Forest Park is a dark tourist destination, a village of 14,000 where the dead outnumber the living 33 to 1. With Halloween on the horizon, and the recent success of Netflix’s Dark Tourist show, why not stay local and tour the many sites in Forest Park associated with suffering, haunting and, of course, death this season?
Forest Home Cemetery
As the sun lowers on the western horizon, walk through Forest Home, if you dare, and feel the wandering spirit of Belle Gunness, whose headless body is thought to have been buried there. Belle would advertise in a Lonely Hearts column in the newspaper that she was looking for a husband, and then kill the men who came as suitors. She is believed to have poisoned two of her infant children to get the insurance money.
Jewish Waldheim Cemetery
Enter Jewish Waldheim and catch a glimpse of the “Flapper Ghost,” dressed in black from head to toe. Back in the 1930s she could be seen at the Melody Mill Ballroom where she would dance with many of the men who came there and then ask one of them for a ride home. She would tell them she lived in the caretaker’s house, which used to be located in the cemetery. But when the man would drop her off, she wouldn’t enter the house but would run toward the tombstones and vanish from sight. She could even be seen occasionally during the daytime. The Melody Mill Ballroom was located where the North Riverside Police Department is now, and people passing by still report hearing the sound of the Glen Miller big band wafting in the evening air.
Showman’s Rest in Woodlawn
If you still have your wits about you, drive over to Showman’s Rest in Woodlawn Cemetery, where more than 60 victims of a circus train crash in 1918 are buried. The cemetery is rumored to be haunted and the sound of phantom elephants can still be heard sometimes at night. If you don’t see a ghost, the explanation might be what the Review heard from one expert on apparitions: “Ghosts often go through long periods of dormancy where sightings seem to trail off or completely stop. This is actually quite normal for spirits as it does take a tremendous amount of energy to manifest in a physical form. Sometimes ghosts simply need time to recharge their own internal batteries.”
Local lore has it that the Lobstein House on the 900 block of Elgin is haunted. John George Lobstein, a Chicago lumber mill magnate and cabinet maker built the Victorian home in the 1890s for his second wife, Adaline. The woman died in the house and many believe she continues to haunt it.
A 2006 Chicago Tribune article details psychics visiting the home, neighbors seeing “shadows” in the attic and anecdotes of weird noises coming from inside the house. Lobstein is buried at Forest Home Cemetery.
After a devastating fire in March, the crew at Andrea’s Restaurant came together to rebuild the eatery and will reopen the space under the name of longtime owner Charlie Philippou.
The Forest Park Plaza mall across the street is located on the site of a former torpedo factory. At one point, the diner was named the Torpedo Tap and later, the Armory Lounge. It served as an unofficial headquarters in the 1950s and ’60s for Chicago Outfit mob boss Sam Giancana, who lived in neighboring Oak Park.
Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore
Drop by Centuries & Sleuths and pick up The Feast of Blood by James M. Rymer or The Exorcist by William Blatty and read several chapters before the shadows lengthen.
Forest Park Public Library
And if you still think you won’t have nightmares, go to the Forest Park Public Library and check out a scary DVD to watch right before bedtime: maybe one of the eight seasons of Walking Dead; a boxed set of the Twilight Zone; or a copy of Frankenstein.
McGaffer’s Saloon is located on what was once a Jewish Cemetery company, Lehman & Gnaedinger. The company purchased the two lots in 1891 and constructed the tavern in 1914.
Craftsmen used to use the tavern’s basement to work on tombstones and craft cemetery benches. The mold for the benches is still there, along with some remnants of headstones and unused marble slabs.
The floor of the basement also displays some unusual features. Half of it remains unfinished, while the other half bears inscriptions from grave markers.
Tom Holmes and Nona Tepper