he added sarcastically.

“Well…yeah the best of times and the worst, like when you went crazy in Venice and I had to follow you around St. Marks on New Year’s?  I’m sure you didn’t forget that one.”

Cutting me off he said; “Can we stop talking about the past? How many times do I have to apologize? I keep trying here “.

No argument, no excuses, this time was different; “I love you, maybe I just wasn’t ready to try in the past but I am now, and you are the only person I want to be with. I think of you a lot and it is hard to find what we had with anyone else.”

Expecting my typical skepticism; “You are really going to regret this one day, taking what we had for granted, it is not that easy to find you’ll see.” A warning I did not take seriously at the time.

“Ok, Tony, you’re right we are good together, maybe we should try again.”

“Perfect Asia is it – we haven’t been to China yet or…”

I had to stop him. Tell him. I had just booked a trip to India with my friend that I could not cancel-It was in two months. “I can’t go to China until next year at least, I am going to India in two months”.

Silence filled the car for the rest of the ride back. He always hated when I went on trips without him.

Once back at his place, he invited me in to look at some photos he took when he was in India. I couldn’t help but notice the art that filled the walls of his one-bedroom apartment,  every single piece representing that amazing trip we bought it on.  The 6 foot-long painting of the Buddha from Thailand’s Chatachuck market that hung above his bed, the classical Greek vase from Athens that he spent hours negotiating price with the shopkeeper, the collection of venetian masks from a  famous mask maker in Venice,  and the painting one-talented elephant named Sula, made for us in Chiang Mai. Memories quickly came flooding back… both good and bad. It was fear that prevented me from getting back with him.  So many times I fell for this tactic; he would pour on the charm, pay a lot of attention to me, suggest an exotic destination and I was hooked. Except that once we booked the trip, like clockwork within about a month the relationship would fall apart and we’d have five difficult months to force ourselves to get along until we left.

After a little while, the conversation began to unravel. Hoped for plans failed to fall so easily into place with news of my India trip, we started to argue about everything; dating, past arguments, not hanging out anymore. I decided it might be best to go, while we were still on somewhat good terms. It was important that we end this on a good note if we were ever going to try to work this out.

“We  can still get back together-I just can’t book anything until after India”, I said half-heartedly.  But I could see my offer was met with disappointment. “That is a long time away”, he said, with his head down, “I was hoping we could plan a trip for this fall”. I sat next to him and kissed him on the cheek and awkwardly hugged him. A strong sense of uneasiness filled the pit of my stomach, as I got up and turned down the dimly lit hallway towards the door.  I looked back at him for a moment; there he sat in his back leather couch, flipping through photos on his camera, I wished he would have stopped me from leaving, jumped up and said don’t go, but he did not look up. I wanted to tell him I loved him too and that we would work this out. But I didn’t.

We will have another chance to work this out, we always do; I shut the door quietly behind me and left.

Unfortunately, there was not that one last chance. This was the last time I ever saw Tony.

Next…Athens; Chasing Shadows. 


Destiny Part One: Escaping Athens

“Detached, distant, and depressed… holding my breath waiting for something to happen. I think my story is similar to many; you get divorced or out of a bad relationship and it takes some time to get the bad taste out of your mouth and get back on track with your life. I was so bored and unhappy! That’s it I am running away from home. Well, not really but did pack my Swiss army luggage, grabbed my camera and booked a ticket to Greece.”

Escaping Athens:
It was about 6 years ago over the Christmas season that my friends and family decided I was having a  breakdown of sorts. I can understand why, it was shortly after I broke up with my boyfriend of ten years that I announced to my co-workers, friends and family, that on Christmas Eve (which was in three weeks) I was going to Greece with my new boyfriend Antonio! I tried not to let their concerns wear away at my excitement. Who is Antonio and where did you meet him? Over Christmas-who goes on vacation on Christmas? Is he crazy? Are you crazy? As I assured them of my sanity and his, I realized it was crazy but also exciting and scary- at the same time.
“Antonio is an amazing travel photographer; he is totally normal and really nice!” I assured them. The reality was we were barely even dating, after a few dates he had impulsively invited me to tag along on his trip. I hesitated-I didn’t even know if I liked him. I had not even mentioned him to anyone except my best friend Tracy.

