The convention hotel, home of presidents … and ghosts – CBS Chicago


CHICAGO (CBS) – The Congress Hotel – officially called the Congress Plaza Hotel & Convention Center – is a striking sight along the Michigan Avenue street wall in downtown. Its red neon sign is particularly glowing at night, especially when it serves as the backdrop to the Buckingham Fountain in the summer.

But have you ever been inside? Tony Szabelski from Chicago Hauntings Ghost Tours a, and he says he always tells people on tour that if there’s one place in Chicago that’s haunted, it’s the Congress Hotel. He describes it as being “very scary” on the inside.

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The hotel at 520 S. Michigan Ave. opened in 1893, in anticipation of the Chicago World’s Fair in Chicago. It was originally called the Auditorium Annex as an annex to the Auditorium building on the other side of what is now Ida B. Wells Drive.

“The original design was an annex with a facade designed to complement Louis Sullivan’s auditorium building across the street, at the time housing a remarkable hotel, theater and office complex,” said declared the hotel. on his website.

The auditorium annex was built by hotel developer RH Southgate, and the first section – or the north tower – was designed by architect Clinton Warren, with famed Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan as consultants, reports the hotel website. It included an underground marble tunnel leading to the auditorium building called “Peacock Alley,” notes the hotel’s website.

The South Tower was designed by renowned architectural firm Holabird & Roche, who also designed Chicago City Hall, the southern half of the Monadnock Building, and many other historic downtown buildings. The South Tower was built between 1902 and 1907 and included a lavish banquet hall called the Gold Room.

(Credit: CBS 2)

Another ballroom, the Florentine Hall, has been added to the north tower. Chicago’s elite held their parties in these venues, along with two other venues named Elizabethan and Pompeian, according to the hotel.

The hotel was renamed the Congress Hotel in 1911. The Elizabethan Room became the Joseph Urban Room, which featured a revolving bandstand and hosted an NBC radio show fearing Benny Goodman in the 1930s, according to the hotel.

The hotel notes that it was also known as the “House of Presidents”, with visiting Presidents Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Franklin Delano Roosevelt then that they were discussing campaign strategies. . It was at the Congress Hotel in 1912 that former President Teddy Roosevelt announced he was quitting the Republican Party and founding his own new political party, and made a comment to the media who coined the nickname of “Bull Moose”. It was at the same hotel in 1971 that 3,000 people filled the Great Hall for an address by President Richard Nixon to the Midwest Chapter of the AARP and the National Retired Teachers Association, the hotel says on its website.

But the Hotel du Congrès also has a long-standing reputation as the house of ghosts.

Szabelski notes that there have been numerous documented suicides at the hotel – too many to attempt to start a full list.

One of the most infamous suicides was that of the veteran of the Spanish American War, Captain Louis Ostheim of the United States’ First Artillery. This happened on April 8, 1900, when the hotel had only existed for about seven years.

It was the day before Ostheim’s wedding, and he was alone in the hotel. He pointed a gun to his temple, pulled the trigger, and ended his life – with no suicide note and no apparent reason given for the suicide. As noted in a Chicago Tribune report reproduced online by Dr Neil Gale, two wedding rings were found in the room with Ostheim’s body.

Szabelski notes that some say Ostheim suffered from night terrors brought on by war trauma that could have been the cause of his suicide.

Sightings of the Ostheim ghost have been reported throughout the building. He is known as the Shadow Man of Congress, Szabelski noted.

Congress hotel

(Credit: CBS 2)

Meanwhile, on the 12th floor of the North Tower, Szabelski notes that some doors do not match. The carpets are very old and worn, the woodwork is chipped and some of the paint does not match when walking down the hall either. Some parts of the hallway are wider, then they get narrow.

So you might not literally find two little girls down the hall saying, “Come play with us Danny. For eternity. ”But Szabelski says people experienced something unsettling close to this scene from Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece,“ The Shining ”.

Szabelski says the 12th floor is believed to be haunted by a little boy named Karel Langer, who died a gruesome death at the hotel in 1939.

In August 1939, Adele Langer, 43, came to the hotel with her two sons – Karel Tommy, 6, and Jan Misha, 4 1/2. They had arrived in the United States about a month earlier from what was then Czechoslovakia, where they had fled when the Nazis took power.

