Who doesn’t love a good ghost story three days before Halloween, especially when they’re friendly ghosts? As WGN’s Julian Crews reports, one of Chicago’s most historically significant buildings and biggest downtown attractions may hold more than cultural events and daytime visitors.
“Chicago Cultural Center was originally built as Chicago’s first central library”, says City of Chicago historian Tim Samuelson. “It wasn’t finished until 1897. Every person in Chicago could feel that this belonged to them, a glittering place of marble, mosaics, beautiful lights, decorations.” Today, the cultural center has been magnificently restored, and is welcoming, free, and open to all during the day. Samuelson says night sometimes brings a different feel. ”It has a little bit of mystery to it at night let’s say.” Leonardo Rodriguez has been a production assistant at the Cultural Center for 15 years. “Even though I love this building, at that particular moment I was like I want to leave this place now.” Rodriguez now works days. But years ago, he was setting up for an event that kept him here, working alone, in the middle of the night. “Did I just see what I just thought I saw? I was pretty much going through the routine, and then that’s when I did the double take. That’s when I realized that I saw someone.” That someone was a woman. “It was right in this spot right here. I’m looking at a person and as I’m adjusting my eyes to the lighting, that’s when the image just seemed to dissolve away. It got a little creepy for me. I wasn’t afraid, but at the same time I knew that I didn’t want to be in this room anymore.” Leonardo took the elevator from the 3rd to the 5th floor, where for a second time that night, he experienced shivers up his spine. “After rationalizing that one, I was telling myself, how do I rationalize this?”
He was setting up rows of chairs for an event the next day, “It’s almost too simple,” something he’d done hundreds of times. “To set up 5 rows like this and then to find one like this, (he turns one chair backwards) I kind of found that unusual. That’s when I realized it was time to go home.” The most repeated sightings are not of a woman, but a man, Frederick Hild, Chicago’s first librarian and the reason the cultural center exists at all. Tim Samuelson picks up Hild’s story. “And he was suddenly removed from office. I’ve never seen exactly what he died of. But some people said he died of a broken heart.” Tim uses a flashlight to point out Hild’s old office. “This door led right into the private office of Frederick Hild. Who knows what presence people detect here. This is the location where many people who feel spirit presences have felt the presence of somebody standing, almost in this exact spot. One description was that the person looked very sad. If Frederick Hild could make his presence known, the Chicago Public Library certainly would be the place that he would be.” Leonardo Rodriguez has never seen anything again like he saw that night a decade ago. “I’m sure there are people like me that maybe saw something but just kept it to themselves because who do you tell? I look at it the night that is my night, that was something between me and this building.” And though Samuelson has never seen anything with his own eyes, he’s heard enough stories to think there just may be something to these sightings and hot spots. “Now mind you, I don’t go around thinking about these sorts of things. But when you hear enough people say the same thing about the same places you start going hmmmmmm.” Julian Crews, WGN News.
Could it be that old souls are coming back to visit a building they loved? Both Samuelson and Rodriguez hope they’ll get a chance to come back someday. They also hope more people will come see the cultural center for themselves. For more information, click these links.