The plan was to meet in Santorini; the most romantic island in the world for a week and then spend the second week and New Year’s Eve in Athens. It sounded too amazing to pass up. So I did it-I booked the ticket! It seemed so romantic- spending the holidays with a handsome Italian photographer!

A trip to the Emergency Room:

The weeks went by as the holidays approached. Although it was busy at work, it was so hard to focus! There was so much to do for the trip. I was counting down the days; In just two days on Christmas Eve, I was leaving. Sure there was a nagging thought that things could go horribly wrong- spending two entire weeks with a total stranger, but I managed to block out these negative thoughts and focus on travel plans. Anyway, I was fascinated by Antonio, he had been to over 30 countries and he had a lot of great deal of exciting stories about travels to exotic locations. His photos were amazing and just getting into photography made that especially appealing.

I had not actually seen him since we booked the trip but we texted daily to discuss logistics and details; how to get to into the city by bus, changing money, what to pack, what to do! It was so exciting. He was leaving one day earlier than me on the 23rd because to get the same flight, booked three weeks out was too expensive.  I tried not to worry about traveling alone to an island to meet him. But then during work on the 22nd,  I received a series of strange text messages that sent me reeling into a panicked state.

“I am in the emergency room”; “I am having a heart attack”. Followed by photos…one with his arm hooked up to an IV and the second a partial shot of him in a hospital bed.

I ran into my friend Nicole’s office. I’m going  to Greece alone! Tony’s in the hospital! I think he had a heart attack. It seemed so unbelievable as I said it out loud!

“Isn’t he like 37”,  Nicole asked in disbelief?

The random messages from him continued throughout the day without any real explanation of what was going on. I followed Nicole around all day projecting worst case scenarios. A nagging suspicion kept popping up –was he really was in the hospital or did he make all this up? It was all too much to deal with. After work I spend the evening on the phone with first my Mother and then Tracy. Panic finally drove me to confess the truth of how I actually met him; I don’t even know him that well! He emailed me from an online RSVP for a photography event. I have only gone out with him a few times; maybe he’s  a crazy artist. What if he isn’t even going and I am going to Greece by myself?

Finally late in the evening, Tony texted me to say he was on the “L” headed home. That’s it, no explanation, everything was fine. What about the heart attack I asked? Why didn’t you call me?

Still worried, I told him I’d drive him to the airport in the morning but he said he was fine. I imagined me sitting on a beach in Santorini alone and abandoned. But the next morning he texted me and reported he was getting on the plane and to text when I landed in Greece. Everything’s fine I announced to everyone, false alarm-he’s ok…  I ignored the concerned looks of my friends and family and told myself over and over -this would be an adventure…one way or another.

Next: My romantic night in Santorini turns into a lonely night in the Athens airport.

“Destiny; a Pre-Ordained Course of Events Holding Irresistible Power”

“What is it called when a chance encounter with a total stranger changes your life forever? What does it mean when you have a strong affinity with another? I am still trying to understand the underlying meaning of this story but for now I will assume it’s destiny.”

Meet Me in Santorini

Meet Me in Santorini

It is rare but occasionally a random occurrence turns into such a life altering event that you feel compelled to explain it or write about it.  Years ago I met a someone that changed my life, one of my best friends; Antonio. I don’t mean he was interesting or fun, although he was, I mean meeting Tony opened up a whole new life for me, altered my perception to such a degree that I have been changed forever.  I usually write travel tips and give advice on budget travel; I’m not comfortable writing memoirs but in telling this story I hope to better understand the events that happened, or at least remember them and hopefully remember him.