The Langers were trying to establish their residence in the United States. Adele Langer first came with her two boys on a six-month visitor visa while her husband, also named Karel Langer, stayed behind to try to sell their house and textile factory in Prague. , according to a contemporary Chicago Tribune account.

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In the newspaper, senior Karel Langer reportedly said his wife had been depressed since leaving Czechoslovakia and had spoken of killing herself “and taking the babies with her”. The boys had recently attended a camp to learn English, but they didn’t like it and went home, according to the Tribune account.

So, on a bright sunny August afternoon, Ms. Langer first took the kids to the Lincoln Park Zoo, and they all had a wonderful day, Szabelski said. When they returned to the hotel – in a room which, according to the contemporary Tribune article, was on the 13th floor, but which Szabelski and other sources said was at 12 – Ms Langer threw away her two young sons by the window for their dead. She then jumped out the window herself.

The three bodies landed below on Michigan Avenue.

The ghost of Karel, 6, is now believed to haunt the 12th floor. It is said that reports did not cover his death very thoroughly at the time – focusing more on his younger brother Jan Misha.

Szabelski reports that there is a security guard named John who worked at the Congress Hotel for 30 years and still does. John didn’t believe in ghosts until he started working at the Congress Hotel, Szabelski says.

John said he once encountered the spirit of this little boy on the 12th floor. He said he got a call saying a little boy was running around and making a lot of noise on the 12th floor, so he went upstairs to investigate.

John said he didn’t see anything at first, but then, as he stood at the end of the hall, he saw a little boy – who didn’t look much different from a little boy. typical, except her clothes were older and worn. John reported that he pointed at the little boy and said, “Hey, you’re not supposed to be here running!” So what did the boy do? John says the boy just looked at him, smiled and slowly passed out right in front of his eyes.

After that, John believed in ghosts.

John reported meeting the little boy a few other times after that at the Congress Hotel – and also met the boy once very briefly in his own home. Szabelski says John was home one night, settling in for a quiet evening – sitting in his chair, putting on some soft music and preparing to open a book to start reading. When he looked up for just a fraction of a second, the little boy was standing in front of him. And then just as quickly, the boy left.

Meanwhile, Szabelski reports that Room 441 on the fourth floor of the South Tower is considered by many to be the most haunted room in the hotel. Many people report calling security because they see a woman standing or hovering over the bed, pushing or pulling on the bed, or pushing or pulling on the covers.

No one knows exactly who this woman is, but many people have come out against her, Szabelski says. Some say they even see her in and out of the bathroom.

Congress hotel

(Credit: CBS 2)

The ghost of a male vagrant with an ankle paw has also been throughout the building. He acquired the nickname “Peg Leg Johnny”.

There was also a retired judge who lived full time at the Congress Hall after his retirement. Szabelski reported that in life the retired judge was a bit of a prankster, walking the halls with TV remotes and standing in front of people’s doors – flipping their channels when they least expected it. Szabelski said people thought it was a ghost flipping their chains, but it was just this rapscallion from a retired judge.

But the story now, Szabelski reports, is that people still think it’s a ghost flipping their TV channels – and it is. He’s still the retired judge, except he’s dead now. Security reports receive numerous calls from people saying their TV channels are changing on their own.

Szabelski says celebrities who have stayed in Congress have also reported experiencing strange things. A celebrity said he saw what appeared to be a shadow figure moving back and forth in his closet, and he was so panicked he left the hotel, went down the block and decided to stay at the Blackstone hotel instead.

There are also rumors about the ballrooms. In the Gold Room, which some say is haunted by the ghost of a woman dressed in old Victorian clothes. Some have even photographed it.

And besides being the house of presidents and the house of ghosts, it looks like the Congress Hotel could even be the house of ghosts of presidents.

As previously reported, former President Theodore Roosevelt told the hotel he was quitting the Republican Party and forming a new party – but the background was that he had just lost the presidential nomination for the GOP this year. -the. Teddy Roosevelt would have made the announcement in the Florentine room of the hotel. Some say he is now haunted by his ghost.

Congress hotel

(Credit: CBS 2)

The Congress Hotel has been voted in some online polls as one of the most haunted in the country. Szabelski says he certainly considers it the most haunted in Chicago.

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Video produced by Blake Tyson. Story written by Adam Harrington.

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