The Congress Plaza Hotel in Chicago, Illinois is known as one of America’s most haunted hotels. It has seen countless deaths since its opening in 1893, when it was known as the “Auditorium Annex”. People have reported poltergeist activity, shadow people and sightings of full-bodied apparitions, including that of Al Capone and Teddy Roosevelt.
The Congress Plaza Hotel has an unsettling number of rooms which have been permanently closed off from the public due to paranormal activity; The owners have gone so far as to wallpaper over some of them.
The location also served as inspiration for Stephen King’s short story, 1408, which was later adapted into a film. 1408 is the story of a hotel room notorious for the number of suicides which have occurred there. However, the real murders and suicides that took place at the Congress Plaza Hotel are far more disturbing than anything Stephen King could imagine.
The Congress Plaza Hotel was originally built to house visitors to the World’s Columbian Exposition which took place in Chicago in 1893. During this time, notorious serial killer H.H. Holmes was luring multitudes of victims to his ‘Murder Castle’.
While it is unconfirmed, it has been rumored that he occasionally visited the lobby of the Congress Plaza Hotel to find young ladies who were looking for a job in the city. He offered them “work in his pharmacy”, but ultimately, these women would become his victims.
In 1900 Captain Lou Ostheim, a Spanish-American war veteran was staying in the hotel when he committed suicide by a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His death was eventually ruled to be accidental. This was one of the hotel’s earliest and most bizarre deaths; Allegedly, Ostheim took his own life on a Sunday morning immediately after waking from a nightmare. His family and friends knew of no of no possible motive and Ostheim was reported to have been in good spirits. In fact, just the day before he had gotten married; That day, he also purchased the revolver he used to take his own life. However, Ostheim had been suffering from severe insomnia and night terrors. It was theorized he must have awoken from one of his vivid and violent dreams, then shot himself without knowing what he was doing.
The South Tower of the hotel was built between 1902-1907. It is rumored that a worker was trapped and died behind the drywall during construction.
People have reported seeing a “Hand of Mystery” emerging from the wall and it is said to belong to this doomed construction worker. However, this is one of the few stories about the Congress Plaza Hotel that is unfounded. The “Hand of Mystery” was originally told as a joke, but over the years it has snowballed. Construction of the South Tower included the addition of The Gold Room and The Florentine Room.
Staff say The Gold Room is always found to be unlocked, no matter how many times staff have locked it. Strangely, photographs taken in front of the grand piano in this room usually come out with one or more people missing from the photo. Appliances that are completely disconnected turn on and off in a kitchen located adjacent from The Gold Room.
Guests and staff often hear women whispering, men humming, piano music, organ music, wooden wheels rolling on a wooden floor, gunshots and screaming in The Florentine Room but upon inspection, it is always empty. In this room, Theodore Roosevelt made the announcement that he would leave the Republican Party; His apparition is claimed to have been seen there a handful of times. Women report seeing a female apparition in the ladies’ restroom in the Florentine Room. This apparition is said to sometimes follow women out of the restroom and into the hallway.
In 1904 hotel guests witnessed an elevator operator fall 70ft. (21 meters) to the bottom of the elevator shaft. He was killed on impact.
In 1908, a frequent visitor to the Congress Plaza named Roy Gormley was in the hotel’s ballroom. Roy is said to have had a spending problem and was quickly approaching bankruptcy. He offered the orchestra $500 to play The Death March from Saul, a melody often played when soldiers are buried at sea. When the conductor told Gormley the orchestra did not know the tune, Gormley hummed it for them and they managed to play it for him. He gave them the $500 and bought a round of drinks for the entire orchestra, and a second round for the following Monday. He then retired to his room and shot himself.Also in 1908, an attempted murder-suicide occurred directly outside the hotel’s main entrance. Ruby Pishzak and her husband were shot by Ruby’s jealous lover. The couple reconciled as they lay bleeding on the sidewalk. However, they both survived the attack and Ruby filed for divorce soon afterward.
In the summer of 1916, a mining investor named Morse David and his wife formed a suicide pact; They were found in room 312 of The Congress Plaza Hotel, having ingested cyanide capsules. Mrs. Davis was still barely clinging to life and ultimately survived the suicide attempt. She claimed the couple had mistakenly taken the cyanide, believing it to be Epsom salt. She was sent to St. Mary’s Mission Home on Peoria Street in Chicago where she attempted to jump from a 3rd-floor window. Mrs. David was then admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
In 1919, a young woman was poisoned at a party being held in the Congress Plaza Hotel’s Pompeian Room and narrowly survived. In the same year, an opera singer named Charlotte Callies made an unsuccessful attempt to commit suicide by ingesting poison in her room in the hotel.
In 1920, at least one man was poisoned and killed at the hotel by prohibition-era moonshine.
A woman named Harriet Harrison from Galesburg, Illinois was staying at the hotel with her husband in July 1926 when she accidentally fell six stories down the elevator shaft into the basement and was killed on impact.
During World War I & II, The Congress Plaza Hotel was used to house immigrants and refugees from war-torn countries. In 1939, a 43-year-old Czech-Jewish woman named Adele Langer was staying at the hotel with her two sons, Jan Misha (4) and Karel Tommy (6). They were in the country on a six-month visa which was about to expire. Her husband was supposed to join them but was delayed and unreachable. Adele was anxious for her husband to arrive and becoming increasingly nervous that they would soon be deported. She fell into a deep depression and eventually suffered a nervous breakdown. On August 4, 1939, she and the children spent the day at the zoo.
