Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Weird Chicago site

Chicago, Illinois--What, you mean the fetor, the cops, the gangs, the smarmy rich people, the general rudeness of the people there, a basic climate of assholism, the 90 mph traffic on the freeways, the poverty, the town that found Lenny Bruce guilty, the thieves, Roger Ebert (OK, that's unfair), the Bears fans, organized crime, the gerrymandering, the South side (very little is worse than this), crime, and corruption of the place wasn't thrilling enough for you? Nope. There are ghosts in Chicago too, and I don't like the place.

One member of my father's side of the family whom I never met was a fireman in Chicago several decades ago. This guy stole things out of people's homes after they'd doused the flames. Charming, isn't it? My dad's immediate family owned a grocery store until the early-1950s--until my grandfather stopped paying protection money to the Outfit. That's Chicago.
Sure-sure, other big cities have these problems and some of them are worse. My reply to that is go to Canada's larger cities like London, Toronto, or Vancouver, for a North American comparison. By God, they're congenial in Toronto, and it's practically the same size as Chicago. Their cities are cleaner too, and they aren't nearly as rude, that's for sure. This is due to a different history, a less violent one.

At this point, I should mention the absurdity of the notion that Chicago is haunted by pointing-out the fact that the city barely existed before the 1830s as a large trading post. [Ed.--Perhaps some of the ghosts are Atlanteans and Lemurians. I jest!] Let's get this straight: Europeans come to the place, and all of a sudden we have European-style concepts of ghosts. Sure-sure, Native Americans believed in ghosts too, I know, but since they lived here longer, wouldn't they be the majority of the apparitions? No, the truth is that we ran them to the reservations too, and Chicago needs its tourists, just like Edinburgh does. Do ghosts have an expiration date?

Out of necessity, there are ghosts there, and not just around Stoney Island. There's Resurrection Mary, victims of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, the Haymarket Square anarchists, Al Capone, H.H. Holmes, but as far as I can tell, no Fred Hampton. Granted, Chicago's history is short, but it could be argued a lot has happened there in the last two hundred years, and not a lot of it was very pretty, hence the hauntings--except I just can't make that leap. By now, you've probably deduced that I don't believe in ghosts. This is correct. Yes, there was time when I did, but I was young.

I'm not an atheist, I just don't believe in ghosts. Is there something after this life? I doubt it. Why does there have to be? More likely, it's zip, zero, nada, just the inky-black unconsciousness you feel at the dentist, only it's forever. Now, how bad can that be compared to having to go to church every Sunday or being around most everyone living nowadays for more than five minutes? Maybe "ghosts" are some kind of phenomena we don't understand yet scientifically, but we should be past these kind of supernatural explanations by now. Chicago isn't Sicily...or is it? Why would anyone want to come back to this thing we call the human condition anyway, especially to Chicago? Couldn't these ghosts have a little bit more imagination? If I came back, it would be to Tahiti, get real.

Regardless of all this, "Weird Chicago" is a really great site, even though I have no respect for the belief in ghosts as a supernatural phenomena whatsoever or the for the city itself. Right, if I can enjoy it, you'll probably love it, and they conduct tours of some of the oddball sites of the town by the lake.

But seriously folks, where are all of the ghosts of Native Americans, French fur traders, and Vikings in Chicago? It's not an unfair question. But go to Weird Chicago and see how wacky the superstitious beliefs of Central European immigrants (my father's ancestors) who came to the Windy City were during the 19th century (shit, how about right now), never mind your own wacky ones. I don't like Chicago, you can have it, but it's a fascinating disaster area, and makes for a great snapshot of what the Apocalypse might look like. I still don't understand why people pay lots of money to live there, frankly, especially with the winters and the suffocating press of humanity.

So what's Chicago good for? That's right, pizza, condiments, potato chips, and sometimes the Sox and the Cubs. Pity the working-class people who have to live there. The place doesn't have the breadth of history of a London, so the plausibility factor seems low. The running theory seems to be that if you die violently that you have no choice but to come back, and since the city has such a storied past, they must be teeming with ghosts. If you want a taste of human iniquity, Weird Chicago has some historical ephemera worth looking at.
Or, just go there and smile a lot at people. That should work wonders.

Superstition and the obsession with the paranormal strike me as religion for the terminally-bored. Perspicacity? Hardly, it's just the obvious, and it's my lot in life to state it for all the oogah-boogah people out there, the true believers in the inane.
Gots nuthin' to do with the bruthas, and for the record there was no Mrs. O'Leary's cow starting any fires in 1871, that's apocryphal. You build a city out of matchsticks, and whaddaya expect? It was frat boys, that's who. Who else could it have been?

And while I'm at it, why do so many bands born-and-raised in Chicago sound so namby, so wimpy and pathetic? That's all you can come up with living--if you want to call it that--in the midst of a Bosch-painting? There's a word for people like that: bourgeois. I don't like you or your town. What do I look like, a country & western band shouting-out names of towns for audience approval? Nonetheless, Weird Chicago is a great site that at the very least is educating people on some of the urban history of the city. But ghosts are really just our fear of death, I don't believe in them as the survival of personality. The Japanese love Chicago, though I don't know why.


A gracious comment from Adam Selzer of Weird Chicago (excerpt): "There are stories of ghosts of the victims of the Ft. Dearborn Massacre around 16th and Prairie, but I don't know of any about the fur traders that are at all reliable (unless the stories that Jean LaLime is haunting the Tribune building are true). There are plenty of stories about "indian burial grounds," and native american curses, but I don't think any of them are true - most of them are the products of less reputable tour guides looking to embellish a story."