Books about Illinois ghostlore have become a “copy and paste” industry, and literally dozens of paperbacks devoid of original content line the shelves. That cannot be said for The Ghosts of Chicago: The Windy City’s Most Famous Haunts by Adam Selzer. Published by Llewellyn Publications in 2013, The Ghosts of Chicago is a necessary addition to any collection of books on Chicago ghostlore. It retails for $18.50 and is 340 pages in length.
“Professional ghost hunter and historian Adam Selzer pieces together the truth behind Chicago’s ghosts, and brings to light dozens of never-before-told firsthand accounts,” the cover promises. Selzer delivers on this promise, not necessarily by adding new locations to our catalog of tales, but by greatly expanding our understanding of well-known stories. That is what makes The Ghosts of Chicago so great—it takes on a simple task and does it better than it has been done for nearly a decade.
Two examples of this are the chapters on Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery and Resurrection Mary. Both are obligatory inclusions in any book about Chicago ghostlore, and you would think not much more could be written about them. Selzer pushes the stories beyond their usual retelling, however.
In the chapter on Bachelor’s Grove, for example, he goes into detail about the famous “ghost photo” of the lady dressed in white sitting on a broken headstone. Unlike most other accounts, he explains the who, when, and how of the photograph—giving credit to the photographer and telling her story.
In his chapter on Resurrection Mary, Selzer recounts all known published sightings of the ghost and sorts them into three different categories based on what allegedly occurred: Type A: Vanishing Hitchhiker, Type B: Disappearing Strange Woman, and Type C: Strange Woman Seen. This is very useful for anyone who is interested in studying Resurrection Mary, and a technique that I have rarely seen outside of academic texts about folklore.
Finally, I would compare Selzer’s work with that of Scott Markus, who wrote Voices From the Chicago Grave. Both Selzer and Markus added a personal touch to their writing. Markus was a legend tripper who recounted a lot of his own experiences. Selzer is a tour guide who naturally not only had a lot of his own experiences during his repeated visits to these locations, but also learned a great deal from folks who took his tours.
As an added bonus, The Ghosts of Chicago contains a detailed bibliography that includes not just books, but personal correspondence, court records, maps, and newspaper articles.
Over the coming years, I believe The Ghosts of Chicago will hold up as one of the definitive books about Chicago ghost lore, joining the ranks of Chicago Haunts by Ursula Bielski, Chicago’s Street Guide to the Supernatural by Richard Crowe, and Windy City Ghosts by Dale Kaczmarek. By putting together a solid work that contains many original insights and cites its sources, Adam Selzer sets a good example for any prospective authors in this genre.