Chicago Haunted Handbook Features a Few Surprises

You would be wrong if you thought nothing more could be written about Chicago ghostlore. Chicago Haunted Handbook: 99 Ghostly Places You Can Visit in and Around the Windy City (2013) by Jeff Morris and Vince Sheilds discovered new gems among well-worn territory. Though a little dated at this point, it still offers enough tales to delight readers.

Published by Clerisy Press, Chicago Haunted Handbook is part of the “America’s Haunted Road Trip” series. At 226 pages and with a retail price of $15.95, this book invites you to, “Join in Chicago’s Grandest Ghost Hunt.” It features 99 haunted places, along with four “places that didn’t quite make the book.” The locations are divided into five sections: Cemeteries; Bars and Restaurants; Roads and Bridges; Parks; and Museums, Theaters, Hotels, and other Buildings.

The authors are an unlikely pair. Jeff Morris, from Cincinnati, Ohio, is an experienced author with several titles under his belt. Vince Sheilds was born in Elgin in 1984 and moved to Chicago in 2006, where he formed the Chicago Paranormal Investigators.

I’ve read just about every book on Illinois ghostlore, so I look at them with a discerning eye. Chicago Haunted Handbook has several good qualities that make it worth owning. First, it features several locations seldom covered by other books. The old Huntley Grease Factory is my favorite, but the Polish Museum of America, Joliet Potter’s Field, Tyrell Road Cemetery, and The Drinkingbird, are all relatively new.

Second, the book contains an appendix of day tripping “mini tours.” Each features a couple of different stops (or days), with a different location for each stop. There is even a haunted pub crawl and a gangster tour. I enjoy extras like this, especially since it allows you to explore these places at your own pace (as opposed to going on a bus tour).

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Paranormal Obsession: America’s Fascination with Ghosts & Hauntings

Paranormal Obsession: America’s Fascination with Ghosts & Hauntings, Spooks & Spirits by Deonna Kelli Sayed is a book I really wanted to enjoy. Despite its redeeming qualities, however, it feels too much like a first draft. The book promises to be a fresh look at the paranormal in American pop culture, with an insider’s view of paranormal reality TV shows like Ghost Hunters.

The interesting tidbits it delivers, however, are too often undermined by the author’s undeveloped writing style. Even as an introductory work, it fails to summarize the history of interest in the paranormal as succinctly or as accurately as other books on the subject.

Paranormal Obsession was published in 2011 by Llewellyn Publications. The author, Deonna Kelli Sayed, has lived in and traveled throughout Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Africa (she describes herself as a “Global Citizen”). She was a paranormal investigator with Haunted North Carolina from 2008 to 2011. She has an academic background in social theory and postmodern thought, and this was her first book.

I found the chapter on SyFy Channel’s Ghost Hunters to be its most interesting section. As a skeptic of paranormal reality TV, I was eager to glimpse behind the curtain at The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) and its founders, Grant Wilson and Jason Hawes. Like many viewers, I assumed the show was fake, and like many others, I have frequently blamed Ghost Hunters for spawning hundreds of wannabe paranormal investigators whose knowledge of the subject goes no deeper than what they see on TV. Sayed acknowledges these criticisms while letting Jason Hawes tell his side of the story.

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CNN Analyst at It Again

Zachary Wolf peddles conspiracy theories about a sinister threat to “Democracy” in lead-up to election.

This bit of political “analysis” by Zachary B. Wolf, a “senior writer” for CNN who doesn’t seem to have many credentials other than a bachelors in English and Poly Sci from UC-Berkeley, is one of the laziest, least thought-provoking commentaries I’ve ever read published by a mainstream news outlet. It is filled with Democratic Party talking points, conspiracy theories, and confusion. 

A GOP senator has gone public against democracy” Wolf urgently warns us. Republicans are “ready to burn down the whole American experiment in representative democracy” and “ignore a defeat by a majority of voters.” 

Weird, that just two years ago, when Democrats gained 41 seats and a sizable majority in the House of Representatives, their new officeholders took their seats without incident. President Trump nefariously allowed his political opponents to win a huge victory and then vote to impeach him a year later. A strange thing for a wannabe fascist dictator to do.

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Wisconsin Road Guide to Mysterious Creatures: a Fantastic Window to the Unknown

Chad Lewis and Terry Fisk are known for their “Road Guide” series on haunted places in Illinois, Iowa, Florida, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, which I consider to be excellent resources. Published by On the Road Publications in 2011, The Wisconsin Road Guide to Mysterious Creatures is a solo project by Chad Lewis.

It shares many of the same features as previous Road Guides, but focuses entirely on crypto and mythological creatures. This makes the book particularly interesting, since the prospects for running into an unknown creature are slightly better than an ethereal specter.

Although organized by case number and not in any explicit order, the chapters in The Wisconsin Road Guide to Mysterious Creatures do seem to be arranged by type of creature. The first three chapters are devoted to evil beings, the next seven to aquatic monsters, then aliens, werewolves, gnomes and halflings, bigfoot, and finally, a vampire.

It seems Wisconsin has its share of nearly every type of mythological creature, some of which are clearly influenced by the heavy concentration of residents with German and Scandinavian heritage. Each chapter includes directions, a summary of the lore, a short history, and an investigation log explaining what the author encountered when he visited. There is eyewitness testimony when available, and even sketches and photos.

