Odd week for me as we had a flood here in Minneapolis and my car took some damage. I spent most of the week worried that the ol’ Pikachu Beetle would be totaled, but thankfully due to speed and care on my part, the only thing needed was a tranny flush and some upholstery replacement. However, this means I spent most of my week trying to take my mind off the possibility of losing a car that looks like Pikachu and thus didn’t really do any research this week. So instead my friends, this is where I let you in on a little secret.
Do you know why certain IP writers are consistently reliable and never miss a column. Okay, Widro informs me I’m the only one, so do you ever wonder WHY I seem to be the only one able to keep a column up even if I have a family emergency or some strange offline drama? Simple. I plan ahead. I keep a stock pile of non-dateable material that I can pull up whenever I need to and put it out as my column. It means a I do a little work early on to save me some last minute crunch or problems due to writer’s block or whatever else is thrown my way. This is going to be one of those columns.
The Devil Baby of Hull House
Before Hull House was a multicultural museum owned at operated by the University of Illinois, this famous Chicago landmark was the center of Paranormal controversy in regards to a strange infant that was supposedly locked away with in the house.
Hull House was built in 1856 when Halsted and Polk Street were the upper class areas of Chicago. After the great Chicago fire of 1871, the richer Chicago citizens move to other parts of the city, and the Southwest corner that Hull House was part of soon became the immigrant location of the city, housing mainly Italian, Greeks, and Jewish families. In the 1880’s Hull House became surrounded by industry, with factories and tenements, swelling the immigrant ranks of the Southwest and further segregating Chicago’s wealth.
In September 1889, Jane Addams and Ellen Starr Gates moved into Hull House, and founded the first United States Welfare Center there. Helen Culver, secretary to the Hull Heirs, was allowed to given the social workers a guaranteed twenty-five year rent-free lease. Hull House began to provide many services to the poor such as kindergarten and daycare for working mothers, an unemployment agency, an art gallery, a library, settlement housing for the homeless and abused, and even music and art classes. Hull House was a century ahead of its time, housing other famous activists as Florence Kelley, Julia Lathrop, Alice Hamilton, and the Abbots. Hull House managed to launch many new organizations dedicated to labor and social welfare, including The Immigrants Protective League, Juvenile Protective Association, and the Institute for Juvenile Research. Due in part to the women of Hull House, the Illinois legislature passed laws in 1903 giving women and children protective labors laws and compulsory education. The federal government soon followed suit, passing laws in 1916 enforcing child labor laws.
Addams became a prolific writer, and was a member of many local and national organizations for race and gender equality. She became the first leader of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in 1919 and won the Nobel peace prize in 1931. Although Addams died from cancer on May 21, 1935, the Hull House Organization continued on. Hull House moved to a new location in 1963, and the old house was purchased by the University of Illinois and turned into a Museum.
It was during Addams occupation of Hull House that the rumors of the Devil baby began. But before that controversy started, Addams and Starr encountered other supernatural phenomenon. Several years before Addams came to Hull House, Mrs. Hull died of natural causes there, and a few months after her passing, rumors began that Hull’s ghost haunted the room where she died. Overnight guests admitted to hearing strange footsteps along with other ghostly and disturbing noises.
Jane Addams first occupied Mrs. Hull’s room when she moved into Hull House. One night however, Jane was awakened by loud footprints. She was aghast to discover her room totally empty, with the noise still persisting. Nights after night this ghostly occurrence repeated itself. Jane eventually confided in Starr about the strange happenings, only to find Ellen has experienced the same thing. Soon after this admission, Jane moved to another room.
Other friends of Jane’s tried the room only to encounter the same thing. Helen Campbell actually saw the apparition who quickly vanished before her eyes when she lit her gas lamp. Louise Bowen, Jane and Mary Smith, and Canon Barrett all witnessed the odd noises and footsteps when they visited the house in 1893.
Jane commented in her book, Twenty Years at Hull House, that she had learned previous residents of Hull House considered it haunted as well! The Little Sisters of the Poor, had kept a bucket of water at the top of the stairs, believing the ghost was unable to cross it. This ghost was believed to be harmless and forlorn, but a spectral presence nonetheless than Hull House residents eventually learned to live with.
It was the ‘Devil Baby’ that truly cemented Hull House in haunted Chicago folklore. In 1913, Hull house was overtaken with rumors that a strangely deformed baby was born in the house and hidden away. The immigrant communities passed their own version of the tales and the house had a veritable horde of onlookers wishing to see the decrepit child. Addams was perplexed as to where this story had sprung from and constantly had to inform visitors that there was no basis to the rumor, but when Chicago reporter Ben Hecht picked it up, things exploded to the point where Jane had to devote two entire chapters of her biography to disproving the story.
There are many versions of the story that Jane discovered when inquiring where locals heard the story.
The Italian/Catholic version of the story involved a Devout Catholic girl who married an Atheist. When the woman became pregnant and hung a picture of the Virgin Mary over their bed, the husband became angered and destroyed the picture, vowing he would rather have Satan himself in their home. God punished the couple by making the woman birth a child that bore an eerie resemblance to the Devil. It had horns, cloven hooves, pointed ears, a long prehensile tail and scales covering its entire body.
