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.
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.