Tea’s Weird Week: Famous Ghosts of Chicago
Tea’s Weird Week is going to be on the scene at the Paranormal Chicago Conference next weekend, March 6 (www.facebook.com/events/1067747297402289). If you’re not familiar with my lifestyle, I do seasonal work as a tour guide for American Ghost Walks here in Milwaukee. I love it– the tours are a nice mix of history along with sharing some firsthand stories from people who have said they’ve hand ghostly encounters. Oftentimes after the tour, people will share their own supernatural encounters with me.
In advance of the Chicago conference, I thought I’d talk to one of my colleagues, Tony Szabelski, who leads tours for American Ghost Walks in Chicago. Chicago, as you can imagine, is rich and dense in ghostlore, a legacy of serial killers (including “America’s first,” H.H. Holmes, as well as John Wayne Gacy and Richard Speck), gangsters (Al Capone, Chicago was also where they finally got John Dillinger), and famous disasters (the Great Chicago Fire, the Eastland Disaster). I talked to Tony about some of these cases as well as Resurrection Mary (a classic Chicago ghost story– Mary’s stomping grounds are near the Chicago conference), the Joliet Prison, and the Congress Hotel in the latest TWW podcast.
I’ll be revisiting more Chicago weirdness later this Spring/ early summer when I’ll be reporting on the Chicago Mothman cases for Fortean Times. I love Chicago– I always have sort of a pulp noir image of it in my head– the El rattling by above your head, a crumpled copy of the Chicago Tribune blowing in the wind down the street, vendors selling Chicago style dogs…it’s a great place to visit.
SEE ALSO: I wrote this article on Chicago ghost experts Ursula Bielski and Dale Kaczmarek for Scandinavian Traveler in 2019: Meet the real-life ghostbusters | Scandinavian Traveler
This early TWW column from around the same time talked about the ghost of Al Capone: Tea’s Weird Week: Chasing the Ghost(s) of Al Capone and a Rant About Geraldo | (teakrulos.com)
Tea’s Weird Week S4 E5, Famous Ghosts of Chicago: I talked with Tony Szabelski, Chicago ghost guide, about some of Chicagoland’s many ghost stories. We discussed the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, Resurrection Mary, the Congress Hotel, and other ghost lore. Me and Heidi discuss weird news about a Canadian pillow drop, Tea’s Illuminati invitation, and da UP’s own glowing rock, Yooperlite. Plus trivia with Miss Information and a track by Time Thieves, “Road.”
Listen here: Tea’s Weird Week, S4 ep05: Famous Ghosts of Chicago (podbean.com)
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My latest books are:
Brady Street Pharmacy: Stories and Sketches (2021, Vegetarian Alcoholic Press)
American Madness: The Story of the Phantom Patriot and How Conspiracy Theories Hijacked American Consciousness (2020, Feral House)
Tea’s Weird Week: The Ghost of the Christmas Tree Ship
I sent in my manuscript for my book American Madness which will be out August next year. I also have a little book out about a year from now called Wisconsin Legends & Lore, which is a collection of some classic Wisconsin folklore, ghost stories, and urban legends. One of the stories I read about while researching is the tragic story of the Rouse Simmons, also known as the Christmas Tree Ship, a nice Wisconsin Christmas ghost story for you this Friday the 13th.
Every holiday season, Chicagoans eagerly awaited the arrival of the Christmas Tree Ship, which would load up with evergreens in Michigan, then sail down to Chicago, where it would tie up to a dock. Families would head over, pick out a tree, and drag it back to their homes on a sled. The arrival of the Rouse Simmons meant the arrival of the holidays.
Captain Herman Schuenemann aka “Captain Santa” ran the business. He sold trees for fifty cents or a dollar, but he was known for generously donating trees to orphanages, hospitals, and poor families. His was not the only Christmas Tree Ship, but it would become the most famous. In November of 1912, Captain Schuenemann and his crew loaded 5,500 trees (imagine how piney that must have smelled!) into the Rouse Simmons, packing it as much as they could. There were supposedly bad omens, according to crew who declined to make the journey– rats seen abandoning ship, a crew totally an unlucky 13, and the ship leaving port on a Friday.
On November 23, 1912, the Rouse Simmons was sailing past Two Rivers, Wisconsin on route toward Chicago. A terrible storm hit Lake Michigan. The Rouse Simmons, already an old ship and overladen with thousands of trees, was thrashed in the wind, ice forming on the sails and ripping them. The Christmas Tree Ship (and a few other boats on the lake that night) and all hands were lost. Christmas trees from the boat washed ashore for years afterward.
Rather than be deterred by the lake that had claimed Captain Schuenemann’s life, his wife and daughters took over the business. The new Captain Schuenemann was his brave daughter, Elsie, who led the delivery of trees that same winter season of 1912. The family kept the business going until railroads and highways made the Christmas Trees ships obsolete in the 1920s and 30s..
The wreck of the Rouse Simmons was discovered by a scuba diver in 1971. They found that there were still needleless, skeleton-like trees in the cargo hold.
Legend says that you can see the ghost ship of the Rouse Simmons on Lake Michigan on stormy winter nights or on the anniversary of the night it sunk, struggling in the choppy waters to get south to Chicago.
