The eternal 9 to 5: Inside Chicago’s haunted businesses

By Alex Stedman

A ghost is not your average co-worker.

While many people complain about irritable or uncooperative office mates, a ghostly presence on the premises leads to another crop of issues.

Whether it’s dealing with scared employees or  reassuring customers spooked by spiritual distractions, some of Chicago’s most haunted establishments face an unearthly challenge.

Naomi Blumberg is a curator at the Chicago History Museum who used to work at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, 800 S. Halsted St., which is rumored to be one of Chicago’s most haunted sites. She said Hull-House strives to distance itself from its haunted reputation and refuses calls about paranormal activity. It also does not allow ghost tours.

“A lot of haunted histories are attached to tragic events, and they’re very touchy stories,” Blumberg said.

Jane Addams Hull-House Museum isn’t the only place that avoids confrontations with its haunted past. The Congress Plaza Hotel, 520 S. Michigan Ave., is said to be the most haunted hotel in Chicago, but sales representative Elizabeth Ibarra said hotel management doesn’t want it marketed that way.

Ben Pavalon, lead investigator of the Chicago Ghost Hunters Group, said hotels often veer away from promoting their haunted histories, though other businesses, including bars and restaurants, see ghost stories as a way to attract customers.

Chet’s Melody: 7400 S. Archer Road, Justice, Ill.

Resurrection Mary, one of Chicagoland’s most infamous ghosts, supposedly resides in Resurrection Cemetery in Justice, a small southwest suburb of Chicago. According to Rich Prusinski, owner of Chet’s Melody Lounge across the street from the cemetery, a young girl named Mary was stood up at a dance at the Willowbrook Ballroom in Willow Springs, Ill., in the early 1930s. While trying to hitch a ride along Archer Road, she was hit by a car and later buried in Resurrection Cemetery.

Prusinski said there have since been dozens of reported spooky sightings of Mary. He added that Archer Road is an old Native American trail and is most likely the location of many more deaths. He said countless psychics, mediums and ghost hunters have told him there is paranormal activity in the bar.

“[The psychics] don’t call [the ghosts] poltergeists because they’re not harmful,” he said. “[The ghosts] just like to play tricks on you.”

He said Resurrection Mary has never been a problem for his business, though the cemetery had to move her grave to another location because it was becoming too much of a popular attraction. He added that he’s spoken with Mary’s aunt and uncle, who don’t appreciate the tale.

“Someone dies, and you want to forget,” he said. “But every time [her relatives] pick up an article or see a program talking about Resurrection Mary, they know they’re talking about their niece that died.”

Prusinski said the hauntings don’t bother him, but his wife doesn’t like the paranormal  side of the business. He also said his 17-year-old daughter has psychic abilities that make her “a little bit afraid of the dark” when she visits the bar.

The Country House Restaurant: 241 55th St., Clarendon Hills, Ill.

The Country House Restaurant, located in the southwest suburb of Clarendon Hills, is known for its famous burgers and 80-year-old building, complete with distressed wood and log cabin atmosphere. The ghost that supposedly haunts it has also become a trademark.

The haunting dates back to the mid 1950s, according to Lynn Banks, who has managed the restaurant since 1982. Originally, the building was both a bar and grocery store, but when the owners decided to make it a full bar and restaurant in the early 1970s, they had to preserve the original frame of the building to retain their liquor license, Banks said. Odd occurrences like opening shutters and unexplained noises began to occurr after the remodel.

The previous owner invited Richard Crowe, a renowned Chicago ghost hunter who died in June, to investigate. Banks said he and his team of psychics discovered a woman who had died near the premises in the 1950s who had an unrequited love for a bartender at the restaurant,.

The ghost story has lived on ever since. Banks said anomalies continue to occur, including the strong aroma of flowers and sightings of a woman with no feet or legs in a blue dress. However, Banks isn’t worried about the spirit being malicious.

“A couple of psychics over the years have said she just wants to be loved,” Banks said.

Last year, a group of ghost hunters visited the restaurant and tried to communicate with the ghost via flashlights. Banks said the flashlights flickered on and off in response to questions the ghost hunters asked.

“I don’t think I’ll do that anymore,” Banks said. “I don’t want to open that door.”

Ghost hunter Pavalon said people often make mistakes when trying to take a paranormal situation into their own hands. Using a Ouija board is a common error, a practice he said many paranormal experts advise against, as it may open the wrong kind of portal.

As for business, Banks said people have been both attracted and deterred by the restaurant’s ghostly reputation. She emphasized there is no reason to be scared of the ghost but said she used to stay on the back porch after hours to avoid leaving scared employees alone.

Banks said The Country House has been featured on the History, Travel and Discovery channels. It even used to feature the ghost story on its menu but recently took it off to make room for food additions.

“We’re not shy about it,” Banks said. “[But] we don’t go out of our way to promote it, either.”

Edgewater Lounge: 5600 N. Ashland Ave.

When it comes to co-workers, the Edgewater Lounge has a unique one: a former owner named Mary who died and apparently never wants to leave.

Donna Butler, who currently owns the bar with her husband, David, said Mary died about three months after they bought the bar from her 11 years ago. Donna and others have since run into some  paranormal peculiarities. She said pictures of the bar’s tap sometimes have an unexplained aura, and two customers recently heard a knock at the door and then saw it open on its own.

Butler said when they first took over the old building, the electricity and the fryer sometimes randomly turned off. However, she doesn’t attribute that to ghostly malice.

“[Mary] was a very mischievous person,” she said. “I think she’s cool. I think Mary was checking us out for awhile.”

Butler doesn’t think the ghostly rumors have negatively affected business. She said people aren’t scared of the ghost, and her presence actually intrigues some customers.

“It’s not something that I’m trying to make part of my business,” she said. “It is part of my business, but I’m not making it an advertisement in any way.”

She said the ghost doesn’t worry her at all and she has never pursued an investigation, but she believes she recently captured the face of a ghost on her camera in her apartment and contacted the Chicago Paranormal Research Society about it.

Red Lion Pub: 2446 N. Lincoln Ave.

Though it’s now closed, the Red Lion Pub is reputed to be one of the most haunted places in Chicago, according to its website. Pavalon said the pub’s long history made it a popular spot for ghost hunters. Joseph Heinen, former owner of the Red Lion, which was built in 1880, said a woman died in the building at the turn of the century. She may be the cause of the footsteps heard on the second floor when nobody’s there, he said. However, he’s not sure if he believes the paranormal explanation.

“It’s an old building, so there’s a lot of things that account for odd noises,” he said. “Maybe [it’s haunted], maybe it’s not.”

Pavalon said people who call him to help with their supposed spirits are often overreacting, and he’s able to attribute the ghostly symptoms to bad wiring or an air conditioning unit gone awry.

The building could be the home of a rather famous ghost, however. It’s across the street from the Biograph Theater, where John Dillinger, the legendary Chicago gangster, was gunned down in 1934. Pavalon said Richard Crowe often went on ghost tours at the theater around Halloween, and afterward they would head to the pub for drinks.

Though many might be scared of a haunted pub, Heinen said some people still came after hearing the ghost stories. Blumberg said this is often the case in supposedly haunted places because of their dark histories.

“They’re really emotional stories that bring out something when you hear them,” she said. “There’s something about the tragedy of all these events, the loss of all this innocent life, that people latch on to, and there’s a need to see things that were unresolved.”