Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Haunted Chicago: The Jane Addams Hull-House Museum

Nestled within the University of Illinois at Chicago campus on Halsted Street is the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum. Hull House was constructed by Charles J. Hull at Halsted and Polk Streets in 1856 at a time when this was one of the most fashionable sections of the city. But after the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, residents moved to classier neighborhoods farther north leaving Hull House behind. By the 1880's, the house was surrounded by factories and tenenments. The surrounding area became known in Chicago History as the Levee District - awash in vice.

Jane Addams was the priveleged daughter of a wealthy merchant. During a bout with depression, she spent a portion of her inheritance traveling in Europe. It would be in London, in the terrible slums of Whitechapel, that she would find her calling.

In the company of her college friend and traveling companion, Elle Starr Gates, Jane would spend time at Toynbee Hall, a settlement house for the poor. Here, young and affluent students lived and worked beside the poorest dregs of London, pushing for social reform and better standards of living. Jane was intrigued by the idea of it and after her return to Chicago, began making plans for such a place in the city. She soon discovered the run-down Halsted Street mansion and worse... the terrifying conditions in the Levee district to the west....

At the time when Jane Addams took over Hull House, several years had passed since the death of Mrs. Charles Hull, but this didn't prevent her from making her presence known. She had died of natural causes in a second-floor bedroom of the mansion and within a few months of her passing, her ghost was said to be haunting that particular room. Overnight guests began having their sleep disturbed by footsteps and what were described as "strange and unearthly noises".

Mrs. Hull's bedroom was first occupied by Jane Addams herself, who was awakened one night by loud footsteps in the otherwise empty room. After a few nights of this, she confided her story to Ellen, who also admitted to experiencing the same sounds. Jane later moved to another room.

But she would not be alone in noticing the unusual happenings. Helen Campbell, the author of the book PRISONERS OF POVERTY, reported seeing an apparition standing next to her bed (she took Jane up on the offer of staying in the "haunted room"). When she lit the gas jet, the figure vanished. The same peculiar sounds and figures were also observed by Mrs. Louise Bowen, a lifelong friend of Jane's, Jane and Mary Smith, and even Canon Barnett of Toynbee Hall, who visited the settlement house during the Columbian Exposition in 1893.

According to Jane Addams' book, TWENTY YEARS AT HULL HOUSE, earlier tenants of the house, which included the Little Sisters of the Poor and a second-hand furniture store, believed the upstairs of the house was haunted as well. They had always kept a bucket of water on the stairs, believing that the ghost was unable to cross over it.

Regardless, the ghost was always considered to be rather sad, but harmless, and residents and guests learned to live with its presence. Unfortunately, it was not the only "supernatural" legend connected to Hull House!

Continue reading at Weird Chicago...

During our night-time tour, your guides snapped this photograph. The expert ghost hunters at Weird Chicago assert that light-orbs such as the one above the fountain in the photo might even be ghostly apparitions. Or not. Depending on which guide from Ghost Hunters you believe.