This episode is sponsored by BEST FIENDS
I’m not a gamer, I only play games on my mobile device when I have time – and only when I have a couple of minutes here and there. But then I was introduced to Best Fiends and I can’t put my phone down! It’s a fun puzzle game with little “fiends” helping you to accomplish your goals. There are numerous options for play, they constantly are adding new themes and levels every month, you can stop playing and pick up right from where you left off without being penalized – and it’s free to download! Visit https://bestfiends.com or search for “Best Fiends” (not to be confused with “friends”) in your mobile play store!
Listen to ““THE DISSECTION OF DARK ANNIE” and 4 More Terrifying and True Horrors! #WeirdDarkness” on Spreaker.
Stories and content in Weird Darkness can be disturbing for some listeners and is intended for mature audiences only. Parental discretion is strongly advised. If you’re already a fan of Weird Darkness, please share a link to this episode on your social media, and tell your friends and family about the podcast!
Tired of commercials interrupting your listening experience? For just $5 per month you can listen to all past, present, and future #WeirdDarkness episodes commercial-free – plus BONUS AUDIO and news about the podcast! Learn more at:http://www.WeirdDarkness.com/WEIRDO.
IN THIS EPISODE: If you’ve ever seen the film “The Wicker Man”, you are familiar with the ending of the burning giant made of wood and the human sacrifice therein. But is it possible that this terrifying idea was not an invention of novelists and screenwriters – but was a very real practice at one time? Or even today? (The History Behind The Wicker Man) *** The life that serial killer Dennis Rader lived on the outside, hid his dark secret inside, which he was so desperate to reveal that he began dropping breadcrumbs to the media. (The Paper Trail of BTK) *** A graveyard is typically a quiet place, but Graceland Cemetery in Chicago seems to be a bit too quiet – which might have something to do with its resident ghosts. (The Deathly Silence of Graceland Cemetery) *** In 1888, London was terror-struck by the grotesque murders of Jack the Ripper, who was shortly about to claim his next-victim: 47-year-old prostitute Annie Chapman. Her dissection at the hands of the madman was nothing short of gruesome. (The Dissection of Annie Chapman) *** Annie Chapman likely got a good look at her killer. At the time, scientists thought they could user her corpse’s eyeballs to identify the attacker. Is something like that possible? Could the last visual image of someone’s life remain burned into the eye even after death? (The Last Thing a Corpse Sees)
MENTIONED LINKS AND EPISODES FROM THE CHAMBER OF COMMENTS…
“What’s At The Bottom of Skeleton Lake?” episode: http://weirddarkness.com/archives/4848
“America’s Most Creative Serial Killer” episode: http://weirddarkness.com/archives/4807
“The Real Story Behind The Bell Witch” episode: http://weirddarkness.com/archives/4727
STORY AND MUSIC CREDITS/SOURCES…
“Dark Annie” from Awesome Stories: http://bit.ly/33H5hlC
“The Dissection of Annie Chapman” by Hannah McKennet for All That’s Interesting: http://bit.ly/2p98hZb
“The Last Thing a Corpse Sees” by Marissa Fessenden for the Smithsonian: (link deemed unsafe due to spam/virus)
“The History Behind The Wicker Man” from Ancient Origins: http://bit.ly/2Kr38TR
“The Paper Trail of BTK” by Rachel Chang for Biography: http://bit.ly/32zqpZL
“The Deathly Silence of Graceland Cemetery” by Ursula Bielski for Chicago Hauntings: http://bit.ly/33G3Cgq
Background music provided by EpidemicSound and AudioBlocks with paid license. Music by Shadows Symphony (http://bit.ly/2W6N1xJ) and Midnight Syndicate (http://amzn.to/2BYCoXZ) is also sometimes used with permission.
