Radio listeners hear ghostly tales from Hull-House

Nadia Maragha, education coordinator at the Jane Addams Hull-Hou
Nadia Maragha, education coordinator at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum (left), speaks with Sasha-Ann Simons on WBEZ 91.5 public radio’s “Reset” news program, which broadcasted live from the museum. (Photo: Carlos Sadovi/University of Illinois Chicago)

Listeners of WBEZ 91.5 public radio’s “Reset” news program recently had the opportunity to hear about the ghost stories that have haunted Hull-House since its inception.

“The haunting of Hull-House, from urban legends to ghost stories” feature on “Reset,” which is hosted by Sasha-Ann Simons, transmitted live Oct. 26 from the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum at the University of Illinois Chicago campus. Simons had an on-air interview with Nadia Maragha, the museum’s education coordinator, about ghostly happenings in the historic settlement home.

The two-hour radio program was in preparation for the upcoming Halloween holiday and included interviews with Chicago historian and author Adam Selzer, who runs tours focused on paranormal activities in Chicago. In addition, the program shared family-friendly Halloween activities.

As Maragha spoke with Simons, she discussed the history of the settlement house, which was founded in 1889 by Addams and Ellen Gates Starr to provide assistance to impoverished people and immigrants. The show took place in the former residential dining hall, one of only two buildings remaining. The original Hull-House complex grew to be 13 buildings at its height, Maragha said.

Maragha told Simons that ghost stories had become part of Hull-House since even before Addams and Gates started the settlement home and go back to when the original owner’s wife died in the home in the 1800s. Her ghost, dubbed the Lady in White, has been said to appear over the years in the other remaining original building, which was where Addams and Gates lived and where the woman had died.

But the most notorious story is the Devil Baby ghost, which Addams herself first wrote about in 1916. Maragha said Addams described learning from several neighborhood women how a story had been circulating that a baby with red skin, a tail and spewing profanities had been born in the home.

“It was a phenomenon that swept the neighborhood and came out of nowhere,” Maragha said. “Over time they found that this urban legend had started circulating through the community, and it was a really rich rumor.”

Maragha said several versions of the story popped up, which gave different scenarios about its origin. Each focused on the father of the child wishing for a “devil child” rather than bearing the responsibility of rearing another child.

“This is definitely giving Salem Witch Trials vibes. The community starts believing a devil infiltrating the neighborhood. Did people really believe this story?” Simons asked.

“They absolutely did,” Maragha said, adding that people stormed the home demanding to see the baby and were willing to bribe their way inside. “Jane Addams says that at some points, there were literally lines going down the end of the block.”

As Addams investigated the rumor and its origins, Maragha said Addams discovered that it was a way women used to communicate things they were experiencing at the time. Maragha said while urban lore was new at the time, folklore had been used to make sense of the world around them and talk about what they were experiencing with each other.

“Families were often experiencing domestic violence and abuse in general, and here was this story where the patriarch of the family is inflicting this abuse, and there are condemnations and punishment,” Maragha said.

Maragha also spoke about other stories, including a former fountain that purportedly served as a portal to hell and how the Lady in White would allegedly appear to Addams, Gates and others over the years.

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