Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Shining

I learned the other day that my ghost writer, Joe, had written the “ghost story” about his late father-in-law Jack while he and his wife Lynn were attending a “destination wedding” at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado.

The name "Stanley Hotel” may not ring a bell, but there’s an awful lot about this place that will be familiar to you.

The hotel was originally built by Freelan O. Stanley (co-inventor of the Stanley Steamer automobile) in 1909, and it catered to the rich and famous. Early guests included “the unsinkable” Molly Brown, John Phillips Souza, the emperor and empress of Japan, and a variety of Hollywood personalities. In the more recent past, Stephen King stayed here.

The history of the place inspired him to write “The Shining”, which became a movie in 1980.

The 1997 mini-series of The Signing was filmed here, but the scenes for the original movie were primarily shot in at EMI studios in England, with a few exterior shots shot at Timberline Lodge in Oregon.

The ability to detect ghostly presences is called “shining”, a gift that Danny, the son of Jack Nicholson’s character Jack Torrance, possesses.

If you traveled to The Stanley Hotel today, you’d learn that it’s best to avoid rooms 217,401, 407, and 418, since there have been a LOT of strange activities in those rooms.

The folks that have taken the guided “ghost tour” have sometimes found themselves face to face with Mr. Stanley himself, even though he departed from this earth way back in 1940, and a number of guests have heard Mrs. Stanley playing the piano in the hotel ballroom.

When Joe was writing his story at the hotel, he had to start over several times, because he kept writing “all work and no play makes Joe a dull boy” over and over again.

Just a coincidence?

Maybe, but there’s no time to talk about that now.

I think I hear Johnny knocking on the door.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

another cup of Joe

On May 17, I introduced you to my local “ghost writer”, Joe Kilian.

Joe is back again for another guest spot. The difference this time is that he is writing about a ghost that he knew personally – his father-in-law Jack:


Locked out

There wasn’t a new driver in the family who didn’t get Jack’s “roll down the window a crack” speech when they got their shiny new Illinois driver’s license. He cautioned everyone, and (ironically) died of carbon monoxide poisoning in a one car accident. His front window was down a “crack”, but the carbon monoxide entered through a hole in the trunk’s floor that was the result of his rocking his Ford Galaxie back and forth on some loose stones during a 100 year rain storm. That Ford had almost a full tank of gas when I moved it to Bartel’s gas station the day after the funeral. I remember selling it to the first guy that I saw in Villa Park at another station on St. Charles Road. I couldn’t get anyone at Bartel’s to buy it – even for 50 bucks and a clean title.

They knew that a man had died in it.

The other son-in-law wouldn’t drive Jack’s car to the second gas station, where with a signature on the title and a handshake, I had disposed of that Ford. That’s one old car in our family that no one has missed or talked about since.

Fifteen years had passed since Jack died, and I had raised my family in the house that he and his brothers built on Charlotte Street. The house was a Cape Cod design, with character.

The basement seeped, the wiring gave me some surprises, and it had the smallest kitchen every built.

We found a newer house to call home, which would allow us to separate the children by remodeling the basement with a bedroom, and keeping the girls with a room of their own upstairs. The plan was to sell 353 N. Charlotte, and move into 413 West Road the same week. The closing on one would occur hours after the close on the other. Keys would be exchanged after the walk through and final inspection. All was right with the world.

We had made several upgrades to the house while we lived on Charlotte Street: we removed a window from the back porch, the room addition where most of the living took place on Charlotte Street. It is where the kitchen table and the old Hotpoint stood, watching all the activities of at least two generations. I was so proud when the Hotpoint was removed and replaced with the Kenmore. Those old refrigerators weighed a ton, and I have never seen a bigger man than the one that Sears used to deliver the new Kenmore.

He took the old Hotpoint through the garage while three helpers watched. Each stair bowed under his feet, and I was astonished at the groans that those wooden stairs made under him.

When he brought the Kenmore in, it never seemed to belong in that room

There was a space heater on the east wall of that room addition. It had a pilot light which went out ritually because the door to the outside world frequently brought in a wind that blew it out. One of the family members would note the smell of gas. Someone would have to light the pilot. Jack had reminded us on occasion that carbon monoxide didn’t have an odor like the natural gas that we smelled when that pilot blew out. He knew how to be careful about car fumes: “roll the window down a crack”

On moving day from 353 to 413, I met the new owner. I had met him once before when he was buying the house. He seemed to be a regular guy – he worked for the parts department of a local car dealer. I worked for a car dealer at the time, and we exchanged banter about business, and the ins and outs of the auto industry.