SUPPORT THE PODCAST…
Become a PATRON (Official Weirdo): http://www.WeirdDarkness.com/WEIRDO
Visit my sponsors: http://www.WeirdDarkness.com/sponsors
MY RECORDING TOOLS…
* MICROPHONE (Neumann TLM103): http://amzn.to/2if01CL
* POP FILTER (AW-BM700): http://amzn.to/2zRIIyK
* XLR CABLE (Mogami Gold Studio): http://amzn.to/2yZXJeD
* MICROPHONE PRE-AMP (Icicle): http://amzn.to/2vLqLzg
* SOFTWARE (Adobe Audition): http://amzn.to/2vLqI6E
* HARDWARE (MacBook Pro): http://amzn.to/2vQzD5g
I always make sure to give authors credit for the material I use. If I somehow overlooked doing that for a story, or if a credit is incorrect, please let me know and I’ll rectify it the show notes as quickly as possible.
***WeirdDarkness™ – is a registered trademark of Marlar House Productions. Copyright © Marlar House Productions, 2019.
“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” — John 12:46 *** How to escape eternal darkness: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IYmodFKDaM
THE DISSECTION OF ANNIE CHAPMAN
In September 1888, the Whitechapel district of London found itself in the midst of a blood-curdling series of homicides. Five prostitutes were not only slashed to death but utterly mutilated with their organs removed. Indeed, as written by The New York Times in September 1888, “The murders are certainly the most ghastly and mysterious known to English police history.”
But on the night that young sex worker Annie Chapman went out to get her nightly wage, the murderer, Jack the Ripper, had not yet risen to infamy. The 47-year-old woman thus did not know the danger that awaited her.
In the late 1800s, the women of London had few opportunities. They could get married or live in poverty. Annie Chapman chose the former, and lived with her husband, John, a coachman. However, after their youngest daughter, Emily, died of meningitis at the age of 12, the couple fell into troubled times and separated in 1884.
Chapman consequently moved to Whitechapel where she lived in various lodging houses. Her husband sent her ten shillings a week and she earned money doing crochet-work and selling flowers. But when her husband died, Chapman turned to sex work in order to ensure that she had a warm place to sleep every night.
By 1888 Chapman was living at Crossingham’s Lodging House on 35 Dorset Street, along with approximately 300 other people. Here, she paid eightpence for a bed and was known by the manager as “inoffensive” though she was consumptive and often sickly. She was stout, hardy, and was potentially suffering from both TB and syphilis.
While staying at 35 Dorse, Chapman garnered two regular customers, Harry the Hawker, and a man named Ted Stanley.
On Sept. 8, 1888, she left the house sometime after one a.m. She told the manager to save her a bed as she went out to earn sufficient funds. “I’ll soon be back,” she said.
But she wouldn’t be.
Chapman was spotted later with a man at 29 Hanbury Street around 5:30 a.m. The voyeur heard the man ask Chapman “Will you?” to which she replied “Yes.”
Then around 5:45 a.m., Albert Cadosch, who was living at 27 Hanbury Street, walked into his backyard. As he passed the fence that separated his house from that of 29 Hanbury Street, he heard a woman say, “No!” He heard something fall against the fence but thought nothing of it. He went on with his regular routine.
Chapman had most likely met her murderer only minutes before the attack, thinking he was a potential customer. She might’ve led him through a passageway in a lodging house filled with sleeping people into the backyard, where the two could complete their transaction alone.
However, much to her terror, the man instead took hold of her and brutally cut her throat from ear to ear, before mutilating her body. Then, he escaped into the night without raising even an ounce of suspicion.
A little before 6 a.m., John Davis, a carman who lived in the lodging house with his family, found Chapman’s mutilated corpse.
Davis cried out to the men waiting outside and they immediately ran to the Commercial Street Police Station.
“I could see that the woman was dead,” said James Kent, one of the witnesses. “She had some kind of handkerchief around her throat, which seemed soaked in blood. The face and hands were besmeared with blood, as if she had struggled.”
