I—along with about 100 other people—spent a recent Saturday night on a ghost tour.
This was the annual Irvington ghost tour, led by Allan Hunter, a self-proclaimed ghost hunter. He regaled us with ghost stories about different buildings in the neighborhood while leading us around the neighborhood after dark, drawing us into the history of Irvington, Indiana, and Chicago. Unsurprisingly, Hunter is a retired history teacher—and a fabulous spinner of tales.
Given the incredibly large number of people on the walking tour, I was tempted to walk away. How would we be able to hear the guide?
I am glad I didn’t walk away. I learned a fabulous amount and now am apt to return to Irvington in the daylight to wander the streets, enjoy the architecture, and recall the stories.
The Masonic Lodge in Irvington, which contains heavy wooden doors that swing open and shut of their own accord, just happens to be lodge number 666.
Diagonally across the street was the site of a robbery by John Dillinger. The building is now haunted by a friendly spirit—probably not Dillinger’s ghost—that routinely warns the current owners of impending mishaps (fires, robberies, etc.).
Around the neighborhood we tromped, stopping in a grassy area by a low brick wall—the site of evil ground where the ashes of a nearby murder victim were buried. Across the street was the site of the house where the serial killer of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, H.H. Holmes, lived briefly and committed another murder—the murder that resulted in the buried ashes in the evil ground.
(Holmes’ Chicago murders are chronicled in The Devil in the White City, which is slated to be a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Until recently, Holmes’ Irvington chapter was unknown to the author.)
The house was razed to the ground and another house built on top of the cellar. Allan waxed on about Holmes’ exploits and the modern-day hauntings in the house.
There were plenty of other grisly (and not so grisly) stories about places in Irvington. In one of the neighborhoods that we traipsed through, a house with white pillars—something that would have looked in place on the set of Gone with the Wind—stood out. This turned out to be the house of D.C. Stephenson, the Grand Wizard of the KKK who basically ran Indiana during the 1920s.
A few blocks away stood the house of the woman he kidnapped, raped, and brutally attacked so severely that she later died of her wounds. Fortunately, before dying, she dictated a deathbed disposition to a lawyer, a disposition that led to the arrest and conviction of Stephenson and ultimately to the downfall of the Klan in Indiana. (A silent but HUGE thank you to Madge Oberholtzer.) A white woman is now seen in her bedroom window during times of heat lightning.
Like the ghost in the same building that Dillinger robbed, not all spirits inhabiting Irvington are to be avoided. The spirit, supposedly of Bona Thompson, imparts a serene calmness and comfort to all who enter the Bona Thompson Memorial. Built by her parents after her untimely death from typhoid fever, the building is the sole remnant of the original Butler campus in Irvington.
Our last stop was where the train carrying Lincoln’s body to Springfield passed through Indianapolis. Over the years, various people have witnessed the Lincoln ghost train. The train briefly appears, draped in black crepe with soldiers guarding the body of Lincoln.
Whether these stories about the hauntings are true or not, the Irvington Ghost Tour was an evening of fascinating tales woven with history. Hunter is a master speaker. Hearing him speak is reason enough to attend.