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]