He told me that he had plans for the house, mainly in the area of the garage and the basement. Leaving the peg board up in the basement made him happy because it would be a good storage area for his tools. He intended to do some remodeling himself, and let me know that he considered himself to be very handy.

We seldom locked 353 N. Charlotte. The house was in a very low crime area, and it was the least expensive looking house for several blocks in any direction. When my wife and I first married, the whole family came to Jacksonville, North Carolina from Lombard, Illinois, and spent a week with us. When they returned home, they realized that they had never locked the house up. They didn’t even know if the locks ever worked. When my wife and I moved into Charlotte Street, we installed locks because the neighborhood had seen some crime, and locking up at night became a ritual when we raised our family there.

I handed the keys to the new owner at the closing, and wished him well. He knew that we were moving to the other side of town, and we told him that he could call us if he had any questions about his new house.

He took my phone number, and I figured the next time that I would hear from him was when another 100 year rain flooded the basement. Maybe I’d meet him at the Lilac parade, or some other world happenstance that would bring strangers together, and have them looking at each other saying, “I know that guy from somewhere – oh yeah, he bought the house on Charlotte Street”.

Moving days are always so stressful.

The timing was crucial - the truck rental, the family of helpers, and the traditional Barone’s Pizza (sausage and cheese, of course), with a beer to finish a perfect day.

Our first phone call at the new house surprised us, and we wondered who would have the distinction of being the first to call the new house.

It was the owner of Jack’s old house:

“How do I unlock the house?” he asked. His voice was suspicious and very sober. “I’ve tried all the keys – even the garage door won’t open

I put down my half eaten pizza slice and headed out the door. It occurred to me that the garage door lock never worked. The interior door to the attached garage was a locking door, and I seldom kept anything of value in the garage. A modern car wouldn’t fit in that garage on a bet. My wife’s younger bother DID attempt to widen the opening once by driving his sister’s new orange Beetle through the garage door, and if it weren’t for the Hotpoint being so big, there may have been more damage to the house than the garage door and some beaver board insulation.

I met the new owner in the driveway of the old house. It was about 10:00 at night, and the neighborhood always looked like a post care to me. The Pleasant Lane grammar school lights always gave the street an orange glow on a dark night. It seemed to be an unusually dark night, and as I shook his hand, he gave me the key to the front door.

I inserted the key, and the lock opened effortlessly. He looked at me with amazement, and said, “how’d you do that?”. I looked at him and said, “it works fine”.

We proceeded to the back door, and the same result occurred: no effort – insert key - turn – and it opened. I even opened the garage door without the use of a key. I looked at my new admirer, who was sure that I had used some trick to open the doors, and simply said, “now, you try again before I leave”.

I handed him the key, and said under my breath: “it’s OK, Jack, it’s his house now”. The new owner entered his new home with Jack’s approval.

Jack like me enough to let me marry his oldest daughter and live in the house that he built for about six years without any manifestation. I suppose that I should confess that I welcomed him to come with me to the new house in order to watch the family that he made possible grow. The new house has fancy locks and electric garage door openers. When we sell this one, I’ll make sure that I invite Jack to the new house before I turn over the keys to the new owners.

I’m not going through this again.

Remember, Jack always said, “roll the window down a crack”..

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Voice of the people

The Chicago Tribune calls the “letters to the editor” section of the paper “Voice of the People”.

A musical version of “the voice of the people” has been making the rounds recently on the internet. If you haven’t seen the YouTube clip of a group called Vocapeople yet, I have attached the link below for your viewing pleasure:

Although I DO enjoy listening to them, what REALLY fascinates me is the full range of sounds that they produce during their performance.

Not only do these folks perform a cappella (no instruments) they somehow manage to mimic the sound of instruments with their voices.

I first joined Toastmasters International in 1982 (during Ronald Reagan’s first term), which heightened my interest in what the human voice is capable of.

The Toastmaster organization was founded in 1924, and has since trained MILLIONS of people (including me) on how to get more comfortable with public speaking.

