The Devil in the White City

Over the years here at The Witching Hour, we have shared various posts about the notorious serial killer (not America’s first) Dr H. H. Holmes who gained infamy during and after the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois. Links to those previous posts will be at the bottom of this entry.

Hulu is currently adapting Erik Larson’s novel The Devil in the White City, for a limited series release. As yet there is no air date, but we will remain on the look out for it. For those unfamiliar with the book, it’s the story of the men who gathered to plan and then build the Exposition. If you are familiar with Holmes’ story, you know that it is against this fair that he performed his most dastardly deeds of luring young women who traveled to Chicago to find work at the fair into his “hotel” where they were subsequently murdered.

While I am looking forward to at least giving the series a try, I have low expectations for this adaptation based on previous experience. Still, we won’t know until it’s tried.

Previous Posts on Holmes

America’s First Serial Killer
H.H. Holmes’ Murder Castle
H.H. Holmes’ Exhumation
Linking H.H. Holmes to Jack the Ripper
H.H. Holmes Letter Found


Fire at Famous Myrtles Plantation

It’s notable for being Louisiana’s most haunted house and most recently it’s become notable for one building that is no longer there.


The Myrtles Plantation to the right and the concrete foundation of the restaurant to the left.

Easter weekend of this year, my friend and I took a weekend trip just to get away from the stress of life. Our travel timing was such that we arrived in St Francesville, Louisiana around lunch time and since she doesn’t like eating at chain restaurants when we travel I suggested that we stop at the Myrtles Plantation because I recalled they have a restaurant on the premises. When we arrived, however, the place that the restaurant was located was just a flat slab of concrete. There were other new buildings I didn’t recall seeing before so I figured that the restaurant had been moved to one of the new buildings. Not so! My friend went to the gift shop and enquired about the missing building and was told that it was the responsibility of those Damn Yankees and would take about a year and a half to return.

We chuckled at the response, but never thought anything of it. In the end, we enjoyed a filling lunch at a new restaurant and smokehouse called The Frances.

Fast forward to last Friday, April 28th, and I’m with my cousins when I mention the trip and mention the restaurant at the plantation being missing. My cousin informed me that there had been a fire in the restaurant that completely destroyed it. The Carriage House Restaurant was taken down to the foundation and will be rebuilt. Although my cousin didn’t give me a specific date for the fire, a quick search revealed that it happened at the beginning of March of this year.

Fire leaves Carriage House restaurant at Myrtles Plantation partly burned and charred

The Congress Plaza Hotel

1462288160807 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 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.

1462288192040I 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


Congress Plaza Hotel

The Paranormal Corner

Chicago’s Most Haunted #1: The Congress Plaza Hotel at 520 S. Michigan Ave. in Chicago, Illinois

Historic Emmitt House destroyed by fire

Again with the lack of respect!!! I’m starting to hate people.

WAVERLY — A historic — and believed to be haunted — landmark in downtown Waverly was destroyed by fire Monday night.

The blaze at the Emmitt House restaurant at the corner of U.S. 23 and Market Street caught fire about 9 p.m. Monday. The Pike County Sheriff’s Office confirmed the building appeared to be a total loss.

U.S. 23 through Waverly was shut down to allow firefighters from several departments in Pike and Ross counties to battle the blaze. The conditions they worked under were far from ideal, with temperatures dropping from 0 degrees when the initial calls came in about 9 p.m. to 6 below at 11 p.m., with a wind chill factor of 31 below.

“It’s been an uphill battle since we got here,” said Waverly Fire Chief Randy Armbruster, who estimated there were about 60 firefighters from various departments on the scene. “It (the cold weather) has taken a toll in trying to get a handle on it.”

Full story

Scotland’s haunted castles: would you be spooked?

This is an awesome write up of various castles in Scotland which are haunted. I know we’ve probably covered many of these individually over the years, but it’s nice to have it straight from someone living there.

The Hazel Tree

I’m not at all sure what the collective term for ghosts is:   a presence, perhaps, or a clutch?