The news of Chapman’s death spread rapidly and as Inspector Joseph Chandler arrived, so did an excited crowd. As Echo magazine reported, “The excitement has, as we say, been intense. The terror is extreme. The house and the mortuary were besieged by people, and it is said that during part of Saturday people flocked in great numbers to see the blood-stained spot in the yard, paying a penny each.”
Dr. George Bagster Phillips arrived on the scene at approximately 6:30 a.m. He reported that Annie Chapman’s throat had been cut so severely that her head was barely still attached to her body.
Her abdomen had also been cut and laid open. As Phillips said, “The small intestines and other portions were lying on the right side of the body on the ground above the right shoulder, but attached. There was a large quantity of blood, with a part of the stomach above the left shoulder.”
Chapman’s uterus and two-thirds of her bladder had been removed. Since no trace of these organs was found, the killer was assumed to have taken them with him. These cuts were very clean suggesting that the person who made them was experienced. Her other nearby organs had been carefully avoided.
All of this had been done in a pitch-black morning in under 30 minutes.
As the doctor reported in his inquest, “Obviously the work was that of an expert — of one, at least, who had such knowledge of anatomical or pathological examinations as to be enabled to secure the pelvic organs with one sweep of the knife.”
The Foreman later reported, “I was asked by the police whether a photograph of the deceased’s eye would be of any use; but I gave it as my opinion that a photograph of the eye would be useless in this case.”
This suggestion most likely has to do with an old belief that a person’s eye recorded their last sight before death. It was a practice that had been used as an attempt to catch killers in times past, but clearly, was of no use in catching Jack the Ripper.
On Sept. 14, 1888, a hearse supplied by the Hanbury Street Undertaker drove to the Whitechapel Mortuary to pick up Annie Chapman’s body. She was taken to the City of London Cemetery in Forest Gate, London where she was lowered into grave 78, square 148.
No mourning coaches followed the hearse. As The Daily Telegraph reported, “The funeral of Annie Chapman took place early yesterday morning, the utmost secrecy having been observed, and none but the undertaker, police, and relatives of the deceased knew anything about the arrangements.”
Sadly, Chapman’s grave no longer exists, as it has since been buried over.
Chapman’s was the second murder of this brutality in Whitechapel. Citizens were consequently starting to panic and police were put under increasing pressure to find the man involved.
Before long, a man known as “Leather Apron” was arrested. He was believed to carry around a knife and mistreat sex workers.
An alleged witness from the night of Chapman’s murder indicated this man, whose real name was John Pizer, out of a lineup. But after further investigation, he was released.
On Sunday night, another “suspicious-looking individual” named William Pigott was arrested. One of his hands had a bite mark, which Pigott said came from a woman who he had tried to help during the early hours of the morning in Whitechapel on Sept. 8. He also had spots of blood on the clothes he was carrying.
Several witnesses were called in, but none were able to identify him out of a lineup. The doctor pronounced him as a lunatic. It’s been suggested that he was later moved to an asylum.
With no other leads, the backyard of 29 Hanbury Street was cleaned up and the crowds dispersed. Panic was subdued, that is until the police received their most haunting clue yet.
This time, from the Whitechapel murderer himself.
The week following Chapman’s murder, the London police station received a letter in red ink. It read:
*****“Dear Boss, I keep on hearing the police have caught me but they won’t fix me just yet. I have laughed when they look so clever and talk about being on the right track. That joke about Leather Apron gave me real fits…I saved some of the proper red stuff in a ginger beer bottle over the last job to write with but it went thick like glue and I can’t use it. Red ink is fit enough I hope ha ha …”*****
It was signed, “Yours truly Jack the Ripper. Don’t mind me giving the trade name.”
Although this letter can still not be proven to be authentic, its contents have provoked nightmares and curiosity for over a century now.
Annie Chapman’s last sight was the face of one of the most famous serial killers in human history. But today, the rest of us are left to wonder: Who even was he?