If you are interested in improving your public speaking ability, but don’t want to make a long term time commitment, another option is a company called The Sound Center, which was founded by my friend Michelle Eppley, who I met through the Naperville Chamber of Commerce. According to Michelle, April 16, 2009 was National Voice Day.

In addition to Vocapeople, another example of a cappella singing is barbershop quartet music.

When I lived in Wisconsin, I briefly provided insurance for The Society for the Preservation of Barbershop Quartets when it was based in Kenosha, Wisconsin (the group moved to Nashville a few years ago). Although it’s an interesting musical genre, the truth is that barbershop quartet music can best be described as … old .. and .. slow.

The first barbershop quartet dates back to around 1900, and the “revival” period runs from 1940 to the present day.

One example of the genre is the clip shown below, which was actually performed by ONE indivudual named Dan:

Although Geico has been connected lately with the “caveman” commercials, my all time favorite Geico commercial is the one shown below:

Michael Winslow is the guy who does the crazy sound effects in the commercial. Although he is far from a household name, he is probably best known for the work he did for the movie “Police Academy”.

Female sirens have been around since the time of Greek mythology.

What I discovered about a week ago is that my DAUGHTER is a female siren. Unlike the sirens of Green mythology, she doesn’t cause sailors to come to harm.

Her special talent is that she has mastered the technique of imitating the sound of the siren used on Chicago police cars.

As we bicycled through the Uptown area of Chicago recently, her
“areeeee whoop whoop” siren call cleared the intersections all along the route

Rich Little is famous for his impersonations of various political figures:

A fairly LONG version of some of his impersonations is attached below:

In recent years, Rich has been dubbed “the man of a thousand voices”, a title once held by the late Mel Blanc.

At this point, though, all that I can add is this:

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Ghost writers (on the sly)

By definition, a ghostwriter is a professional who is paid to write articles and stories that are officially credited to another person. In some cases, the ghostwriter is acknowledged by the author or publisher for his or her writing services

When one of my customers offered to post some of my stories on her blogsite, I eagerly sent off a variety of stories to her. By March, when I had figured out how to self-publish, she had published about a dozen of my stories. The address to her blogsite is listed below:

the Armada lady

Some of the stories that I have posted on my blog (the Schatski story of April 1 and the spud story of March 25) were inspired by some of the comments made by one of our mangers (Joe) at the dealership.

Joe and I share a passion for bicycles (he owns 12), a working knowledge of car sales, a compulsion for story telling, and (most importantly) an appreciation of the supernatural.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to introduce MY ghostwriter, Joe Kilian.

The story attached below is his:


Haunted Chicago

The most interesting aspect of living in a metropolitan area like Chicago is the rich history that surrounds you everyday. The most interesting part of THAT history is the history that cannot be explained, the places and their special secrets that have always made my mind wander and revel in the ideas that (in 2008, when we have an explanation for just about everything) the power and wonder of the great beyond remains a mystery for which no tangible explanation is ever offered.

On the campus of The University of Illinois at Chicago, Jane Adams’ Hull House is an historical landmark that predates the school, and the stories that surround it are haunting in the most accurate sense of the world.

The settlement house was already established by the turn of the century, and the story begins with an atheist man wedding a devout Catholic woman. He was quoted as telling his wife that she could not hang a picture of the Virgin Mary on the wall of their home, and threatened to replace it with a picture of the devil. The wife and husband exchanged curses. The marriage bore fruit, but the child was said to have been born with pointed ears, reptile like skin, and a tail. Shortly after the child became a source of ridicule for the parents, the mother brought him to Jane Adams, who took the boy in, and (according to the story) kept him on the attic floor until he died shortly after. These is a window in the attic of Hull House, and to this day, people report that they see something – something that may be a face of a boy, with pointed ears, looking out that very attic window.

The John Hancock Building is another place in Chicago that has some very strange stories surrounding it. It was completed before the Sears Tower, and was the tallest building in the world for a very short time. It has an unusual number of suicides and deaths associated with it. The basic design is that of a trapezoid. The levels at the lower portion of the building are larger that the ones at the top. Interestingly enough, the Administration Building at UIC has an opposite architectural feature - it is larger at the top floors that it is at the bottom. In the case of the Hancock, the idea of a trapezoid has some connection with satanic cults, and there have been more than one strange report called in t the Chicago Police from the Hancock Building. Glass that can withstand gale force winds has been broken out from the inside out, allowing suicides to occur. The Chris Farley story is not so that old we can’t forget the circumstances of his drug overdose were sketchy, and the details were never released. There is also a physical migration of spiders that take place every other year, with the number of eight-legged creatures so great that some resident claims that they can’t see out of their windows for minutes, while the spiders take their trip up one side of the tower and down the other.

