It was a dark and stormy night. No, really—when I set out on Richard Crowe's Chicago Supernatural Tour (Halloween special) it was already dark outside and the rain showed no signs of letting up. Perfect night for a ghost spotting, Crowe assured our group.
Piled onto a tour bus with 20 other passengers, I munched on the complimentary ghost cookies and stared at the rain-streaked windows. Having no strong beliefs for or against the existence of ghosts, I was primed to be spooked, as the tour promised we'd be visiting some of the most haunted sites in the city. Unfortunately, for the next four hours I'd see more of those rain-streaked bus windows than anything else, as we cut a wide swath across Chicago and into the suburbs, stopping to disembark only a handful of times.
As our guide pointed casually left or right as we whizzed by another landmark where someone had died, my goosebumps (and occasionally my interest) remained firmly at bay. Heading back from a half-hour drive into suburbia, during which the bus hadn't even slowed as it drove by our destination, Resurrection Cemetery, I kept hoping we'd at least end the night with another round of ghost cookies. No such luck.
Sign me up: The 3.5-4 hour bus tour costs $47 per person, and starts at 7 p.m. daily, through November 5. Ghost tours with slight itinerary variations are conducted year round, most for $37 per person.
Sites you'll see: The tour winds from the near north side through downtown and Chinatown before driving by Resurrection Cemetery on the far southwest side. You'll take an eerie walk around darkened Hull House, reported to be the longest continually haunted house in Illinois.
Also on the itinerary: a souvenir shop located on the most haunted block in Chinatown (a man dining at the nearby Triple Crown restaurant suffocated himself with a plastic bag and a roll of duct tape, distraught over his insurmountable debt, but even in death has been seen lurking around the kitchen, washing dishes to pay back what he owes) and a drive-by view of the Iroquois Theater (now the Oriental Theater), where 602 women, children and students were killed during a fire.
Golden nugget: The highlight of the trip comes early on, when everyone dismounts from the bus to walk the few feet between the Biograph Theater, where John Dillinger was shot, and the alley next to 2423 N. Lincoln Ave., where Dillinger stumbled and died. In the 1930s, the alley was next to a take-out chop suey restaurant but it's now occupied by Fiesta Mexicana.
Who's da guide: Richard Crowe knows Chicago ghosts the way most people know their ABCs. A graduate of DePaul University (an English degree to him meant being able to read as many scary Edgar Alan Poe stories as he wanted), Crowe led the first Chicago ghost tour for the DePaul Geographical Society in 1973. When the tour's waitlist grew to 200 people, Crowe realized he was on to something and became a full-time ghost tour guide in 1979.
Also the author of Chicago's Street Guide to the Supernatural, Crowe resembles a gruff Santa Claus dressed all in black. Though he seemed more content to rattle off information into the bus mic than answer questions, Crowe did deliver more than a few good lines; passing the pizza joint which looks out onto the site of the Valentine's Day Massacre, he bellowed, "Red sauce on the right, bloodshed on the left, everyone!"
Fuel your tank: An 8 p.m. stop at the Billy Goat Tavern is as much to check out the memorabilia surrounding the Cubs curse as it is to fill up on those infamous double cheezborgers.
Snooze-fest or eye-opener: Given the evening hours and the time spent on a warm bus, there were moments when I was nodding off in my seat. To keep your heart racing (and your eyes open), you might be better off buying a guidebook of haunted locals and setting off at your own pace, with less ground to cover and more time to explore.
Even locals will learn: Near the front of Chinatown Square, which is lined with statues representing each of the Chinese zodiac signs, is a Fu Dog, an imperial lion statue with a giant ball in its mouth. Stick your hand in the statue's mouth and rotate the ball three times clockwise for good luck. But, as Crowe warned, "Not four times, or you die! Not counter-clockwise, or you die!" Seemed a perilous way to earn some luck, but I stuck my hand in anyway.
Get more information at www.ghosttours.com or call (708) 499-0300.