For years Adam Selzer didn’t believe in ghosts or at least tried not to do so mostly because the thought of spectral visions scared him. But for the last seven years or so, Selzer has researched countless spook stories in Chicago, hosts some 300 bus tours per year for Chicago Hauntings and just finished his latest book "The Ghosts of Chicago: The Windy City's Most Famous Haunts" (Llewellyn Worldwide 2013; $15.99).
“I research the stories,” he said, “to find out what we actually know and what we don’t. With the Internet and digitalization of newspapers it’s much easier to track down the real story.”
In his book, Selzer, a Chicago historian with a specialty in ghost lore, crime and “other weird stuff” recounts the horrific H.H. Holmes, who built his Chicago “castle” around the time of the 1893 World’s Fair with murder in mind and is considered one of the first known serial killers.
“There were so many conflicting accounts,” said Selzer who nonetheless notes that one of his few ghostly encounters might have occurred when the Chicago Hauntings bus was backing up at a supposed Holmes’ body dumping spot.
“We thought we hit someone,” said Selzer, “but we hadn’t.”
Was it a ghost? Selzer doesn’t know but he said he’s glad that at least it wasn’t a real person.
Then there was the time when he was on the top floor of the Congress Hotel and felt as though a presence was chasing him.
“I ran like hell and didn’t look back,” said Selzer. “I heard later about the ghost of a young boy who ran up and down the hallway. But that doesn’t mean it was a ghost, I think it’s more likely that I was just being a chicken. But having those feelings is very rare for me.”
Selzer also works at debunking urban legends.
“Some of myths are just fun,” he said, “but those about Jane Addams burying babies on the grounds of Hull House aren’t.”
Asked if he has a favorite ghost story, Selzer said it’s always the one he’s currently researching but then pauses.
“There’s one about an old woman who stands at the gates of the Bethania Cemetery and curses at people,” he said. “That’s the kind of ghost I want to be.”