A nice ending to this story is that a non-profit group called Chicago’s Christmas Ship, with the help of the Coast Guard, now continues the Christmas Tree Ship legacy. Using the sturdy Mackinaw, they’ve sailed to Navy Pier the last 20 years with a cargo of Christmas trees, where they work with community organizations to get trees to people who can’t afford them to make their holiday a little brighter.
You can find out more and donate here: http://christmasship.org/
More ghost stories! I host the Milwaukee Ghost Walk- Ghosts of Christmas Past tour tonight, tomorrow, and next weekend!: https://americanghostwalks.com/wisconsin/milwaukee-ghosts-of-christmas-past/
Thrilling to have a “Tea’s Weird Week” column (reworked slightly) printed in this month’s Fortean Times (#397, “Zombies, Vampires, Killer Clowns…”)!
My latest book, Apocalypse Any Day Now makes a nice existential stocking stuffer: www.chicagoreviewpress.com/ApocalypseAnyDayNow
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Tea’s Weird Week: Random Acts of October
Real-life Superheroes, paranormal investigators, conspiracy theory: classic Krulos topics. Three short things related to these subjects have crossed my brain this week and got collected here.
The Legendary Jack
Let me tell you about this guy I know, Jack. Jack is frustrated. It’s hard to catch a break in this world. You put heart and soul into a project, you pour in this passion and you are ignored. Meanwhile some putz will launch into the stratosphere of fame for just the stupidest thing you can think of. It’s a drag, man.
One day recently, Jack told us on Facebook, he was at the check out of the grocery store. While scribbling out a check for the groceries, counting the pennies in his head, he noticed an ad on the check out lane for a guy he used to work with at an oil changing place. This guy now had his own mortgage company. You can bet this guy doesn’t worry if he’s buying generic or name brand peanut butter!
But Mortgage Man Dan will never know the thrill of leaping off the corner post of a wrestling ring, sweat and adrenaline flying off of him as he tackles Baron Von Retchblubber (or whatever his name is) while a crowd in rapture cheers, letting rip a primal scream. Because this Jack is former wrestler JACK T. RIPPER, famous hero (or heel is probably the right term) of a hundred fights!
But wait, there’s more! Zzzzzzap! This same Jack is the mighty Razorhawk, one of these Real-Life Superheroes, founder of the Great Lakes Alliance, founder of the HOPE events. I joined him in the search for a missing college student in Saint Paul, on a patrol on the streets of Minneapolis, and for a HOPE event in San Diego. I wrote about it in my book Heroes in the Night. Years later, I saw him at a HOPE event in Chicago. BAM!
This Razorhawk, in fact, was the winner of a YouTube reality show titled Academy of Heroes. His co-stars were his Real-life Superhero colleagues: the noble Knight Owl, the nimble Nyx, the dashing Danger Man, the philosophical Phantom Zero, the generous Good Samaritan, and the..uh…mouthy Motor-Mouth! By the end of the show, Razorhawk was declared winner by none other than comic legend Stan Lee himself. Excelsior!
And now, Jack has a more mellow project, but a very cool one. He’s now here, as his motto says, “to chew bubblegum and build models,” but he happens to be “all out of bubblegum.” Now known as the JACK OF MODELS, he has created his own YouTube show in which he carefully builds a variety of car and figure models, shows you how it’s done, and offers a few tricks and tips so you can enjoy this hobby, too.
I’m a fan. You can find the show here:
YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCv2ZgO3bbhW7rq-CdcYhskw
My most read column this month was a reprinting of a rarely seen article I wrote years ago titled “The Ghost Hunter’s Daughter” on Alexandra Holzer, star of the new reality show The Holzer Files. Just recently I had the chance to profile two interesting paranormal investigators for the October issue of Scandinavian Traveler magazine: Dale Kaczmarek of Ghost Research Society, who has been on the supernatural trail since the 1970s, and Ursula Bielski of Chicago Hauntings, who organizes the annual Chicago Ghost Con. Both have written books and offer tours and are all around experts on Chicago ghostlore.
You can read the article, “Meet the real-life ghostbusters,” here: https://scandinaviantraveler.com/en/places/meet-the-real-life-ghostbusters
I also compiled Dale and Ursula’s picks for “Chicago’s top 5 haunted locations”: https://scandinaviantraveler.com/en/places/chicagos-top-5-haunted-locations
Denver Airport Conspiracy
Ever since it was built, Denver International has been the subject of several conspiracy theories, including secret tunnels, weird art, a cursed horse statue, Illuminati meetings, and more. It’s pretty wild and every time I fly west, I hope for a layover at the airport.
While blocking off part of the airport for construction this month, the airport decided that instead of traditional “pardon our dust” signs, they would go full troll with a series of signs alluding to their reputation, including ones that mention the Illuminati, aliens, Reptilians (aka Lizard People), and more. Check out more of the signs here: https://www.curbed.com/2018/9/7/17832102/denver-airport-conspiracy-theories-signs-construction
And if you like conspiracy, well, hang on to your butts because November is Conspiracy Month here at Tea’s Weird Week. I’m doing some conspiracy related travel mid-November so I’ll be doing some reporting from the road. It’s going to be…interesting.
