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.