Since the Hull-House mansion was built in the mid-19th century, rumors of supernatural happenings in the red brick building have haunted the structure on Chicago’s Near West Side, which survived the Great Chicago Fire and became the spot where Jane Addams created the nation’s first settlement house.
A concrete slab remains in a courtyard in front of the building where legend says a former fountain purportedly served as a portal to hell; the sounds of ghost children allegedly can still be heard running in an upstairs hallway; a “Lady in White” apparition has been said to appear wearing a white dress, and the most famous story of all is known as “The Devil Baby.”
These are only some of the ghostly tales that have abounded where Addams and her partner, Ellen Gates Starr, founded the settlement in 1889. The main home and dining hall survived and now make up the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, which is on the University of Illinois Chicago campus and run by the university.
As the Halloween season approaches, museum officials want to celebrate Hull-House’s haunted history and share ghost stories as they were imparted by Jane Addams and the people in the surrounding neighborhood, said Ross Jordan, interim director and curatorial manager of the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum.
“The aim is to highlight these supernatural stories and the greater implications of those narratives,” Jordan said. “Through our October event series, we will touch on their psychological and sociological roots, the effects that Jane Addams saw them having on the people around her, and how we continue to see those effects today.”
In a 1916 article in The Atlantic penned by Addams titled, “The Devil Baby at Hull House: A tale of poverty, superstition and the struggles of ordinary women,” she discusses how the rumor of a child born with cloven hoofs, pointed ears, a tail and spewing vulgarities sparked scores of women to come to the home demanding to see the child even after repeatedly being told that the child did not exist.
Addams wrote in her article that women, especially, looked to the story for meaning in their own lives and their lot in life. They were often victims of domestic abuse by fathers, husbands and sons who often drank their wages and left the women struggling to maintain their families.
“As our visitors to the Devil Baby came day by day, it was gradually evident that the simpler women were moved not wholly by curiosity, but that many of them prized the story as a valuable instrument in the business of living. The legend exhibited all the persistence of one of those tales which have doubtless been preserved through the centuries because of their taming effects upon recalcitrant husbands and fathers,” Addams wrote.
The site is known as one of the most haunted places both in Chicago and the United States and is a frequent stop on Chicago ghost tours. Museum officials hope to tap into that interest in October by offering night tours of Hull-House with proceeds going to education programs, Jordan said.
They also teamed up with viral internet sensations Ryan Bergara and Shane Madej, whose new ghost hunting series, “Ghost Files,” tracks paranormal activity around the country. The duo will focus on Hull-House this season and filmed an episode during an overnight investigation at Hull-House in July.
The following events showcase Hull-House in October:
- “The Haunting of Hull-House” Night Tours — Jane Addams Hull-House Museum will be celebrating the Halloween season by offering special evening ghost tours for visitors ages 16 and up. Guests will be led through the house by a museum educator and will have the opportunity to learn all about Hull-House’s haunted history. The hourlong tours will be held Oct. 7, 21 and 28. The cost is $10 in advance, $30 for a group of four, or $12 at the door. Tickets are available.
- Watcher’s “Ghost Files” at Hull-House: Exclusive Interview and Episode Screening — Hull-House is widely considered one of the most haunted places in Chicago. The museum is an avidly pursued location for ghost-hunters and paranormal investigators, but until this year, no full investigations had taken place inside. The Watcher crew explored both familiar and never-before-seen areas of the museum’s grounds in hopes of finding evidence of paranormal activity onsite. A special screening of an exclusive interview will be aired at 6 p.m. Oct. 14, followed by a showing of the “Ghost Files” episode. The event is free but requires registration.
- “Candyman” (2021): Film Screening and Discussion — UIC professors Jane Rhodes and Cynthia Blair will take part in a pre-film panel discussion about the themes of racism, gentrification and police brutality depicted in the film. The event will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 20, and is free but requires registration.
- Halloween Family Day with the Chicago Public Library — Chicago Public Library librarians Megan McFarlane and Eva Weihl will be joining the Hull-House team to read some spooky Halloween stories as the museum extends its summer partnership with the Chicago Public Library into the fall season. Celebrate with costumes, candy and a scavenger hunt. The Oct. 29 event is free and open to the public but registration is required.