Anyway, just in case it has escaped your attention, Hallowe’en is approaching;  if you were unaware, a walk around any supermarket will put this right.  This means that, all across the country, people will be queuing up to be scared witless – or merely entertained, depending on their constitution – by a ‘fright night’ in a haunted castle or mansion.

I’m never quite sure what to make of Hallowe’en – it is over-commercialised, but its underlying roots are as dark as night, reaching back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain.   Spirits are said to be especially active around this time because the veil between their world and ours is very thin.

Fortified by this idea, I thought I’d take a look at some of Scotland’s most haunted castles and the stories…

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Haunted House: White House

1846 daguerrotype of the White House (courtesy Wikimedia Commons and the Library of Congress)

1846 daguerrotype of the White House (courtesy Wikimedia Commons and the Library of Congress)

Current White House Fun Facts:

  • There are 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, and 6 levels to accommodate all the people who live in, work in, and visit the White House. There are also 412 doors, 147 windows, 28 fireplaces, 8 staircases, and 3 elevators.
  • The White House has six floors—two basements, two public floors, and two floors for the First Family.
  • At various times in history, the White House has been known as the “President’s Palace,” the “President’s House,” and the “Executive Mansion.” President Theodore Roosevelt officially gave the White House its current name in 1901.
  • The White House receives approximately 6,000 visitors a day.
  • The White House requires 570 gallons of paint to cover its outside surface.
  • The White House was the biggest house in the United States until the Civil War.
  • The rounded portico that we are all familiar with (and seen in the photo above) is actually the rear of the house.
  • The White House has 5 ghosts.


Well, it might be difficult to believe the White House is haunted if you believe that ghosts tend to haunt the place the living person died, but if you believe that a ghost haunts a place well-loved during the lifetime of the individual, then it makes perfect sense.

The oldest of the ghosts is that of Abigail Adams, wife of second President John Adams. The Adamses resided in the House for the shortest period of time, while it was being constructed. Mrs Adams is most frequently found in the East Room of the White House, a place that despite it’s current grandeur, was used as a laundry room by Abigail. Various sources have stated she is seen carrying a laundry basket or simply an armload of clothing to or from the room. Her ghost was seen as early as 1913 as documented in The Washington Herald on March 2, 1913:

President-elect Wilson when he comes to Washington will take up his residence in a haunted dwelling. The White House has long been famous for its ghosts.

The most interesting of these spectres is that of a woman with a cap of antique pattern, a garment resembling a lace shawl, and widely distended hoop-skirts.She is not seen at midnight, as is customary with most well-regulated ghosts, but just before daybreak, gliding slowly along the hallway, which extends lengthwise through the middle of the White House. It is always from the west end to the east that she moves, and when she reaches the closed double doors, which give entrance to the East Room, she passes through them, as if they offered no obstacle, and vanishes.

Nobody can tell with positiveness, of course, but the supposition is that the phantom is that of Abigail Adams, the first mistress of the White House. She took up her residence in the mansion in the autumn of 1800, when it was as yet by no means finished, and history relates that she used the East Room (originally intended for a banqueting hall) as a laundry, drying the family wash there.

The next ghost in line of succession is that of Dolley Madison, wife of fourth President James Madison. Best known today for her heroic rescue of the Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington before the British set fire to the White House during the War of 1812, Mrs Madison’s ghost is actually an outdoor haunting.

The beautiful rose garden which is so well-known and often seen at the White House is there courtesy of Mrs Madison. Dolley loved her garden so much that 100 years later, when First Lady Edith Wilson (wife of President Woodrow Wilson) wanted to have the garden dug up, garden workers reported that Dolley’s ghost prevented them from complying with her request. Any inexplicable scent of roses in the White House is attributed to Mrs Madison’s lingering presence.

