While wandering Chicago’s theater district last summer, I decided to locate the tragically named “Alley of Death” I had read about online while looking for possible paranormal spots to check out on my next trip. Because isn’t that the kind of thing everybody looks for when they have a free day to spend in the city? (I kid.) The story behind this is really quite horrific, and the tragedy is one of the main reasons there are so many fire safety precautions implemented in modern theaters today.
It began with a matinee showing of the musical comedy “Mr. Bluebeard” on December 30, 1903. The Iroquois Theater was new, grand and packed full with an audience of nearly 2000 patrons- most of them women and children enjoying their winter break. A stage light caused a small spark to ignite some fabric on the stage. This was not uncommon back then- most small stage fires were quickly put out, so panic did not ensue right away. When lowering the asbestos curtain failed to quell the flames, stage hands tried to calm the crowd but the fire became uncontrollable and terrified patrons attempted to stampede their way to the exits. A combination of mob frenzy and lack of stairways and functioning exit doors created bottlenecks that allowed no escape. Suddenly, a back draft from a stage door created a fireball that swept through the theater killing almost everyone left in its path. Those in the balconies that made it close enough to the exits jumped to their death in the alley, cushioning the fall for others. The death toll was near 600 or so and bodies were stacked up 6ft high in that alley way. Next door businesses opened up their doors as a makeshift morgue until the bodies could be identified and moved elsewhere. The fire itself was over in just 30 minutes.
Today the James M. Nederlander Theatre (formerly the Oriental Theatre) now occupies the place where the Iroquois once stood. And unassuming foot traffic and actors alike use the alley daily to pass through- there is no formal marker there to pay tribute to the great tragedy, yet today all theaters are equipped with functional and life saving emergency protocol because of it. I would love to spend more time ghost hunting in the theater district- do you have any paranormal stories from Chicago? Let me know! Happy wandering!
Note: All historical photos and info were taken from either Wikipedia, Smithsonian or Chicago Tribune sites. All current photos taken by me.
If you consider yourself a Chicago history buff, or just love exploring old cemeteries, then this is a must see on your wanderlist. This was one of my first solo trips and also the first time I took my camera out with me to get something higher quality to post on social media than my usual phone shots/Instagram edits.
From legend of little Inez Clarke, whose statue is said to fearfully “escape” from it’s glass case on stormy nights, to the terrifying stare of the “Eternal Silence” monument.(who I could barely look in the face long enough to get a picture, it was THAT scary in person)- you are sure to walk away from this place with at LEAST few chills. I have to say, the eeriest part of the day for me, was when I FINALLY found the grave of Inez Clarke, whose ghost, in addition to the disappearing statue is said to sometimes wander the area around her family’s plot. They are buried under the shade of this huge sprawling tree with little wind chimes hung on the lowest branches. And yes they started chiming creepily. Of course, it was only the wind but I truly felt like I could have been in the scene of a horror movie as I sat there in the grass wondering what exactly I was going to do if I DID happen to see a ghost by myself that day.. Unfortunately(or perhaps it is a good thing), little Inez did not come out to play with me.
I am a total sucker for these rural cemeteries, and Graceland is truly one of the best. Known as the “Architect’s Cemetery”, these tombs are impressive, creepy, mystifying and beautiful. I find the attitude towards and obsession with making death almost glamorous(at least by those who were rich enough and could afford these incredibly designed mausoleums) in the mid-19th century so fascinating and worthwhile to explore. Happy Wandering!
We attempted our exploration of Northern State Mental Hospital the same week as our trip to Devil’s Tower. If I remember correctly, we were actually TRYING to go to Devil’s Tower on this particular day, but didn’t have enough location information at the time to find it successfully. In an attempt to salvage the day, a quick Google search of other abandoned and possibly haunted locations nearby showed me we could probably find some success in Sedro-Woolley. I use the word “attempt” because unfortunately the hospital buildings themselves are off limits to the public. Some of the institution buildings were currently being used to house job corps offices and the others were in decent enough condition to be locked and secured(we try to be decent urban explorers and refrain from breaking and entering, especially since we had my 9 year old son with us that day. I’m a cool mom, I know).
Lo, all was not lost! Northern State was not just your average, every day mental asylum!
Opened in 1913 to house overflow from other Washington state mental hospitals, it’s progressive and “gentler” style of therapy- occupational therapy- meant that the grounds of the hospital included several hundred acres of farmland, barns,workshops and a cannery for the patients to use. At its peak through the 1950s, the hospital was completely self-sustaining. There is also a cemetery on the premises, although most of the graves are sadly unidentifiable or barely marked. Several of the buildings remain intact enough to walk through and they are now part of a large recreational park owned by the state that includes a disc golf course as well as trails for walking. We stumbled across the disc golf course and encountered a nice lady riding her horse on the trails during our visit.
A few sources online say Northern State still used some of the more traditional and cruel medical practices of the time, others argue it was one of the “good” ones due to its progressive views and use of occupational therapy. Either way, being considered “insane” back then included a very broad spectrum of folks who were often left places like this to be forgotten by their families. The hospital closed in 1973. The dairy operation was shut down, and the remaining patients were either transferred or dumped out on the streets of Seattle. Very little was done to document or preserve the graves of patients who died there. I honestly thought I would feel way creepier vibes from a place like this, and perhaps had we made it in to the hospital buildings themselves, I would have. Mostly though, I just felt a sadness over the forgotten people who lived and worked there. Thankfully, it is historically registered and the state as well as a local business have taken interest in putting the remaining property to good use instead of tearing it down. Overall this is great stop for those looking for an easy access urbanex- let me know if YOU have been here and have any paranormal experiences to share. Happy wandering!
Although it’s been almost a full 2 years, our trip to “Devil’s Tower” in Concrete, WA, stays at the very top of my favorite urban explorations list to date. Looking out over the east bank of Lake Shannon, a reservoir created by the Baker Dam in the 1920’s, sits the hollowed out remains of the Washington Portland Cement Company.
To reach the tower you’ll need to pass through the small valley town of Concrete, aptly named for the industry that gave it life up until the 1960’s when the factory shut down. I would be lying if I said that town doesn’t give me the creepiest vibes anytime I’ve driven through it. Aside from the looming concrete towers and abandoned school building that greet you on your drive in, there’s just a eerie, heavy feel about the whole place that doesn’t lift until you’ve made it out of city limits. That feeling lingered even as we made our way up past the dam and onto the gravel road, ending at the gate where you must leave your car and continue the journey on foot.
The buildings are breathtaking in spite of their losing battle with Mother Nature. It truly is a photographer’s paradise. At the time we started our adventures, I wasn’t using my camera like I do now, so shots captured were taken with my phone.
We carefully made our way through the main building, taking in what remained of what I can only imagine would have been such a loud, booming factory setting. The silence is haunting. Although we had no paranormal experiences personally on the day of our visit, I have no doubt that supernatural activities take place there. Several steep stair cases and rusted out ladders will lead you to some of the most stunning views outside on the upper levels of the building. Explore with caution and care, and know your limits.
Graffiti aficionados will not leave disappointed either. The place has been covered top to bottom with an impressive variety of artwork.
In addition to the main building there are a few other structures left standing on the property. I’m not really familiar with how a cement factory would have worked, but I assume the other buildings were there to store or continue sifting through the gravel/cement product. Many of the chutes, stairs, ladders and tunnels were in too much disrepair to try scaling, but we did what we could on foot. This place is a gem for anyone who truly appreciates the history and process of urban exploration. There is quite a bit of information floating around the web on the history of the company and the dam in the area for anyone wishing to dig a little deeper themselves and plan their own trip.