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Tea’s Weird Week: Chasing the Ghost(s) of Al Capone and a Rant About Geraldo
Tune in every Friday to read about whatever weird stuff Tea is getting himself into.
Well, I’m on my way to visit Chicago twice in the next few days where I’ll be profiling legendary ghost experts Ursula Bielski (Chicago Hauntings) and Dale Kaczmarek (Ghost Research Society) for a magazine piece. Both are interesting people who have been in this ghost biz for a long time. The last time I saw them might have been at a panel I lead on Chicago Ghostlore at Wizard World Chicago a couple years ago, glad to be visiting Chicago and seeing them again.
I got an appropriate Chicago-themed book to read on the train by master level biographer Deirdre Bair titled Al Capone: His Life, Legacy, and Legend, research for an upcoming appearance I’ll be making in September at the Old Baraboo Inn.
I wrote an article for Cult of Weird titled “Chasing the Ghost of Al Capone” in 2016 that documented 5 places the ghost of the famous gangster is said to haunt. After reading it recently, my friends at the Old Baraboo Inn have asked me to join them in the World’s Largest Ghost Hunt there on September 28, as they’ve apparently heard whispers from Scarface himself.
I’m developing a presentation called “Legends of Al Capone.” It’ll premiere at Old Baraboo Inn and then entered into a roster of presentations called “Tea Talks” that I’m developing that will be available for library appearances, conferences, etc. See the Tea Talks page I’m developing here: https://teakrulos.com/teatalks
Here’s the event page for Old Baraboo Inn’s World’s Largest Ghost Hunt: https://www.facebook.com/events/379959039385127/
Unrelated to ghosts but much related to Al Capone, I’ve slowly been collecting some short stories about my life for an untitled book project. I don’t know when or where or how it might be published, but for now I’m just slowing adding to a Word doc whenever I have a memory I want to get down. I’m glad to share with you this short story I wrote about my overwhelming disappointment in Geraldo Rivera.
Al Capone’s Vaults
I can pinpoint my disenchantment date exactly. April 21, 1986, primetime, where you have found me, 9 years-old, excitedly sitting in front of a small but heavy television set in the living room, eating dinner at a TV table. This was a rarity—my parents insisted that dinner be at the dinner table except for Saturday nights, when we cooked frozen pizzas and watched movies in the living room. I was not allowed to watch more modern movies, so what we watched were a lot of old horror and sci fi movies—Dracula and Godzilla movies and old comedies starring the Marx Brothers and Abbot and Costello.
This was a special occasion, though, as my parents recognized my extreme excitement to see a two-hour Geraldo Rivera television special, THE MYSTERY OF AL CAPONE’S VAULTS. Wikipedia says about 30 million other people were also watching that night. I sat there eating maybe frozen pizza or fish sticks and French fries, with milk or orange soda.
Oh boy! Al fragging Capone, I knew who that was! [Breaking into a cartoon gangster impression] Yeah, see, I bet he had a lot of treasure in those secret vaults, see! I bet he had literal treasure chests filled with gold, see! Dead bodies—tommy guns—a stash of Cuban cigars—pictures of naked women! Who knows?! But we’ll find out soon as a construction crew behind Geraldo slowly worked to tantalizingly chisel through the wall to [TV announcer] AL CAPONE’S VAULTS!
I also knew who Geraldo was. My grandpa had angrily waved his hand in dismissal and said “ahhh, he’s just a ham,” which does actually sum up his career nicely.
Geraldo yakked on about Capone and his crime career and how you never know what’s just on the other side of this wall and wow maybe it’s filled with gold and cash! Each commercial break was an agonizing step closer.
Finally, after building suspense for two hours, the construction machinery burst through the wall of Al Capone’s vault! And there, Geraldo discovered the lost treasures of Al Capone—a few dusty, empty bottles. Trying to save face he commented that the bottles were antiques and might be worth something. A bitter smartass even at that age, I was like “yeah buddy, they’re worth 5 cents in Michigan.”
What a huge disappointment! It severely killed my expectation of things for life, which I suppose is kind of a good thing… life will let you down, get used to it.
But I’m glad to say those hard moments made the good ones all that much better.
Throughout my life there were also times of enchantment—moments where I believed in magic and ghosts and the wonders of the universe. But that goddamn Geraldo gave me this curse of a skeptical arched eyebrow, one that will expect a pile of dusty beer bottles in your alleged magical treasure vault.
Here’s some links!
RIP Rosemary Ellen Guiley, paranormal author and speaker. I met her briefly at a conference in Rockford and she signed one of her books, which is one of the favorites in my library– The Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology. Loren Coleman wrote an excellent retrospect of her career here: http://copycateffect.blogspot.com/2019/07/Guiley-obit.html
My book Apocalypse Any Day Now is available here: www.chicagoreviewpress.com/ApocalypseAnyDayNow
Speaking of, the Apocalypse Blog Book Club, which selects dystopian fiction to read will have a poll on a new title next week. You can find the club here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1482975718409410/