When they returned to their room on the 12th floor of The Congress Plaza Hotel, Adele threw her two sons out the window before jumping herself. She died completely unaware that on that very day, they had received a letter informing the Langer family they had been offered permanent refuge in Canada. When Mr.Langer received the news that his family was dead, he reportedly threatened to commit suicide himself.
Sometime in the 1940s, a long-time resident of the hotel who had a wooden leg was having breakfast in the hotel when he suffered a heart attack and died.
In August of 1950, the Credit Manager and Security Manager of the hotel went to the room of 25-year-old John Raymond who had a $104 unpaid bill. Mr. Raymond told the two to wait there for a moment then retrieved a revolver from the room and shot the Congress Plaza Hotel’s Credit Manager before turning the gun on himself.
In May of 1966 an attorney from Rockford, Illinois named Frederick Haye was found in his hotel room, naked and strangled by his own shirt. His wrists and feet were bound togeather with his socks.
Sometime in the 1970s, a woman slit her wrists in a bathtub at the hotel. Allegedly, guests who stay in this room have reported seeing her dead body lying in the tub at night.
Additional deaths reported in the hotel include a taxi driver who jumped from the North Tower, a salesman who purposefully threw himself down an elevator shaft and a husband/father who hung himself from a cupboard hook in his room. At one point, a homeless man was reportedly murdered in the alleyway directly behind the hotel, as well.
Possibly the most disturbing event to have occurred in the hotel was an impromptu exorcism. Hotel staff confirms an exorcism was at one time performed there, but refuse to reveal which room it occurred in.
While there have been countless deaths in the hotel itself, The Congress Plaza Hotel has also had a connection with deaths that have occurred outside its walls. Although some people say Al Capone lived in the hotel or even owned it at one point, these reports are not based in fact. He did, however, have a strong connection to the location. Jake “Greasy Thumb” Guzik called Al Capone from a phone in the hotel just before, and after, The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre took place. Several members from Capone’s gang did live in the hotel in the 1920s and reportedly, held at least one man captive there on Capone’s orders.
Andrew Mack, an insurance salesman, stopped by the hotel to visit a friend. Afterward, he walked to Lake Michigan and drown himself at the foot of VanBuren Street.
James Kennedy from New York checked into the hotel where he cut all the dry cleaner ID tags out of his clothes and burned all his identifying papers. He then walked down to the lake where he shot himself.
Unsurprisingly, many of the 871 rooms in the Congress Plaza Hotel are considered to be haunted. The 4th and 12th floors reportedly have the most activity.
No deaths have occurred in room 441, but this room has been responsible for more terrified calls to the front desk and security than any other. Guests report being kicked awake by a “shadow woman”, strange noises, the bed shaking and other objects moving on their own. Staff admit all the experiences in this room have been eerily similar. In room 474, the television channels change constantly on their own. It is believed to be haunted by the spirit of a judge who resided in the hotel until his death.
In room 759, the door is allegedly pulled shut from the inside when guests try to enter the room. Allegedly, an elderly man resided in that room years ago. One day, his son came to take him to a nursing home. The man wanted to stay so badly, he managed to muster the strength to prevent his son and hotel security from entering for quite some time.
The South Tower is said to only have one guest room which is haunted: Room 905. The phone in this room has not been functional for decades, emitting constant static. However, there are additional reports of paranormal activities in the hallway where a boy, approximately ten-years-old has been seen running up and down the hallways in knee breeches and high button-up boots. Outside the elevator on the 5th floor of the South Tower, people report hearing moaning.
Staff and guests say the 12th floor is by far the “spookiest” area in the hotel. People say in the 12th-floor hallways they experience feelings of panic and the sensation that they are being watched or chased. A six-year-old boy, believed to be the spirit of Karel Langer who was thrown out of a twelfth-floor window by his mother, has been spotted in the hall on countless occasions.
This floor is also home to one of the many rooms that has been permanently sealed off. Staff revealed the reasoning behind closing this particular room is that it was, “too horrible”.
Rather recently, room 209 was the subject of a viral video: A woman staying in another room of the hotel called the front desk when she heard a female screaming in room 209. Although staff was quite sure no one was checked into the room, they sent a security to investigate. He confirmed there was screaming and eventually decided to enter the room. Inside, he found no one; However, all the furniture had been turned upside down, the carpet was ripped up and the shower was running. He immediately left and the police were called.
One room, which staff members refuse to name, has photos hanging on the wall which many guests have witnessed rotate 360 degrees.
In 1989, two terrified marines fled the hotel at 3:00AM in their underwear; They claimed a towering black figure came out of the closet and approached the bed. Even hotel security has witnessed one of the hotel’s “shadow people”, once chasing a shadowy figure through the halls and up to the roof where they discovered nothing.
In many areas of the hotel, guests and staff, including security guards, have reported seeing a man with a wooden leg who appears to be homeless. This ghost, which has been dubbed the nickname “Peg Leg Johnny” is assumed by most to be the spirit of either an unknown homeless man murdered in the hotel, or the homeless man who is known to have been killed in the alleyway outside. However, a long-time staff member of the hotel believes it could be the resident with a wooden leg who died of a heart attack while eating breakfast at the hotel in the 1940s. He is said to turn lights and appliances on and off.
Over the years, The Congress Plaza Hotel has turned many die-hard skeptics into believers. Countless guests, from all walks of life, have checked in only to end up fleeing in the middle of the night due to frightening paranormal experiences. In 2014, celebrity chef Pete Evans joined this group after leaving in the middle of the night and hailing a cab to take him to a different hotel. He said staying at the Congress was “one of the weirdest experiences of his life”.
Below are videos of some of the paranormal evidence captured in The Congress Plaza Hotel
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