THE LAST THING A CORPSE SEES
A 20-year-old woman, Theresa Hollander, had been beaten to death and her body found in a cemetery. But the fact that her eyes were still open gave her family hope: Perhaps the last thing she saw—presumably the face of her murderer—was imprinted like a the negative of a photograph on her retinas, writes Lindsey Fitzharris for The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice.
Accordingly, a photograph of the woman’s retina’s was taken, “at the suggestion of a local oculist, who told police that the retina would show the last object within her vision before she became unconscious,” The Times reported. The grand jury would see the image on Saturday.
Though it may sound like folly these days, many believed in these statements at the time, which was a period of riveting developments in both biology and photography. People were well aware of the similarities between the structure of the human eye and that of a camera, so the idea that the eye could capture and hold an image didn’t seem so far fetched. Indeed, some experiments made it seem possible.
The process of developing the retina’s last images was called optography and the images themselves, optograms, writes Experiments in this field first started with Franz Christian Boll, a physiologist who in 1876 discovered a pigment hiding in the back of the eye that would bleach in the light and recover in the dark. He called this retinal pigment “visual purple” and today we call it rhodopsin.
Wilhelm Friedrich Kühne, a professor of physiology at the University of Heidelberg, quickly took up the study of rhodopsin, according to Arthur B. Evans, writing about optograms. Kühne devised a process to fix the bleached rhodopsin in the eye and develop an image from the result. Evans quotes an article bybiochemist George Wald about Kühne’s work:
*****One of Kühne’s early optograms was made as follows. An albino rabbit was fastened with its head facing a barred window. From this position the rabbit could see only a gray and clouded sky. The animal’s head was covered for several minutes with a cloth to adapt its eyes to the dark, that is to let rhodopsin accumulate in its rods. Then the animal was exposed for three minutes to the light. It was immediately decapitated, the eye removed and cut open along the equator, and the rear half of the eyeball containing the retina laid in a solution of alum for fixation. The next day Kühne saw, printed upon the retina in bleached and unaltered rhodopsin, a picture of the window with the clear pattern of its bars.*****
People quickly latched on to the idea as a tool for forensic investigations. The College of Optometrists in the U.K. reports that police photographed the eye of a murdered man in April 1877, “only partly aware of what optography involved,” and that investigators on the trail of Jack the Ripper may have considered a proposal to use the technique.
Faith in optography was misplaced, however, as Kühne’s experiments showed that only simple, high-contrast surroundings were able to produce interpretable optograms, Douglas J. Lanska writes in Progress in Brain Research. Furthermore, the retina needs to be removed very quickly from the recently deceased. He wrote at the time:
*****I am not prepared to say that eyes which have remained in the head an hour or more after decapitation will no longer give satisfactory optograms; indeed, the limit for obtaining a good image seems to be in rabbits from about sixty to ninety minutes, while the eyes of oxen seem to be useless after one hour.*****
The only optogram known to have come from the eye of a human was developed by Kühne, writes Stolze. The man was Erhard Gustav Reif, sentenced to death for drowning his two youngest children. On November 16, 1880, Kühne took the man’s decapitated head from the guillotine and created an optogram within 10 minutes. The image, however, is very ambiguous, just a rectangular geometric shape with a stairstep pattern, like a piece of cut tile.
Kühne never claimed to say what the image depicted, but people have interpretedthe shape as the guillotine’s blade or the steps the man had to take to reach it. Both are probably fanciful interpretations as Reif was blindfolded shortly before his death.
Still, the idea persisted and leapt into fiction. Jules Verne used optography as a plot device in his Les Frères Kip (The Brothers Kip), published in 1902, Evans writes. The eponymous brothers end up falsely accused of the murder of a ship’s captain. When the victim’s friend asks for an enlargement of a photograph of the dead captain, the captain’s son notices two points of light in the man’s eyes. With the aid of a microscope, the faces of the real murderers, “two villainous sailors,” are seen and the Kip brothers are set free.