Ghost No. 3 is not a president nor a president’s wife, but actually that of a man who in life was bent on destroying the White House. In 1814, the War of 1812 was well under way and on August 24th of that year, 4,000 battle hardened British troops moved toward Washington, bent on destruction. Though the more valuable port at Baltimore lay not far away, the British leaders felt that a sharper blow would be to burn down the country’s capital.

One of the men sent to set the President’s Palace (as the White House was then known) also became an unfortunate victim of his own work. No name is associated with this ghost, but it appears that he returns on occasion in an attempt to finish the job. After the Truman-era renovations, it is believed the spirit was seen attempting to set fire to a bed. (No indication of a real fire or just a ghostly fire that he laid on the bed.) He has also been standing at the front door, torch in hand, ready to complete his part of the plot.

Water color and ink rendering of the burnt White House after the 1814 fire. (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Water color and ink rendering of the burnt White House after the 1814 fire. (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The fourth ghost which is believed to roam the halls and rooms of the White House is that of the seventh president of the United States: Andrew Jackson. Evidence of President Jackson’s ghost is generally found in the Rose Room where he can be heard either laughing heartily or swearing violently. Mrs Mary Todd Lincoln was the first to “discover” Jackson’s lingering spirit as she often had regular seances after the death of her son Willie. White House seamstress Lilian Parker also reported to have felt his presence over her while she worked.

The fifth ghost is also the most well-known of them all. The country’s 16th president: Abraham Lincoln. The most famous story surrounding that of President Lincoln was when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was visiting the White House.

…the British leader had just emerged from a bath, wearing nothing and smoking a cigar. He reportedly met the late president.

“Good evening, Mr. President. You seem to have me at a disadvantage,” Churchill allegedly said. He also refused to stay in the room after the encounter.

Another notable visitor also had an encounter with President Lincoln. In 1945, while on an official state visit, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands was staying in the Rose Room. One night as she lay in bed sleeping, she was awakened by a soft tapping at her bedroom door. Upon answering the tapping, she discovered Lincoln’s ghost on the other side of the threshold. She fainted dead away.

Many others have seen Lincoln’s ghost as well: Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, and Dwight Eisenhower; First Ladies Jackie Kennedy and Ladybird Johnson; and presidential children Susan Ford and Maureen Reagan.

Unusually, there is one ghost which makes an annual appearance on July 7th, in connection with President Lincoln: Anne Surrat. Ms Surrat was the daughter of Mary Surrat, allegedly one of the co-conspirators in the assassination of President Lincoln and the first woman to be hanged for her crime. Anne is occasionally spotted banging on the front doors, begging for her mother’s release while on her annual July 7th appearance, she is seen sitting on the steps. July 7th is the anniversary of her mother’s execution.


The Washington Herald, March 02, 1913

The British Burn Washington

Ghost stories part of the White House’s legacy

Top 10 haunted areas of the White House

Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands

Armistead’s Cost

Pickett's Charge Map

PIckett’s Charge Map – Click Image for larger view (at the Civil War Trust website).

The morning of July 3, 1863 began with an assault on Culp’s Hill, but General Meade had ordered troops back to Culp’s Hill to fortify Union ranks. By 11 am, the Union forces regained lost ground. The Confederate assault at Culp’s Hill was stymied. General George Edward Pickett’s brigade, having the only fresh troops on day three of the battle, was ordered, under General James Longstreet’s command, to assault the weakened center of the Union line. Confederate artillery commenced firing on Union troops on Cemetery Ridge at approximately 1 pm. Union cannons answered this bombardment with a cannonade of their own. At 3 pm, the battlefield quieted and the order to begin the infamous “Pickett’s Charge” across a mile of open battlefield towards a “copse of trees” was given.

Originally positioned at the rear of the brigade, General Lewis Addison Armistead, a Confederate from North Carolina, led his men forward during the charge. Union cannon began to fire at the advancing Confederate Army, mowing down as many as 20 Confederate troops at a time, as it advanced towards Cemetery Ridge. General Armistead’s “support troops” filled in the gaps and, eventually, ended up in the front of the Confederate charge.
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