|The Congress Hotel at 520 S. Michigan is "one of the most beautiful hotels in the middle west," according to this postcard. Published by the Aero Distributing Co., Chicago.|
The Congress Plaza Hotel at 520 S. Michigan Avenue is one of Chicago’s oldest and largest hotels. It was also one of the tallest buildings in Chicago for a time. With over 800 hotel rooms and so many people coming and going over the years, the Congress Plaza has seen its share of accidents, drug overdoses, murders, and suicides, earning it the distinction of being the most haunted hotel in the city.
The Congress Plaza Hotel was built in 1893 to house visitors to the World’s Columbian Exhibition. In the 1920s, mobster Al Capone was known to play cards on Friday nights in a meeting room at the hotel. According to the Choose Chicago website, Capone also had a private suite on the hotel’s eighth floor. Some say that ghosts of the victims of the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, which was believed to be orchestrated by Capone, wander the halls of the hotel. Others say the ghost of Capone himself haunts the eighth floor.
|A marble corridor in the hotel. Postcard published by V.O. Hammon Publishing., Chicago.|
The Congress Plaza has been the site of political rallies and presidential conventions. Eight US presidents have stayed there. In the 1930s, Benny Goodman broadcast his radio show from the hotel’s Urban Room nightclub. During World War II, the hotel was used as a military training facility. The Congress Plaza Hotel was also the site of the longest hotel labor strike in history during the years 2003 through 2013.
Serial killer H.H. Holmes—whose story was made infamous in the book The Devil in the White City--was even known to loiter in the Congress Plaza’s lobby during the 1893 World’s Fair. Holmes would allegedly lure young women who couldn’t get rooms at the hotel to stay at his South Side building instead, where many would meet an untimely end.
Author and historian Ursula Bielski has written extensively about the Congress Plaza Hotel in her Chicago Hauntings blog. According to Bielski, an elevator operator at the hotel fell seventy feet to the subfloor in 1904. In 1926, a hotel guest fell six stories down an elevator shaft. In 1939, an immigrant from Prague booked a room on the thirteenth floor of the hotel. It was there that the distressed woman threw her two young sons out of the window before jumping out herself. No one survived. The woman’s widower later described the family’s despair at being forced to flee their home and family to escape the Nazis. Legend has it that one of the young boy’s bodies never made it to the city morgue. Many guests of the hotel have reported encounters with the ghost of a young boy who makes mischief by causing lights to flicker on and off and causing guests’ room keys to go temporarily missing.
|The hotel is located across the street from Grant Park. Postcard published by E.C. Kropp Co., Milwaukee.|
Another ghost who is known to cause mild mayhem in the hotel has been affectionately named Peg Leg Johnny. He makes noise in the middle of the night by moving furniture and slamming doors. Guests staying on the third floor often call the front desk to complain that a one-legged vagrant has made his way into the hotel, only to have their claims proven unfounded. A former hotel operator who worked at the hotel in the 1940s remembered a resident of the hotel with a wooden leg who always wore a smile and tipped generously. The man died of a heart attack while eating breakfast at the hotel one ill-fated morning.
Bielski has even written about a room in the hotel that has allegedly been sealed up with its furnishings still intact. The door to the room has been drywalled over, but the lintel above the doorway can still be seen. No members of the hotel staff will divulge the reason why this room has been closed off, but the room’s number—666—may offer a clue.
It’s no surprise that Travel + Leisure magazine named the Congress Plaza Hotel the most haunted place in Illinois in 2016. More ghost stories about the hotel can be found in the sources listed below. Some are quite gruesome. Since the hotel was built over 125 years ago, much has changed in Chicago. But the universal experiences of fear and despair still haunt us all, both the living and the undead.
Written by Emily Ruzich
|The hotel provides many amenities, including restaurants and bars. Postcard published by Peerless Litho Co., Chicago.|
More ghost stories about the Congress Plaza Hotel can be found at:
Chicago Hauntings blog: https://chicagohauntings.com
Windy City ghosts blog: https://windycityghots.com
Haunted Places podcast: The Congress Plaza Hotel episode (dated Nov. 28 2019) Special thank you to Sylvia Davila, who introduced me to this podcast, which inspired me to write this post.