Historical walking tour reveals unknown, spooky side of Chicago


Gabriel de la Mora

Historical walking tour reveals unknown, spooky side of Chicago

By Arts and Culture Reporter

Lincoln Park is now one of Chicago’s premier North Side neighborhoods, but in the 19th century, it was known as City Cemetery. A series of tours explores the history of the neighborhood as a home for the dead and an active site for grave robbers.

The Oct. 25 walking tour, Grave Robbing 101, is one of several tours by author and Mysterious Chicago tour guide Adam Selzer. According to Selzer, the idea for the themed tour derived from his research for other projects, including a book called “The Smart Aleck’s Guide to Grave Robbing.”

“I started running into a lot of stories about grave robbers operating in the old City Cemetery,” Selzer said. “I thought it would be fun to combine a tour with tips and tricks of how the old grave robbers used to operate.”

Selzer added that what makes Mysterious Chicago tours different from others is the accuracy of the information presented in each tour.

“There are plenty of ghost stories where even the historic parts behind them have no basis in fact,” Selzer said, citing the lack of accuracy in ghost stories as a motivation for organizing his own tours.

Learning Chicago history through the lens of ghosts and grave robbing makes the information unique to participants while remaining informative, he said.

“There is a whole side of history that did not even make it into the history books,” Selzer said. “There are antique serial killers that nobody has ever heard of. It adds another layer to the history beyond just the Al Capone stuff.”

Although walking tours like Grave Robbing 101 can seem like a fun excursion, educating people on the city’s history in any way is beneficial, according to Dominic Pacyga, a professor in the Humanities, History and Social Sciences Department.

Pacyga said he thinks knowledge of the city’s history is important because of the city’s impact on the nation.

“Chicago is a very interesting city, and some people think it is the most American of all cities,” he said. “Various events that took place here had a national impact.”

Leyla Royale, who runs the website DeadInChicago.com—a site that documents peculiar events or people less talked about in Chicago’s history—has joined Selzer as a co-tour guide on some haunted walking tours. According to Royale, ghost stories are a way to introduce participants to Chicago history. 

“[History includes] stories and things that are fascinating,” Royale said. “You end up telling people history and giving people knowledge, and they just thought they were hearing a ghost story.”

According to Royale, learning the Chicago’s history gives people a wider perspective of the city they live in.

“It’s important because it gets people to think about the past more and see beyond just what they see right now,” Royale said.

Royale said she thinks the ability to see the progression of Chicago through history can also build a stronger sense of pride. 

 “You can look back and see how much the city has changed and how it has grown,” Royale said. “Knowing the past brings a lot of pride [to residents].”