Chicago has many skyscrapers, and we also have the distinction of being known as the Windy City. The reason for the name has something to do with the ability of Chicago politicians to generate “wind” with their political views, rather that substance by way of meaningful legislation. The wind has, to my memory, taken very few lives, but several years ago, the scaffolding from one of the buildings was sent crashing to the ground, killing three women. With the number of buildings in downtown Chicago, is it just a coincidence that it was scaffolding from the John Hancock?

The lakefront has always struck me as the coldest place in Chicago. I know that it is really the warmest. The weathermen in this town can’t stop telling everyone, every night, that it is warmer by the lake. I don’t mean three or four degrees of temperature. I mean, there is a sense that the Lake Michigan wind seems unwilling to leave you alone in the dead of winter in Chicago. Near Belmont Avenue, around one of the parts of Lincoln Park, there is a Totem Pole, left over from the Chicago World’s Fair, or perhaps even the Columbian Exposition, which faces toward the city. The Eskimos that carved the characters on the pole meant for the symbols to protect those on the other side. The way the pole is facing seems to protect the lake form the city, rather than bad spirits from the city. Perhaps it isn’t a coincidence that the Cubs haven’t won a Series since that totem pole was placed facing Wrigley Field. The American Indians called this the place of “bad smells”, and there are days in Chicago when the air coming off the lake is downright foul.

Dead Pigeons?

The story about the St. Valentine’s Day massacre is one that every Chicagoan has heard at least once. It seems that the streets of Chicago were being divided by different factions of organized crime. Men posing as police – men with machine guns - a garage on the North side of the city.

The story has been told by so many, that the gangsters have become sort of folk heroes. The interesting thing to me is that the brick from the garage, with the bullet holes still in them have been sold for large amounts of money, as if they were relics of Saints in the Catholic Church. The ghost of those thugs and hoodlums are still around those alleys and streets where names like Capone and Segal are still said with a slight bow of the head. An execution done by gangsters against gangsters is hardly a thing for a city to by proud of, and yet I understand that if you tell someone in a foreign country that you are from Chicago, they still make a pose like they are holding a machine gun, and pretend to spray bullets in your direction. It is no wonder that Richard Daly, the mayor, has tried to keep any mention of the St. Valentine’s Day incident out of any travel literature.

There are unexplained manifestations in Chicago-land dating back to before the Great Fire. The places that survived were the Chicago Water Tower and St. Patrick’s Church. I certainly understand the idea that a water tower can survive a fire. If you enter old St. Pat’s and don’t get a feeling that this placed survived for a reason, then you have far more skepticism about the supernatural that I do. The building is partially wood. The reason that we have so many old stone and brick structures in Chicago is that the code required brick after the fire in all residential construction in the City of Chicago. Certainly, St. Patrick’s is near the Chicago River, but not one other building survived.

The tragedy of the Eastland is one of those stories that defy all logic. The ship was taking on passengers for a company picnic on a Sunday for the Western Electric Company. A brass band had begun to play on one side of the Chicago River, and all the passengers moved from one side of the ship to the other. The ship capsized, and trapped hundreds, and the bodies could not be recovered for many hours. The Chicago morgue was above its capacity, and in those days, the identification of a body had to be made a family member. The morgue was a building that has since become a nightclub - Limelight and Excalibur are the names that I’ve seen on it, and they are the most haunted place in Chicago. The souls of those who died in the Eastland tragedy still walk through the rooms in that limestone building on Ontario Street. People that I have met have told me that everyone who has ever worked in that building has seen ghosts, and heard bumps in the night that can’t be explained.

The Eastland was top heavy for a very interesting reason. The Maritime commission had made changes in their rules for the size and number of lifeboats required for ships in the class of the Eastland. The Eastland had been outfitted with these new lifeboats shortly before the tragic voyage for Western Electric. The reason that the change was required had to do with a ship we all know about – the Titanic.

