Witchcraft in Chicago’s Stockyards

The strange case of Mary Vogel and Augusta Wilke is a fascinating glimpse into a WW1-era Chicago neighborhood.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Chicago was known as a hub for the meat packing industry. Thousands of immigrants, particularly from Eastern Europe, flooded into the southwest side Back of the Yards neighborhood to work at the Union Stock Yards. Upton Sinclair famously wrote about this area in his 1906 novel The Jungle.

These immigrants, mainly Bohemians, Moravians, and Slovakians, brought their folk beliefs with them when they came to the Windy City, including a strong belief in witchcraft. We will never know how many accusations, confrontations, and strained relationships this belief caused, but occasionally an accusation of witchcraft made its way to the courthouse and into the press.

Victor Sleeth was an assistant superintendent for Armour & Co., the meatpacking company that defined Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood. Armour & Co. opened in Chicago in 1867 and by 1910 employed over 8,700 people at the Union Stockyards.

Victor’s 22-year-old wife, Mary, had contracted consumption. She was in the advanced stages of the disease when her sister, 21-year-old Augusta Wilke, an assistant foreman at Armour & Co., called in a 50-year-old nurse named Mary Vogel.

Vogel attended to Mary Sleeth for a month, until Mary died on February 2, 1919. On Monday, February 24, William L. Sehlke, a masseur and husband to Mary Vogel’s other sister, Martha, went to the Stockyards police to ask for warrants for the arrest of Mary Vogel and Augusta Wilke.

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In Death’s Sleep

Monument to Frances M. Pearce (1835-1854) and her infant daughter in Rosehill Cemetery, 5800 N Ravenswood Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. Frances, only 18 years old, died in childbirth and her daughter followed a few months later. Her husband, Horatio O. Stone, commissioned this sculpture in their honor, to sleep under a thick layer of glass for all eternity.

Frances M. Pearce (1835-1854) II

Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois

Counted among the Windy City’s premier burial grounds, Rosehill Cemetery, at 5800 N. Ravenswood Avenue in Chicago, Illinois, sprawls over 350 acres and is the final resting place for over 55,000 of the city’s former residents, including several mayors. At least four Congressional Medal of Honor winners are buried here: George Kretsinger, Peter O’Brien, William George Stephens, and James Curtis Watson.

Rosehill Mausoleum

Rosehill’s neoclassical mausoleum, the largest in Chicago, was designed by Sidney Lovell and opened in 1914. Four marble Doric columns distinguish its main entrance, and its floors are made from Italian marble. Department store tycoons Aaron Montgomery Ward and Richard Warren Sears are interred inside, as well as Illinois Governor Richard B. Ogilvie.

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Ghosts of Chicago Raised the Bar for Books of Chicago Ghostlore

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.

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Graceland Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois

Established in 1860 by Thomas Bryan, Graceland Cemetery, at 4001 N. Clark Street in Chicago, Illinois, is the city’s premier burial ground. Approximately 45,000 people are interred in these 121 acres, including many of Chicago’s most prominent former citizens, including Cyrus McCormick, George Pullman, John Altgeld, and Allan Pinkerton.

Marshall Field (1834-1906)

This lovely neoclassical bronze monument is dedicated to department store mogul Marshall Field (1834-1906). Field rose from farmer’s son to wealthiest man in Chicago when he got into the merchandising business and eventually established Marshall Field and Company. Marshall Field and John D. Rockefeller founded the University of Chicago in 1890. The statue of a sitting woman holding oak leaves (symbolizing courage), called “Memory”, was designed by architect Henry Bacon and sculptor Daniel Chester French.

Victor Fremont Lawson (1850-1920)

This Granite knight, designed by Lorado Taft and called “Crusader”, commemorates Victor Fremont Lawson (1850-1920), Norwegian-American publisher of the Chicago Daily News. Lawson ran the Daily News for 29 years. His monument is unmarked, except for the epitaph: “Above al things truth beareth away the victory.”

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