For decades, people claimed to use the technique, at least if newspapers were to be believed. “Photos show killer’s face in Retina,” and “Slain man’s eye shows picture of murderer” are just two headlines showing the optogram hype. Even more modern minds are tantalized by the idea: optograms appear in Doctor Who (“The Crimson Horror” from 2013) and in Fringe (“The Same Old Story” in 2008).
The photograph in the case of Theresa Hollander never did reveal anything to help or hurt the suspicions that her ex-boyfriend was responsible, Fitzharris reports. He was tried twice and found not guilty.
THE HISTORY BEHIND THE WICKER MAN
The wicker man is purported to be one of the means by which the ancient druids made human sacrifices. According to a number of classical authors, the druids partook in human sacrifice, though these authors usually did not specify the way these sacrifices were carried out. Nevertheless, references to a form of druid human sacrifice which utilized the ‘wicker man’ can be found in two classical sources.
The druids were a class of people within the societies of the Celts who inhabited Britain and France. Almost everything we know about the druids today can be regarded as second-hand knowledge. Known surviving texts that mention them were written by non-druids, most notably the Roman leader Julius Caesar.
The druids were thought to be highly revered, and played a variety of important roles in their community. The druids served, amongst other things, as teachers, judges, philosophers, and mediators between human beings and gods. Ancient sources write that the druids often performed human sacrifices, which may or may not be true. If it is true, one of the means by which the druids supposedly sacrificed their human victims was with a device now known as a ‘wicker man’.
In Julius Caesar’s The Gallic Wars , it is recorded that the Celtic tribes inhabiting the region of Gaul were extremely superstitious. Additionally, Caesar wrote that the Celts believed “that unless the life of a man be offered for the life of a man, the mind of the immortal gods cannot be rendered propitious”. Thus, human sacrifices were said to have been commonly performed by druids employed by those who are afflicted by severe diseases or engaged in battles or dangers. Nevertheless, human sacrifices “ordained for national purposes” may have also been performed.
Caesar also claimed that human sacrifices involving criminals were “more acceptable to the immortal gods”, though when supply was short, the innocent would also be sacrificed. During this discourse of Celtic human sacrifice, Caesar provides one example of the way the druids carried out this task, which involved “figures of vast size, the limbs of which formed of osiers they fill with living men,” These figures are the so-called ‘wicker men’, which would then be set on fire, and the men in them would be destined to perish in the flames.
This form of human sacrifice can also be found in Strabo’s Geography. This ancient writer claimed that the Celts “devised a colossus of straw and wood” for the purpose of sacrifice. Unlike Caesar, however, Strabo records that “cattle and wild animals and all sorts of human beings” were thrown into this colossus, and then burnt. Strabo also asserts that the ‘wicker man’ was just one method of human sacrifice, and two other examples of how the druids performed human sacrifices are given, “they would shoot victims to death with arrows, or impale them in the temples”
In reality, it is unknown if the druids actually used ‘wicker men’ for human sacrifices. It has been argued, for instance, that such a device would have been neither practical nor realistic. Although wicker objects are said to be quite strong, they would lose their structural integrity quite quickly when set on fire.
A live animal or person within a ‘wicker man’ could also struggle and break it an attempt to escape. It may be possible that the people / animals prepared for the sacrifice were drugged prior to being placed in the ‘wicker man’, though neither Caesar nor Strabo recorded such a practice.
The story of the ‘wicker man’, which may have been quite obscure, became popular thanks to a 1973 British horror film called The Wicker Man . This film revolves around a devoutly Christian Scottish police sergeant who is sent to an isolated Hebridean island called Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. The climax of the film occurs when the sergeant is sacrificed by the inhabitants of the island, who are pagans, in a ‘wicker man’.
The ‘wicker man’ is also used in today’s neopagan practices, specifically for the celebration of a fire feast or at harvest time. Fortunately, however, humans / animals, are no longer placed within this structure.