The Devil Baby was able to talk and walk from birth and constantly threatened the father. It smoked cigars and its laugh frightened all who heard it. The father, knowing nowhere else to go, brought the babe to Jane Addams and begged her to take it. When Hull House members took the creature to be baptized, it escaped from the priest and ran away on top of the pews. Jane, with no other options, locked the baby in the attic.
The Irish Version of the story had an Irish girl not confessing an affair and her pregnancy by that man instead of her husband.
There are no less than FOUR Jewish versions of this story, featuring a Jewish girl marrying a Gentile where her father swore he would rather have Satan for a grandson than a Gentile for a son-in-law. A Jewish man who had six daughters already swore to his pregnant wife that he would rather have the Devil than a seventh daughter. Yet another Jewish version had a pregnant woman who watched the play Faust, and bore the devil’s child because she watched the devil on stage too intently. Finally, there is an Orthodox Jewish version of the story where a woman hid that she had an illegitimate child, and claimed her second child, who was born in wedlock, was the only one she had. Then when she gave birth to her third child, it was the Devil as punishment for her lies.
The final and most sinister version of the tale, according to Jane, was a Husband who had committed a hideous crime years before and had never concealed the nature of it to his wife. Because he had deceived his innocent young bride and the priest who performed the Ceremony, the child became the incarnation of that sin, resembling the devil itself.
For six straight weeks Jane had to turn back people who wished to view the creature. She received calls form people who wanted to organize tours, and had to crush people’s hopes repeatedly by explaining to them such a creature was not possible. People even offered her money in hopes of glimpsing the satanic child.
Jane wrote in, The Long Road of Women’s Memory, that the child’s story had been most likely created by older immigrant women of the community, taking a tale from folklore 1000 years back and modifying it to show that this current ‘fad’ of female equality and modernization was frightening and against the words of the religion they had grown up with. In other words, it was a metaphorical warning against changing gender roles.
Jane also wrote that the story gave the community something to brighten the humdrum existence that came with being part of the impoverished working class. It let them hold on to their old world beliefs from the countries that had left and also a way for the various groups to mix without commentary on religion or race. So in some respects, in the month and a half where curious and superstitious visitors plagued Hull House, the rumor helped with Hull House’s goal of uniting people.
Eventually the rumors abated and things returned to normal for Hull House. But the story refused to go away entirely. Many believed Addams had the child still in the house and merely denied the rumors. It remained locked in the attic until it died. Some also believed it was moved to another house in a city north of Chicago called Waukegan. Some with a more rational view theorized the child was merely deformed and its appearance was exaggerated. Jane, taking pity on the child, hid it from the slack-jawed yokels who wished to gawk at it.
Even today though, the rumor persists. People claim that the baby can still be seen staring out the attic window at passerby’s. The house is still on tours of Haunted Chicago and a few people claim they can an uncomfortable aura when inside the museum. The Devil Baby legend was even the inspiration for the novel, ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ written by Ira Levins in 1967.
Today, other less famous rumors about Hull House being haunted exist. Some claim Adams herself haunted the building, waiting for her work to be finished. Other claim a woman committed suicide upstairs and exists. Others have claimed to witness the ghost of monks. Unlike the Devil baby, none of these rumors have any foundation or documentation, and even the Devil baby was merely spoken word Urban Legend until Hecht.
Hull House is open to the public, featuring rotating exhibits on the history of Adams and Hull House itself. The interior has been refurnished to resemble how the house looked during Addams’ occupancy of it, and is filled with original painting, piece of furniture and photos in an attempt to recapture the feeling of yesteryear. Attached to the Hull House is an Arts and Crafts building which Addams had added on to Hull House in 1906 as a dining hall. As of this writing, the first floor is currently being renovated, and the second floor houses audio-visual activities.
One can visit Hull House weekdays from Ten am to Four pm and on Sundays from Noon until Five pm. The museum is closed from December 24th, until the First of January, and admission is free. Group tours must be booked in advance.
For more information about Hull House write;
JANE ADDAMS-HULL HOUSE MUSEUM
The University of Illinois at Chicago
800 South Halsted
Chicago, IL 60607-7017
Addams, Jane. The Long Road of Woman’s Memory. New York: Macmillan Press, 1916;
Boondocks Edition, 2000.
Addams, Jane. The Second Twenty Years at Hull House. New York: MacMillan Press,
1930; Boondocks Edition, 2000.
Bielski, Ursula. Chicago Haunts. Chicago: Lake Claremount Press, 1988.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, The. New York:
Checkmark Books, 2000
Riccio, Dolores, and Joan Bingham. Haunted Houses USA. New York: Pocket Books,
Scott, Beth and Michael Norman. Haunted Heartland. New York: Warner Books, 1985.
Taylor, Troy, Haunted Illinois. Alton, IL: Whitechapel Production press, 1999.
Sorry Guys. No cooking or plugs this week. It’s a crank column. But hey, at least you got 5 pages of readable material, yes? See you next week when my Car is happy happy again.