I recently visited Chicago and stayed at The Congress Plaza Hotel, situated at 520 S Michigan Avenue facing Lake Michigan.
I knew from my best friend that CPH is allegedly the most haunted hotel in Chicago and admittedly was slightly apprehensive at staying there, but not enough to make me change my reservations.
Dating from 1893, the hotel has two towers and is clearly full of history. As most buildings built around this time and in this area of the Windy City, the Congress was built to provide accommodations for those attending the World’s Columbian Exposition. At that time, however, it was called the Auditorium Annex and was meant to be a complement to Louis Sullivan’s Auditorium Building which was situated across the street. By 1908, the 1,000 room hotel was experiencing innovations to keep up with modern conveniences and a new name was part of that change. The new name was derived from the hotel’s location at the intersection of Congress Street and S Michigan Avenue as well as the Congress Plaza portion of Grant Park across the street.
Over the years, the hotel has hosted many famous guests, among them many of our nation’s presidents. It was even referred to as the “Home of Presidents” among Chicago hotels. Presidents Cleveland, McKinley, F. Roosevelt, Taft, Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, and T. Roosevelt all stayed at the hotel. In the early 1900s, the White House presented a special chair to the hotel which was a favorite of Presidents Polk, Van Buren, Harrison and Harding. The chair can be seen in the lobby of the hotel.
Aside from mentioning further remodeling down through the years, that’s about all of the history the CPH’s official website offers. I haven’t, until now, read about any of who or what is supposed to be haunting this hotel to qualify it as “Chicago’s Most Haunted Hotel.” I saw vague references to experiences had by people who reviewed the hotel for travel sites, but nothing specific. Not until I decided to write this blog piece did I look into it, lest I be influenced by the stories.
Another blog indicates that there have been rumors of Al Capone’s ownership of the hotel, but no proof has ever been found that he even stayed at the hotel, much less owned it. The blog also sheds light on our first potential ghost, Peg Leg Johnny, a hobo who is assumed to have died in the area of the hotel, but at an undefined time.
I also found an article on rent.com which states definitively that Al Capone had a suite of rooms on the 8th floor of the North tower and haunts the hotel. A third potential spirit is that of a little boy who haunts the 6th floor, but there’s no indication of which tower he haunts, though.
In the 1930s, a young, Polish mother came to Chicago with her two sons. She was supposed to wait for her husband to arrive and then they’d start their new life on the city’s northside. He never came. The depressed mother threw herself and children out of a 6th floor window to their deaths. However, the body of one of the boys never made it to the city morgue. He’s thought to play tricks on guests staying on the 6th floor.
The article also mentions Peg Leg Johnny as being a rather goofy spirit who turns appliances off and on.
Then, of course, because every haunted hotel must have a specific room that is the creepiest of them all, CPH has Room 441. Naturally you can specify if you wish to stay in this room, but be warned there seems to be a female spirit who doesn’t take kindly to sleeping guests.
…a female specter haunts Room 441. Witnesses say she manifests as a shadow at the foot of your bed. She then kicks it to wake you. We don’t know how this spirit came to haunt the room. As far as we know, no one committed suicide or killed anybody there. Anyway, this scary lady wants the room for herself.
The final bit of haunting I read about is the “hand of mystery” that often appears in photographs from events in the Gold Room – one of the ballrooms in the hotel. Allegedly one of the workers got trapped when the wall was sealed up.
I have to say that from my perspective, the creepiest part of the hotel was the hallway because it had muted lighting and definitely and had a Shining vibe going on. I half expected to see two little girls standing at the end of the hall. Considering The Stanley Hotel, the inspiration for The Shining was built in 1909 and the second tower of the Congress Plaza Hotel was built around the same time, it stands to reason they’d resemble each other. I really liked the muted lighting, especially at night, because it meant less light shining in under the door when you’re trying to sleep. I had a one night stay in the North tower, but changed rooms the next morning because there was little in way of storage space and I couldn’t plug my phone charger into any of the outlets due to their design. The only time I really thought about any potential ghosts was that one night in the North tower because I sensed it was older and my only thought was, I’m too tired to bother with any of you if you decide to pass through here. What can I say? It was an exhausting day.
Would I stay in the Congress Plaza Hotel again? Absolutely! It has lots of character and it’s conveniently located in the heart of downtown and within walking distance of many many attractions. Don’t go there, though, if you’re expecting ghosts. I’m just not sure there’s anything there. Do, however, go if you like history. Beware of the leather couches in the lobby though…. I sat in one and almost didn’t move again. Lol