By most accounts, the haunting of Chicago began in the summer of 1812. At that time, Chicago was not yet named Chicago. It was just a small settlement and military post called Fort Dearborn. Fort Dearborn was home to Chicago’s first white settlers. The fort stood near the mouth of the Chicago River. That is where the river joins Lake Michigan and where the Michigan Avenue bridge is today.
In fact, if you travel downtown to the bridge, you can see the outline of the fort in the sidewalk. Pieces of metal in the cement mark where the fort once stood. In the side of the bridge next to these metal markers are sculptures of scenes from Fort Dearborn’s history. When the fort was built in 1803, Native Americans were living in the area. The arrival of white soldiers and settlers greatly disrupted the Native Americans’ way of life. Although the two groups didn’t always get along, they kept things peaceful for the most part. That is, until a war broke out.
The Fort Dearborn Massacre
In 1812, fighting began between the United States and Great Britain. Some groups of Native Americans sided with the
British. The settlers and soldiers living at Fort Dearborn were ordered to leave the settlement in case it was attacked. Nearly 150 of them began the long trip east on foot toward Fort Wayne, Indiana. There they could safely live until the fighting ended. However, they never made it.
When the group reached the sand dunes along the shore of Lake Michigan, near what is now 16th Street and Indiana Avenue, a band of Native Americans loyal to the British attacked. The Native Americans killed most of the settlers and took the rest prisoner. This was known as the Fort Dearborn Massacre. Some of the prisoners later died. Others were kept as hostages and sold to the British. After killing the settlers, the Indians returned to Fort Dearborn and burned it to the ground. Some Soldiers who had remained behind burned with the fort.
Fort Dearborn’s Ghosts
The bodies of the victims of the Fort Dearborn Massacre were left on the sand dunes, exactly as they had fallen. When American soldiers returned in 1816 to rebuild the fort, they found the victims’ skeletons still in the sand, right where they had died. Many years later Chicago was established as a city and the area of the massacre was developed. At that time people started to see strange things near the massacre site, including figures that seemed to float above the ground. These figures were described as looking “old-fashioned.” They wore odd clothes from an earlier time and
looked lost and sad. These figures continued to be seen until a statue was built on the site ninety years later as a memorial to the massacre victims.
The victims of the Fort Dearborn Massacre seem to have stopped haunting the place where they died. The same is not true of the soldiers who reportedly died in the fire at the fort itself. Sometimes, passersby on the Michigan Avenue bridge are startled to see soldiers marching there. These ghost soldiers are dressed in old-fashioned military clothes. The soldiers quickly disappear after appearing for only a few moments!
Old Ghost of John Lalime
Another Fort Dearborn phantom doesn’t haunt the fort’s former site. Instead, this ghost shows up at a totally different place a nightclub called Excalibur. This club is located in a popular tourist area about a mile away from the former fort. Many people who have gone to Excalibur to dance report having seen a ghostly figure slipping through the halls and up the stairs. Bartenders at the club have also complained that some invisible person keeps breaking all of the glasses behind the bar!
Some ghosthunters think Excalibur is haunted by a man named John Lalime. Lalime was supposedly killed by Chicago’s first white settler, John Kinzie. Kinzie fought with Lalime over the ownership of his cabin. This house was located directly across the river from Fort Dearborn. After Kinzie killed Lalime, he buried him in the front yard of the cabin. Lalime’s bones didn’t stay there though. They were later dug up and given to the Chicago Historical Society. At one time the Chicago Historical Society was located on the same site the Excalibur nightclub occupies today.
Some people familiar with the story believe that Lalime wants his bones returned to the grave on the property he claimed was his. Too bad-he’ll never get his wish. The old Historical Society building burned to the ground during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Everything inside was destroyed, including priceless documents, precious artiacts … and the bones of John Lalime.