Next: Escaping Athens

Chicago’s Haunted History


Haunted holidays and ghost tours are fast becoming a popular tourist pastime in many cities around the world, and Chicago is no exception. Even though Chicago is the third largest city in the United States, it certainly has its fair share of ghostly lore. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, these tours and tales are a fun way to learn about a city’s hidden history. There are a number of formal ghost tours to join in Chicago offering a glimpse into many of the most popular Chicago haunts including the site of the Fort Dearborn Massacre, the Iroquois Theater, the Hull House or Harpo Studios. Another option, not for the faint of heart, is to purchase a book on Chicago haunts and check out the following ghostly attractions such as Robinson Woods, Bachelor’s Grove and the Dunning Asylum Cemetery, on your own. These locations are a little bit less touristy but none-the-less reported to be among the most haunted locations in Chicago.

Robinson Woods; Indian Burial Ground

Chicago’s Indian Boundary woods are packed on the weekends during the summer; a popular recreation spot for hiking, fishing, biking and running. What many people don’t know is that these woods have a section dedicated as an Indian burial ground. In addition these woods harbor many dark secrets. The woods were once inhabited by Alexander Robinson, Chief Chee Chee Pin Quay and his family. Robinson was the Chief of the Potawatomi, Chippewa, and Ottawa Indian tribes. Robinson was an influential leader who lived in Chicago until his death in 1872. He was awarded this large wooded plot, located on Chicago’s Northwest side, for his heroic efforts in the Fort Dearborn massacre.

Now called Indian Boundary Division; the area is composed of Catherine Chevalier woods, Shiller woods, Che Che Pin Quay Woods and Robinson woods. Robinson used this area as his family home and as he and his family’s final resting place; aka the Indian Burial ground. After his death, the Robinson family continued to live in the woods off of Lawrence Avenue and E River Road. The family was well known in the community and supposedly threw wild parties that lasted well into the night. For reasons unknown the house burned to the ground in 1955. Robinson and his family are buried on these grounds, the graves marked by a single large boulder.

In the same year that the fire occurred, on October 18th, 1955, a more horrific discovery was made. The bodies of three boys; John and Anton Schuessler and Robert Peterson were found tied up, beaten, and murdered in a ditch near the picnic area in Robinson Woods. Despite many leads, the crime went unsolved for over 40 years. A witness finally came forward offering new evidence linking one of early suspects in the case. Kenneth Hansen, a local stable owner at the time of the Peterson-Schuessler murders, was found guilty of these horrific crimes in 1994 and was sentenced to up to 300 years in jail. To read more about this terrible tragedy check out the book by James A. Jack: “Three Boys Missing, The Tragedy That Exposed the Pedophilia Underworld .”

With such a dark past, it’s not surprising that Robinson Woods is listed as one of Chicago’s most haunted sights. Ghostly images of Native Americans and strange glowing orbs have been reported by many a passerby. Others report hearing a loud chopping noise similar to wood being cut with an axe. Spooky Indian drums, eerie voices and random floral scents are among the other reported phenomena. A large population of deer lives in the woods too. Most of the time large groups of them can be seen wandering around oblivious to the crowds of people. A strange but common reported occurrence is that the deer will follow and watch you at close range for an uncomfortably long period of time. Don’t believe it? There are miles of trails that branch out through the woods along both the site of the murders and right up to the burial grounds. Go for a walk on one of the secluded wooded trails at dusk and decide for yourself.

Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery

Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery located in Midlothian, a South Suburb of Chicago, has a dark reputation for being the most haunted graveyard in the entire country. This private cemetery dates back to 1864, and since its opening, over two hundred bodies have been laid to rest on its grounds. The last burial was as recent as 1965. Some claim the pond located on the grounds became a watery grave for many who crossed famous Chicago mobster Al Capone during the 1920s; a convenient but dark spot to throw bodies, never to be found again.