THE PAPER TRAIL OF BTK
No one knows how long it had been hidden there. A seemingly innocent piece of paper caught between pages of an engineering textbook at the Wichita Public Library. But the words typed on there were the start of a cat-and-mouse hunt of the self-dubbed BTK Killer, Dennis Rader.
On the surface, Rader led a fairly typical life. He served in the Air Force in the 1960s and eventually married and settled down in Wichita and had two kids. He worked for the camping equipment company Coleman Company, home security company ADT and then as a Park City, Kansas, compliance officer. And to really hammer in the family man image, he was also an active member of his church and a Boy Scout leader.
But that picture-perfect facade may have been the exact image he wanted to relay as he covered up some of the most gruesome murders in American history.
The possible reason: As a child, he had developed “violent sexual fantasies that involved bondage” after killing animals. And on January 15, 1974, he turned to his first murder spree, killing the parents and two kids of the Otero family and then following up by murdering Kathryn Bright in April of that year. He had known both Bright and the Otero mother from his time working at Coleman Company.
In a cruel twist of timing, it was four years later that Rader graduated from Wichita State University studying — what else? — criminal justice.
And it was that kind of double life that led to his carefully orchestrated crime spree, which lasted from 1974 to 1991.
Adding to the horror of Radar’s murders was his constant toying with authorities, starting with that note left in a library book.
Wichita Eagle newspaper employee Don Granger received a phone call in 1974 revealing that the letter was stashed in one of the books. Granger immediately let officials know and the police found it. Yet the contents of the letter weren’t revealed until a new weekly newspaper, the Wichita Sun, which had only launched a few months before that, got their hands on the letter.
A portion of the letter said, “I can’t stop it so the monster goes on and hurts me as well as society. … It’s a big complicated game my friend the monster play, putting victims number down, follow them, checking up on them, waiting in the dark, waiting, waiting…”
And in a postscript, it read, “P.S. Since sex criminals do not change their M.O. or by nature cannot do so, I will not change mine. The code word for me will be… Bind them, torture them, kill them, B.T.K., you see he’s at it again.”
And thus the monstrous Rader gave himself the title he’s known as: BTK Killer.
About four years later, on January 31, 1978, the Wichita Eagle received another note, this time in the form of a poem starting with the words, “Shirleylocks, shirleylocks,” on an index card about the murder of Shirley Vian, killed the previous March. Around the same time, the Eagle got another letter about the Otero murders and the TV station KAKE got a letter referring to the killings of Vian and Nancy Fox, slain in December of 1977, as well as another unnamed victim.
He reportedly drew pleasure from the media coverage, even expressing in one of his letters: “How many people do I have to kill before I get a name in the paper or some national attention?”
His last recorded murder was in 1991, but it was around the time of the 30th anniversary of the Otero family murders that Rader started to drop hints once again.
A KAKE viewer reported a suspicious box in December 2004, which contained a Barbie mimicking the murder of the one of the Oteros, as well as Fox’s driver’s license. A month later, the station got a postcard leading them to a cereal box with a note, “Can I communicate with Floppy [disk] and not be traced to a computer. Be honest.”
While the disk did end up being relayed, Rader’s inability to hide the metadata from the documents led to his eventual arrest in 2005.
He was given 10 life sentences and remains at El Dorado Correctional Facility, with his earliest parole being set for the year 2180. His heartless spree sparked Stephen King’s A Good Marriage novella, as well as numerous documentaries. The character ADT Man on Mindhunter is also based on Rader.
THE DEATHLY SILENCE OF GRACELAND CEMETERY
When real estate investor Thomas B. Bryan founded Graceland Cemetery in 1860—just three blocks from Wrigley Field Today– the now-bustling neighborhood was practically wilderness. Over the years, a number of architects and designers worked to civilize this 120-acre enclosure in typical Chicago fashion. Bryan’s nephew, Bryan Lathrop, served as president of the cemetery for a number of years and was enchanted by naturalism. As a result, architects William Le Baron Jenney and Ossian Cole Simonds were hired to enhance the grounds. Simonds was so taken with the project that he ended up turning his professional attention fully towards landscape design. Through the work he did at Graceland and afterward, Simonds anticipated the gracious natural appreciation of the Prairie School artists.
