Irvington ghost tour

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 World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 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.

Those elusive doctors

I went armed with a list of people. Along with a map of the cemetery and the sections where these people were buried, I started off thinking I was well prepared.

I left the car behind to traverse the cemetery on foot. What better way to get a feel for the place, to see the sights, the curve of the land, the iconography on tombstones than to stroll the grounds?

Often what seems good in theory doesn’t turn out to be good in reality.

I consulted my map and headed for the southern side of the cemetery, taking the tunnel under 38th street. The heat and humidity wasn’t too bad. Yet. The clouds mostly blocked out the sun and sporadically sent down kisses of rain.

First up, Dillinger. I thought his gravestone would be harder to find. Nope. There was a big Dillinger family stone with individual stones for him and what appeared to be his parents. I looked to either side of him wondering how his neighbors felt about being buried next to an outlaw. Not that the dead have much of a say in things like this.

Wow. It’s going to be easier to find the people I was seeking than I thought it would be!

I headed off into the thicket of the southern bits of the cemetery. George Washington Julian. I knew nothing about him except that he was an abolitionist and supporter of women’s rights, which makes him OK in my book. And there his tombstone was. I whispered thank yous to him.

I should have known that the universe was setting me up. Finding those tombstones was too easy.

I headed even further south, toward a huge section that housed African Americans. I was on a quest to find the two doctors I had learned about at the Indiana Historical Society last month: Dr. Harvey Middleton and Dr. Henry Hummons. Both were buried at Crown Hill.

I combed the section, daunted by its sheer size. The tombstones in this section were mostly flat on the ground. Not large monuments to proclaim a family or an important figure. Clearly the doctors weren’t being recognized after their deaths. Darn. This was going to be harder than I thought.

I started to systematically walk down the rows. Oh, this was going to take forever…but as long as I found them, it would be worth it.

As minutes ticked by, as row after row blurred into the next, the heat and humidity became oppressive. The backpack dug into my neck. My lips were dry. I realized how parched I was. And I brought no water with me. Good planning.

I was determined to find them. Where were they? I circumambulated the section. Maybe they were on an edge? Nope. Maybe if I randomly wandered the section I would find them? Nope. Maybe if I called on God to direct me to them? Nope. Maybe if I called on the dead to point the way? Nope.

I could feel my energy waning and my body becoming more dehydrated. Tick. Tick. My time to find them was running out. I was going to have to leave to track down water. Or risk joining them.

Discouraged and forlorn I scanned for the doctors again. And then started on the long trek back to my car for water.

After hydrating myself, I decided to dive back into searching for others on my list…but this time, to ensure that I don’t join them, I drove to the various sections rather than walk.

I quickly and easily found the Indiana Aids Memorial and sites for Col. Eli Lilly, Benjamin Harrison, Booth Tarkington, Bernard Vonnegut (Kurt Vonnegut’s grandfather), and of course, James Whitcomb Riley. They were easy to find with big memorials that screamed “I was an important person”.

But two other very important people, Dr. Harvey Middleton and Dr. Henry Hummons, were nowhere to be found. They seemed to lack the same sort of monuments that celebrate lives and defy us to forget the dead. They were awash in a sea of tombstones.

I had to concede. Section 98 got the better of me, refusing to offer up the secret spots of those elusive doctors.