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Ghosts: Appearances of the Dead & Cultural Transformation

How have apparitions of the dead appeared in Western culture over the centuries? How has that appearance changed? Why has that appearance changed? These are the questions Ronald C. Finucane, late Distinguished Professor of History at Oakland University in Auburn Hills, Michigan, tackles in his book Ghosts: Appearances of the Dead and Cultural Formation.

The answers he finds may surprise you. Finucane, who died in 2009, was a Medieval historian with a Ph.D. from Stanford University. He was also a Fellow at the Royal Historical Society and author of five books.

Most academics would probably dismiss a study like this, since they do not consider the supernatural to be a “serious subject,” or at least, not one to be taken seriously. Finucane, however, argued that ghosts are a fundamental part of Western culture, and should be open to academic study.

As Finucane explained, “Even though ghosts or apparitions may exist only in the minds of their percipients, the fact of that existence is a social and historical reality: the phenomena represent man’s inner universe just as his art and poetry do.”

Beginning in the Classical Era of Greece and Rome and ending in the twentieth century, Finucane carefully dissected the cultural phenomenon of ghosts. Not surprisingly, he found that ghosts have changed over the millennia. Their appearance, their purpose, and their mode of communication with the living have all undergone important transformations.

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Tales of Coles County – Why Hidden History?

Referring to events like the Charleston Riot of 1864 and two lynchings, William Henry Perrin, author of The History of Coles County (1879), wrote “Such incidents are better forgotten than perpetuated upon the pages of history.” Do you agree?

My book Tales of Coles County, Illinois, to be released in October 2020, tells the story of the “hidden side” of Coles County history, a side some people feel is better left buried. We might not always be proud of our history, but it’s important to learn about it, and to learn from it. I chose to write about these particular events and places because they’re so little mentioned in history books. It’s that history that needs the most sunlight.

I’m no longer accepting pre-orders because the book has officially been released! Order it today on Amazon.com, Walmart.com, and GooglePlay.

Reflections from Washington, DC on the Occasion of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Passing

It’s strange how you can get caught up in historic events on an otherwise normal evening. Last night, my wife an I just happened to go down to Washington, DC for dinner and a tour. We ate at Hawk ‘n’ Dove pub on Pennsylvania Ave SE, then we walked down to Starbucks where we waited for the tour guide to show up. Signs of the times were everywhere: people wearing face masks and sitting outside bars on hastily erected tables on the sidewalks. Black Lives Matter signs and professions of support hung in the Starbucks’ window.

We were still waiting around 8pm; Kayla was on the phone with her cousin when I saw an article from NPR on Facebook reporting Associate Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020) had died. I didn’t believe it at first because every year there are fake articles about Ginsburg’s death or impending death. It fit too well–the kind of fake news story designed to sew outrage and divide people in an already contentious election year. But it was true.

U.S. Capitol Building the Night of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Death in Washington, DC
Flag flies at half-staff outside the U.S. Supreme Court building, with a view toward the capitol.

When the tour guide showed up, he mentioned the news. He was visibly upset, more so by the political implications of Ginsburg’s death. The tour took us past the Supreme Court building, where a crowd was quickly gathering as news spread. Flags were already half-staff at the Supreme Court and capitol building. The vigil was quiet at first, with people paying their respects by laying flowers and lighting candles.

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More Stories from the Illinois Exodus

Friends share their reason for leaving (or planning to leave) the Prairie State.

Last week, I posted stories from what I call the “Illinois Exodus,” an outward migration of Illinoisans to other states. As someone who left Illinois to pursue better career opportunities, I’ve been interested in why so many of my friends and acquaintances have left Illinois for greener pastures. As of December 2019, Illinois as a whole saw six straight years of population loss. This decline has real consequences for the state’s political clout on the national stage, something its elected leaders seem not to have taken into consideration while steering it off a cliff.

As I noted before, Illinois currently has 18 U.S. representatives in Congress. In 1980, it had 24. As a result of the 2020 census, Illinois will likely see that number decline even further. The number of a state’s presidential electors in the Electoral College is also determined by population (technically it’s tied to the number of congressmen). In the 2000 presidential election, Illinois had 22 electors, while Florida (for example) had 25. In 2016, Illinois had 20 and Florida had 29.

Because Florida has seen a massive surge in growth and development over the past few decades, it will have a huge impact on the 2020 election and future presidential elections. Illinois? Not so much.

The trend is clear: the number of people moving out of Illinois is growing while the number of people moving to Illinois is declining. According to population estimates and the Illinois Policy Institute, Illinois lost the equivalent of a large city (223,308 people) between 2014 and 2019. That’s like more than the entire population of Aurora, Joliet, Naperville, or Rockford just up and leaving.

But these are only statistics. To understand why people are leaving Illinois, you have to talk to individuals and families about what is motivating their exodus. One of my friends, Tracey, now a realtor in Florida, told me taxes were a big factor for why her wife and she moved from Illinois to the Sunshine State. “I left because I was tired of the winters and tired of the taxes,” she said. “It was uber expensive and it felt like everything was taxed. Our personal property taxes were a killer… Our taxes are less here for a more expensive house. In 2014 they were $12k. When we moved here in 2015, we paid about $4500.” However, she noted the cost of insurance is nearly double in Florida.

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