Chicago, Illinois – Inside it’s another busy day. Through the hallways, interns dash back and forth with coffee and papers and the latest demands from their higher ups. It seems for all the world like a modern office, far removed from things that happened almost a hundred years ago. But in the hush of a darkened room, the past will not be forgotten. Tragedies continue to leave their marks in the form of phantom footsteps and whispering voices. Even in a city the size of Chicago, things happen that cannot, nor should ever, be forgotten.
In the business of chasing ghosts, the only constant is how much things change. In many cases, the buildings that are reputed to be haunted no longer bear even the slightest resemblance to what they once were. But whatever their purpose, the buildings don’t seem to forget the important dates. No matter how many coats of paint, how much modern equipment, or how important the people inside, buildings always remember the time that was. And in many cases those memories pop up every now and again to say hello. It is this curious habit that saddles many buildings with the dubious title of haunted.
The building that was once called the 2nd Battalion Armory began its life in a fairly innocent way. Sure, it was used to house military weapons and such, but it didn’t seem to have too much tragedy in its past. But on July 24, 1915, all that changed.
On that date, between the Clark and LaSalle Street bridges, the Eastland Steamer waited for her passengers just as she had every day. On this day, however, her job was to take passengers to a company picnic for Western Electric employees and their families. Just how many tried to board the ship is unclear, but what is clear is that it was too many. As the ship attempted to leave port for what should have been a twenty-minute cruise, it capsized due to overcrowding. It rolled on its side, killing 835 men, women, and children.
With a small army of rescue workers, physicians, health officials, and good samaritans, the people of Chicago worked diligently, managing to save only about 250 passengers. The rest, all pulled from the water, were taken to the 2nd Battalion Armory, where they were laid out in the gymnasium to await identification from loved ones. It’s estimated that twenty whole families were ended that day, and the line to identify the bodies wrapped around the building. It was called the worst maritime disaster the city had ever seen and one of the worst tragedies of the nation.
For years people who passed over the bridges heard the cries of the dead from the river, and perhaps it is just busy modern life that drowns out their suffering on a city street. But in the Armory their cries can still be heard. Despite the haunted activity, an unlikely buyer turned the old armory into something most unexpected.
Those who work in the building have had their fair share of strange encounters with the paranormal. And most believe the restless spirits come from that fateful day when more than eight hundred bodies were laid out inside her walls. Most of the phenomena described are in the form of phantom sounds. Invisible giggling children roam the halls while, in some areas, the sounds turn to sobbing as the past mourns the lost dead. There are also stories of clinking glasses and the sounds of footsteps coming from empty rooms.
But sounds are not the only phenomena. There is at least one apparition who makes herself known. Dubbed the “Gray Lady,” she appears to be searching for someone. Whether she is still looking for a drowned victim, or was one herself, is unclear. Due to the number of deaths, identifying her has proven difficult.
The building once known as the Armory was purchased some time ago and turned into Harpo Studios. Yes, that Harpo Studios. The one run by Oprah. Yes, that Oprah. The Queen of Daytime uses the old building as her corporate headquarters for her television empire, movie studio, magazines, and every other aspect of her business. And the haunting has not stopped yet.
In fact, Oprah herself may have had some experiences, as in 1996 she did a program about the haunting of her studio. However, she no longer discusses the topic.
The building sits on Washington Blvd. for the world to see, but it is not open for public tours. The best way to get a peek inside is to reserve tickets for Oprah’s talk show.
If the haunting holds true to most patterns, activity should be stronger near July 24th, but this may be the last year people could get to visit as Ms. Winfrey has announced she will stop her show after 2010.
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