CHICAGO — This Halloween, we’re revisiting a spooky chapter of Chicago folklore. It involves, a man, a mural, and a murder mystery — but that’s only where this ‘ghost story’ begins.
In Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood, the flag of Sweden wraps a rooftop water tank, across Clark Street, at Simon’s Tavern, the spiced wine of Sweden stirs in its own kind of tank.
“The basis of all glöggs is port wine,” said Scott Martin, the longtime owner of Simon’s. “In port wine, you cook raisins, cinnamon sticks, cloves, cardamom seed, orange peels, almond, and a little bit of sugar. In the morning, brandy’s added – at least to our recipe here.”
Martin, 63, is bottling the brew for the holidays. It’s Simon’s signature blend of wine and spirits, but it’s an altogether different kind of spirit that is said to have haunted this bar.
“I absolutely believe in ghosts,” customer Jack Moore said. “This place is haunted.”
Simon’s dates back nearly 90 years, opening in 1934.
“The story is,” Martin said. “The ghost that was here was a female, a woman who had been murdered here.”
In the early 1900s, Andersonville became a destination for Swedish immigrants. Among them, according to a U.S. Census document from 1940, was Simon Lundberg of Sweden who navigated his way to the neighborhood and became a tavern keeper.
“He had heard other Swedes were moving to this area of Chicago, as that Swedish population was growing in Chicago,” Martin said.
Simon opened the tavern in 1934 – complete with its own basement speakeasy, the N.N. Club, which stands for the “No Name Club.”
At the time Lundberg was building the bar, the great luxury ocean liner the S.S. Normandie had captured the imagination of the world, as wave of hardship washed over the immigrant community.
“No one in this community who had suffered through the depression would have ever been able to afford to go on the Normandie,” Martin said. “But they could come in here and feel like the richest people in the world.”
Lundberg built a 60-foot solid mahogany bar – giving the Swedes a state of Normandie experience, right on Clark Street.
The luxury experience and cozy atmosphere made the bar a hangout for hunters commemorated by an artist who painted a wall-sized mural “The Deer Hunters Ball” which depicted real-life patrons of the bar.
“There’s one area – afterwards — that seems cut out and replaced,” Martin said.
It was a man dancing with a woman.
“The reality is the woman who used to be in there,” Martin said, “is the woman who was murdered.”
The legend goes that a member of Lundberg’s inner circle had an affair with that woman, and, according to Martin, she died mysteriously sometime shortly after. Lundberg ordered the mural to be changed.
“They actually cut her out of the mural,” Martin said. “To make the whole thing go away.”
But, the story holds, she didn’t go away. Her ‘lost soul’ remained at the tavern, slowly peeling the mural off the wall in the exact spot where she belonged.
“So, it makes sense that when you look at the mural where she had been, there’s just constant spider webbing away from it, it’s breaking apart and falling off the wall,” Martin said. “When you see it, it’s pretty creepy and people often ask, when are you going to fix that, and I’m thinking, ‘I’m not the one responsible, she is.’”
Adding to the spooky lore, Martin said over the years customers have reported paranormal activity, and he even had one spooky encounter: “Honest to goodness if something doesn’t grab my beard up, yank my beard,” he said.