Over the years, the property has become a run-down and completely desecrated graveyard, with tombstones overturned, moved or many of them dumped into the nearby pond. Currently, there are as little as 20 gravestones left, most of which are not in their original spots. Evidence of satanic worship and grave robbing became a disturbing trend in the 60s and 70s. Many claim to have seen full apparitions of the dead and there is photographic evidence of the “Lady in White,” who haunts the grounds. Over the years many report similar occurrences, such as a strange floating blue light, a mysterious ghostly house that appears and vanishes, phantom cars, full-blown ghostly apparitions and other paranormal activities

Sadly, not much is known about the poor souls who are buried in the grounds. One well-marked tomb just states INFANT, a sad memorial to a once beloved family member. Visitors will frequently leave little toys and offerings on the grave. The property has been taken over by the Cook County Forest Preserve and is technically closed to the public. Despite being located off a main thoroughfare, the cemetery is actually quite hard to find. Many make the mistake of searching for the old cemetery in the section of the woods labeled as Bachelor’s Grove, but the actual cemetery location is southwest of Rubio Woods on 143rd Street, just east of Ridgeland Avenue.

robinson woodsThe entrance to the cemetery is across the street from the parking lot; look for a small hidden path leading to the cemetery. The gates are usually unlocked during the day and easy to get into. Visiting the graveyard at night is not advised; it is trespassing to visit after the park closes, and the police patrol the area frequently. It is also quite dangerous due to the fact that it has become a well-known haunted attraction that many people are drawn to.

Dunning, Dunning open your gates…

If you grew up on Chicago’s Northwest side you may have teased your little brother with this eerie children’s rhyme: “Dunning, Dunning, open your gates here come Johnny on roller skates.” The Cook County Insane Asylum or Dunning was the name of the city’s main mental institution and poor home that dated back to 1851; it not only housed the insane but also the poor, the sick and orphaned children. The original institution was a massive brick structure located at the intersection of Irving Park Road and Oak Park Avenue. The original Dunning officially closed on June 30, 1912, and reopened as the Chicago State Hospital, then once again switched to the smaller Chicago-Read Mental Health Center. However the institution is not what is reported to be haunted but the Institution’s cemetery grounds.

This disturbing tale picks up decades later when in 1989 construction crews were breaking ground for the new shopping complex “Dunning Square” and its nearby condominium complex. Somehow the developers and the city did not know they were building over the grounds of the long forgotten Dunning Insane Asylum cemetery which also included bodies from the Dunning Cemetery, the Ridgemoor Cemetery, the County Burying Ground, the Poor House Cemetery, and Chicago State Hospital Cemetery . In an incident reminiscent of the movie “Poltergeist,” the construction crew unearthed a startling number of human skeletons and bones; long forgotten patients and residents from the original asylum. Although the city was disturbed by these events the construction forged on by simply moving the bones to a small dedicated area now called Reed-Dunning Memorial Park. It is estimated that over 40,000 bodies were buried in unmarked graves in this area to the east of the original asylum, as many as possible have been moved and are now buried in the park.

Currently this small cemetery surrounded by the condominium complex just looks like a small grassy park. Upon closer inspection however, visitors will notice that the large circular concrete path markers are actually memorial markers for the mass graves. Each category of resident from the asylum is represented: orphaned children, the victims of the 1871 Chicago fire, the sick and infirm, the insane etc. To bring some closure to this mass desecration, a local Reverend William Brauer; a retired Presbyterian minister, led a memorial service in an effort to try to bring some rest to these forgotten souls.

Chicago Ghost Tours

One of the most popular ghost tours in Chicago is through “Chicago Hauntings.” These fun and informative tours are based on author and ghost hunter Ursula Bielski’s 20 years of experience as an expert in Chicago’s lure as well as her famous series of books “Chicago Haunts.” The tours operate daily and meet at an easy to find location right in the downtown area near the Rain Forest café and Rock and Roll McDonalds. Participants can easily find the big black bus marked ghost tours. There are a variety of tours available such as the popular 2.5 hour “Signature Ghost Tour,” which may visit such sites as the Fort Dearborn Massacre, the Iroquois Theater, and the Eastland river disaster site. For a more in depth experience check out one of the specialty tours such as the “7-Hour Ghost Hunt,” where participants will learn about ghost hunting while visiting a number of haunted sites.

Whether you reside in Chicago or are planning a visit, joining a ghost tour or reading about its haunted history offers a fun but informative look into the city’s past. Learning about such events as the Eastland Tragedy, the Fort Dearborn Massacre or the Sausage Vat Murders offers a vastly different perspective than that of the typical tourist experience.