On the very first morning of my stay at the Congress Plaza Hotel I heard mutterings and whispers in the lift of suspected hauntings. These whispers continued right through my seven night stay. The initial reflex action was to consult Mr Google, but I put this off until later for fear of reading something that may have made me freak out without good reason.
When I did consult Google, I found out that our very own Pete Evens didn’t last an hour at the hotel. “I grabbed my bags and pretty much ran out! I bypassed checkout, jumped straight in a cab and got the %$&# outa there”.
Side effect of activated almonds maybe?
Well Pete, this girl managed to survive seven whole nights at the hotel. But I will agree with you that some of the halls are a little creepy. When I investigated I found out there are believed to be numerous ghosts gracing the rooms and hallways of the Congress Plaza.
Before you read any further I should make something quite clear. Yes I do believe in things that go bump in the night. I have encountered unexplainable happenings in the past and had the hair on the back of my neck stand to attention. Yes, I do believe in spirits.
The Congress Plaza Hotel was originally constructed in 1893 to accommodate visitors to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition (now World’s Fair). An enormous hotel, which takes up an entire block on South Michigan Avenue in Chicago.
The hotel has a bit of a shady past. It is said that America’s first serial killer, Dr HH Holmes, meet his young female victims in the lobby of the hotel. (This isn’t proven, but makes a great story) The young ladies were seeking employment in his pharmacy. Instead he would end up killing them in his torture ‘castle’ a few blocks away.
It was home to Al Capone (some say he even owned it at one stage), supposedly residing in a suite on the 8th floor of the North tower. His spirit is said to haunt the halls. Though according to records Capone never stayed there, nor owned it, at least not under his own name.
These are but a couple of the stories of past patrons of South Michigan Avenue’s grand dame.
The Congress Plaza has seen better days. In its prime it would have been a stunning and majestic hotel. These days the old girl is a little rough around the edges and is in need of a major overhaul. I think the tattiness adds to the haunted feel.
When I investigated I find there are said to be numerous ghosts that reside at the hotel. Rooms with reputations that make the movie 1804 resemble a trip to Disneyland.
So when in Rome, you leave the security of your hotel room on the 11th floor, grab the camera and go for a walk to investigate. Remember I knew nothing about the alleged ghosts until the last night of my stay.
I am lucky with the situation of our room, the corridor it is on has windows to daylight on one side. This makes it feel quite airy and comfortable. When I go exploring I find that this is a welcomed rarity in the hotel. You see only the floors from 9 to 12 have an internal open space to the heavens. And only the rooms located above and below me on these levels have corridors with windows. All other corridors have rooms either side and no natural light, which does make if feel very creepy.
Internally the hotel reminds me of the one in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. No windows and very long corridors. As I walk around the corridors I do wonder if I am going to run into the twins asking me to come play with them.
Certain areas of the hotel feel creepier than others. There is wallpaper peeling off the walls, ceilings in disrepair, dank smells in certain areas and just a general feeling of neglect.
The 12th floor of the North Wing has been reported as the most haunted area of the hotel. I am staying one floor below on the 11th floor of the North Wing. When I find this out it gives the process of heading up there to visit the ice machine a whole new meaning. In fact I send Mac up there on our last night, of course I don’t tell him why, I just proclaim laziness.
Prior to my knowledge, I did feel a little spooked heading up to the 12th floor, but I put this down to how old the hotel was. I kept feeling uneasy each time I was about to walk down the stairs back to level 11, almost like I am going to be pushed. Each time I erase the thought out of my head and regard myself as an idiot.
But maybe this is the reason. The 12th floor is meant to be the realm of Karel Langer, a six year old boy who was thrown from a window by his mother Adele in the late 1930’s. She also threw his brother Jan Tommy out the window before following them out the window to her own to death. So that then raises the question, who was I sensing about to push me down the stairs, Adele or Karel?
Peg Leg Johnny
The South Tower is home to Peg Leg Johnny, supposedly a hobo who was murdered at the Congress Plaza. I didn’t see any peg legged ghosts while I was there, but there are reports up to 2006 of seeing him.
Yes, of course I had to go find the notorious room 666. It is meant to be so haunted, that it has to be sealed shut to protect us all.
There is no room 666…………
I have read that it is actually an office, but alas I found no office either. Numbering goes straight form room 664 to 668.
In another area of the hotel I did find this non marked room. It seems to be securely shut compared to all of the other rooms in the vicinity. May be this is the room? I took the photo and split. Still had thoughts of the twins showing up wanting to play.
Another extremely haunted room is room 441, but this one you can actually stay in. If you do, expect to encounter a shadowy presence at the end of your bed. Objects may move and you may hear strange sounds. It is reported that security is called to this room more than any other room in the hotel.
I did go searching for this room, but found myself walking the halls of level four of the North tower with out any luck. The room numbers didn’t make much sense. Then I decided to walk across (on the same level) to the South tower. Again I walked and couldn’t find the room in the rabbit warren of corridors. It was then a very uncomfortable feeling came over me and I decided that a photo of room 441 wasn’t as important as heading back to the lift and getting out of there.
The Florentine Room
This room is actually a ballroom, but many unexplained and spine tingling occurrences have happened here. Reports of humming, of a ghostly women who will whisper in your ear and then there are phantom gunshots. To add to this, keys on the piano have been known to tinkle without assistance. I didn’t visit the Florentine Room.
For more ghostly stories head over to Adam Selzer’s Mysterious Chicago blog. He also quashes one of the most famous ghost stories of the hotel, the mystery hand. The mystery hand is meant to be the hand of a worker who was sealed up in a wall of the hotel. Seems it is pure fiction, a story started by a clever photo and Adam.
The only other strange compulsion I had while I was staying at The Congress Plaza was to ensure the door to our bathroom was shut. Not just at night when heading to bed, but I felt the need to make sure it was shut at all times. It was only after I was back in Sydney that I discovered a few people have reported seeing a shadow from the corner of their eye in the mirror of their room. A glimpse of a shadow staring at them from the bathroom. The bathroom didn’t make me feel comfortable at all.
The Congress Plaza Hotel isn’t a bad place to stay. I can’t say it is somewhere I would want to stay again. Our room was comfortable enough with a view of the rooms opposite us. There was free Wi-Fi. Staff were hit and miss. Some were really lovely like the porter who went out into the rain at 5.30am one morning to hail a cab for me. Then there was the miss, like the Irish girl in the bar, who seriously was in need of a shot of happiness and most of the wait staff were in need of a jab of happiness too.
If you have stayed anywhere haunted please share your story below. Who doesn’t like a good spooky ghost story? Pete, we’ll let you begin.
You can read more about Pete Evan’s experience here.
The Congress Plaza Hotel
520 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL, USA
Tel: +1 312 427 3800