Names found in many of Chicago’s history books may be found on the stones and monuments here: Chicago’s much-maligned “first settler,” John Kinzie, Railroad magnate George Pullman, merchant king Marshall Field, the great detective Alan Pinkerton, whose men subdued the chaos in the days after the Great Fire, and Fazlur Kahn, structural engineer of the cursed Hancock building. Mayor Carter Harrison, who was shot at the end of October 1893, bringing the triumphant World’s Fair to a grim close. William Starrett, founder of the Baker Street Irregulars. And so many others.(048)
Ghosts roam here, though in recent years many have sought debunk the thrilling stories I and others passed on from the folklore which flourished during our childhoods in the area. Thankfully, the stories remain, despite the attempts.
The tomb of Ludwig Wolff, which stands right over the Montrose Avenue fence, has been carved from a built-up mound, with stairs leading down to the entrance. A vent at the top feeds the legend that Wolff was terrified of being buried alive, and included a ventilation system, and literal bells and whistles to guard against the chance of it. Residents of the apartment buildings that tower over Montrose avenue say that, on nights when the full moon illuminates the cemetery grounds, one may see the phantom figure of Wolff’s faithful wolf hound, pacing in front of the tomb’s entrance, its fur shining and its eyes glowing a fluorescent green. Some have dismissed these tales, as coyotes do live here . . . “Just the light reflecting off their eyes,” they say.
Strollers through the cemetery have told of seeing a somber figure standing on the veranda which tops the tomb of the Goodman family, gazing across the beautiful man-made Lake Willowmere, a placid retreat surrounded by willow trees and the graves of Chicago’s great architects and artists and “Mr. Cub,” Ernie Banks.
A wondrous surprise at this lake is a recently refurbished footbridge which leads to the island burials of World’s Fair architect Daniel Burnham and family. Burnham’s ghost was reported frequently after his death, but few knew who the ghost was until the publication of The Devil in the White City. They see him, hands in pockets, standing on the banks of his island here, walking the Fairgrounds in Jackson Park, and even in his old offices at the Rookery Building on LaSalle Street, where he designed the World’s Fair. In fact, some have wondered if it is his ghost, and not defense attorney Clarence Darrow’s which has been seen so often on the steps of the old Palace of Fine Arts of Burnham’s design.
The haunting tales of Lorado Taft’s foreboding monument, The Eternal Silence, have now passed completely into legend. That’ eerie creation, a larger-than-life tower of oxidized bronze depicting a looming, hooded figure, was said to be unphotographable when it was erected over the grave of Ohio-born hotel owner, Dexter Graves in One of the most fascinating, and hence, most photographed, images in Chicago cemetery art, that tale is obviously untrue. Yet, some still insist that a look into the deep-set eyes of the so-called “Statue of Death” will give the beholder a glimpse of his own afterlife to come.
A friend of mine, Robert Murch, is the penultimate historian of Ouija boards, or talking boards as they are more generically called. During a visit to Chicago to speak at a paranormal conference I was hosting, Murch made a visit to Graceland Cemetery hoping to find the grave of J.M. Simmons, who was one of the largest producers of Ouija boards in the world in the early 20th century—so many that he was called the “Ouija King of Chicago.” Along with Simmons were other Chicago-based talking board companies that sprung up in the 1940s. As Murch says, Ouija boards and Chicago were “like peas and carrots.”
