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SyFy's 'Ghost Hunters' investigates Chicago's Congress Theater

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If you are a believer, then you probably already know that apparitions of John Dillinger have been sighted on North Lincoln Avenue. And that the shadow of a 1915 steamer tragedy still lingers over Harpo Studios. And that Resurrection Mary still hitch hikes home from the Willowbrook Ballroom.

But did you know that the Congress Theater is haunted?

"No," says Ursula Bielski, the founder of Chicago Hauntings. "It's not a known haunted location."

"I never heard of it either," says Richard T. Crowe, who hosts Chicago Supernatural Tours.

We're not talking about the Congress Hotel on Michigan, which has been haunted by picketing employees for six years now. This is the Congress Theater at 2135 N. Milwaukee, a landmark movie palace that currently hosts live music acts such as Snoop Dogg and the Euro Reggae Fest.

Haunted? The mystery deepens at 8 tonight, when the "Ghost Hunters" team investigates in a new episode.

Building manager Dylan Castle, who invited the famed paranormal researchers to visit, says that some of the venue's workers have been so scared of the place that they quit. Among the suspicious hotspots:

*An aisle, where a woman in a blue dress paces before disappearing.

*The basement, where people have heard ghostly foosteps behind them.

*The stage, where there have been reports of an apparition of a man raising his arm.

The Congress Theater was built in the '20s, and Houdini performed at the palace in the '30s. Local lore has it that the mob used to meet in the basement.

Tonight, it gets the full treatment. The ghost hunters set up endless cameras and imaging devices to run while they examine the building. Because ghosts are believed to manifest energy, the researchers use electromagnetic detectors. Digital tape recorders track what's known as "electronic voice phenomenon."

How creepy is the Congress, on a scale from 1 to 10? "I would say that the boiler room would be a 10, for sure," says "Ghost Hunters" investigator Amy Bruni. "Any creepy dark space like that where the mafia used to meet seems kind of scary."

She particularly liked the episode because the Congress Theater is open to the public. "So many of the places we investigate are private residences you don't usually have access to," she says. "But any locals can go visit, kinowing what we found or didn't find, and know more about the place, support a great place like that."

Bielski of Chicago Hauntings is betting that the Congress does, after all, have a few phantoms. "These old Chicago theaters have had so much life pass through them over so many years," she says. "I would be surprised if the residue of the living did not leave its mark."

Crowe of Chicago Supernatural Tours, though, won't be taking television's word for it. "I do take things I see on TV with a grain of salt," says Crowe, who was disillusioned when he worked on an episode of "The Real World: Chicago." "Using all that modern equipment, doing the whole scream-and-drop-your-equipment things - it's all extremely scripted," he says. "It's like the royal school of overacting by these people when they're in a situation, like they're in a Monty Python skit."

In short, Crowe won't be watching tonight. "It seems everything's gone downhill since 'The Blair Witch Project," he says.

Two suburban women are headed to "The Shining" hotel in Colorado with the
"Ghost Hunters." Read about it in next Wednesday's Travel. [28th]

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Children are supposed to be particularly open to supernatural occurences. Yet, as someone who sat through years of movies as a child at the Congress Theater, I've got to tell you the only scary entity was the usher who came down the aisle with his flashlight. This would have been in the 1950s after the supposed "gansters" (or their ghosts) had long left the building. The Congress held more laughs than fears for theater goers, especially the youngsters, with its Saturday cartoon fest, Abbott and Costello movies, and a few "shockers" like Godzilla and Rodan. In all likelihood, there's more to be afraid of outside the theater from the living than inside the theater from the departed.

I noticed it to. I think I almost broke the DVR rewinding it to see if there was another explanation. There was one that went from right to left then one that went from left to right. The second looked like a person and was probably part of the staff but the first one is a mystery.

I've been to this place before because my brother was performing and it was the creepiest place I've ever been. I kept getting the feeling that there was some sort of terrible event there like there were ghosts and when I mentioned it later he thought the same thing. I felt like I was in a scary movie being watched. This episode finally makes me think it wasn't all just in our heads,

Yes, I noticed that too! My boyfriend and I saw the dark figure walk from left to right on the balcony the first time we watched the episode and then when i watched it again, i saw a hazy/shadowy figure walking from right to left around the same area for a few seconds that I had missed the first time. Then I saw the darker figure a few seconds later. Very strange especially since they start talking about the phenomena right afterward.

I definately saw the same thing you did. We played it over and over. It is just as you have described. Has the GH personnel seen this as well and have they analyzed it?

Okay, did ANYONE notice the shadows moving in the upper seat of the background, shortly before Jason(i think, baldhead guy?) made his concluding comments on the "person or shadows" moving between the steal doors? I barely caught it first time and since I only caught the end of the episode the first time, I was convinced to watch the reruns after DT.

Well, upon watching it, I flipped out; my eyes weren't deceiving me. Was it someone jerking around? because I saw a dark mass, shorter than a full-grown man, pan across maybe the middle aisle of the seats in the top balcony, right to left, if i remember. it was a 3 seconds. then a full-dark form, legs visible, walked across the left door, from left to right, in the next shot they had in the balcony. It didn't make sense because obviously no-one is supposed to be there during TAPS's conclusion, they still have the equipment and liability issues to account for. but the shadows...

There was actually a really good focus on the balcony, so wouldn't it have shown up clear as day if it were a person? What idiot would be strolling around in a theater in full black and a balaclava?(full-face mask). I posed those questions, then my hair stood up. It was the black masses, that both the owner, and Grant had metioned, and what they got on camera, in the relatively same area. Apparitions in broad day-light. Anyone else have an explanation? if you recorded it, let me know what you think. Pay close attention to the minutes before Jason discloses the info about the shadow they caught in the aisle. My TV couldn't mess up on the same thing twice in one night, so someone else has to have caught it.

anyone who can capture a freeze-shot or the several seconds it appeared, let me know your input.

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This page contains a single entry by Paige Wiser published on October 21, 2009 4:56 AM.

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