Murch was extremely disappointed when the management of the cemetery told him Simmons wasn’t there, but he and his friend toured the cemetery anyway, as he had heard about its stunning beauty and history. Then rounding a curve, he came upon the towering “Statue of Death” and he stopped dead in his tracks. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
The figure, Murch said, was a dead ringer for the one that donned the boxes of William Fuld’s and later parker Brothers’ Ouija and Mystifying Oracles from 1941 to 1972. Could it really be that I just came face to face with the inspiration of what Hubert Fuld called affectionately the Blue Ghost?
When I saw him later that day, Murch had a huge smile on his face. He came and knelt down next to the chair where I was sitting and said, “I want to show you something.” He said, “My friend took me to Graceland Cemetery,” and he took out his phone and showed me this montage he had quickly made, the side by side photographs of the Blue Ghost and The Statue of Death. (066)
I started to cry and laugh at the same time. Not knowing about Chicago’s connection to the marketing of the Ouija board, I had never realized the similarity. It truly was an amazing one.
Murch knew he would probably never know if Lorado Taft’s stunning statue was really the inspiration for the likeness of the “mystifying oracle” which appeared on countless Ouija board boxes produced in Chicago, but we both like to think it was. As Murch says, rather than seeing a premonition of his death when he looked into the eyes of The Eternal Silence, he “simply saw a ghost with a story to tell.”
One of Graceland’s ghost stories has been ruthlessly and regularly dismembered for two decades by a long line of historians and journalists: the story of the little ghost girl known as Inez Clarke.
When I first started lecturing on Chicago’s ghosts, a well-known cemetery historian showed up at one of my lectures, waited until I asked for questions, and then started scolding me about “spreading falsehoods about cemetery history” regarding Inez Clarke. It was one of countless times I would have to explain to “experts” the difference between history and folklore!
Struck down in her girlhood by either tuberculosis or a lightning bolt (the versions of the tale often differ), the story tells that Inez was buried in Graceland by her devastated parents, who proceeded to commission a statue of their lost angel for her gravesite. That monument, perhaps the most affecting of any Chicago child’s, depicts the little lady in her favorite dress, perched on a wooden chair, and holding a dainty parasol. Her gleaming eyes hover above a whisper of a smile. Surrounding the masterpiece is a box made of glass, secured cemented to the monument’s based.
Years ago, reports began to circulate that the statue had come up missing one night, only to be found in place the next morning. Apparently this happened on several occasions until, according to the story, the glass case was placed over the monument to prevent further theft. When a security guard making his rounds discovered the empty case one night, despite it being securely anchored to the base, he fled the cemetery at once, leaving the grounds unattended and the gates standing open.
Accounts differ as to whether Inez’s statue began disappearing before or after her monument was encased in glass. Those who attest to her death by lightning say that she only disappears during violent storms, perhaps seeking shelter from the frightening weather, while those who credit her death to tuberculosis say that she runs off at random. Occasionally, a visitor will claim to have seen a child who wanders and disappears among the graves near the Clarke monument, and stories tell of children visiting the cemetery with their families who wander off, only to be found near the statute, uttering claims that they were “playing with Inez.”
Cemetery records do indicate that a child was buried in that spot, in August of 1880, but that the child’s name was Amos Briggs. No “Inez Clarke” exists in Graceland’s records at all.
In 2009, Chicago historian John Binder got to the bottom of the confusing mystery behind Graceland’s most famous ghost. The Inez who was buried here was Inez Briggs, who died of diphtheria at the age of six, in August of 1880. Her death certificate specifies Graceland as the intended burial site. Binder theorized that the names “Inez” and “Amos” had been mixed up in the cemetery record. He found that at the time of her death Inez was living with her mother, Mary McClure and her grandparents, David and Jane Rothrock and what is now the 800 block of West Armitage Avenue. By 1872, Inez’s father, Walter Briggs, was gone and Mary wed John Clarke. Though Inez was not his daughter, the family had that carved on her tombstone, leading to almost a century and a half of mystery.
Though the mystery of Inez’s name has been solved, her ghost has not been laid to rest. She still wanders on stormy nights here, defying all who call her a fairytale.