Although the sinking of the Titanic claimed more TOTAL lives (1517), the Eastland disaster actually caused more CIVILIAN deaths, due to the fact that 685 of the lives lost on the Titanic were crew members, and only 3 crew members perished on the Eastland.

When it was determined that the Titanic was not outfitted with enough lifeboats, the entire maritime world was required to conform to the new code. The Eastland would not have capsized had it not been so top heavy. It was recovered, and became a naval training ship, and given a new name, the U.S.S. Wilmette. The Wilmette, which was scrapped in 1946, is the only ship that can claim to have sunk a German submarine in Lake Michigan, which it accomplished on June 7, 1921.

The last, and perhaps most famous haunting in Chicago, really has its foundation in the lore of Victorian novels.

Resurrection Mary is a crazy story.

A girl, who by any accounts was on her way home from a party, a prom, or some formal occasion, is waiting by the side of the road. Testimony of more than one Good Samaritan says that they pick her up, and she asks them to drive her down Archer Avenue, and when they pass Resurrection Cemetery in Justice, she disappears. The question of who she is, is the driver drunk, and why does she want a ride, all have little to do with the physical evidence of something going on at Resurrection Cemetery. The place looks like any other large graveyard around Chicago.

There is a building just past the gate, and a fence around the property. The haunting fact is that the bars in on section of the fence are bent.- bent with finger marks on steel bars. I’ve seen them, and have been told that regardless of how often they are replaced by the administrators of Resurrection Cemetery in Justice, the bars are bent again the next day.

The idea of a ghost leaving a cemetery to hitchhike with strangers never bothered me. The fact that the bar across the street relies on curious people coming to see the finger marks on the steel bars across the street from the cemetery does trouble me. The bartender actually pours a drink for Mary every night, and every night, no one in the bar admits to sneaking the drink down or pouring in on the very floor, and every night, the glass is empty about midnight.

If that isn’t Chicago haunting, I don’t know what is!


Thank you, Joe. I always appreciate a good ghost story.

In closing, the next time you hear the song below, think of my local ghost writer, Mr. Kilian:

Monday, May 11, 2009

Smoke gets in your eyes

Since our annual trade deficit with China is more than $250 billion, most of us tend to overlook the fact that the “rules of the road” are different in the land of Mao than they are here.

China’s Gongan county (in the Hubei province) was in the news recently because it had issued an edict in March of this year mandating that local government officials needed to smoke 230,000 packs of the locally produced brand of cigarettes over the course of the year, or face fines and/or loss of employment:

Puff, the magic dragon

China is the world’s largest cigarette market, with over 2 trillion cigarettes sold every year. The number of smokers in China exceeds the entire population of the United States, where roughly 25% of the population smokes cigarettes.

I lived in southern China for a year, so can personally attest to the fact that the air quality in many Chinese cities would give the EPA the willies.

When you speak about Chinese air quality, the song that comes to mind is this one:

smoke gets in your eyes

who are the platters?

Each year, roughly one million Chinese people die from smoking related diseases, and that number is expected to double by 2020.

In America, the number of smoking related deaths is 450,000 (50,000 of those are considered “second hand smoke” deaths) and the financial costs of treating smoking related diseases is approximately $50 billion a year.

Worldwide, the annual death toll is approximately 5,400,000

Since more than 300 million people in China are regular internet users, you’d probably assume that they would be pretty well educated, particularly when it comes to health-related issues.

Surprisingly, 56.8% of the male doctors in China are smokers, which would imply that there’s a BIG disconnect between education and action when it comes to health issues.

There WAS a time in America that roughly 50% of the doctors smoked.

If you believe everything that you see on TV, you’ll be interested to know that more of those doctors (in 1949) smoked Camels (the first brand sold commercially in America) than any other brand:

smoke 'em if you've got 'em

I smoked my first cigarette when I was thirteen, and my last one when I was 19 (when the cost of a carton of cigarettes was roughly half what a single pack costs today), but will readily admit that I’ve solved my craving for tobacco by using pipes and cigars over the years in between.

There are a number of reasons why people take up smoking.

One of them is the belief that it looks glamorous.

In the 1940’s and 1950’s, many Hollywood actors and actresses did promotions for cigarette companies, and you can see those ads by clicking on the link below. My personal favorite is the one of Ronald Reagan wrapping cartons of “Chesterfields for Christmas”:

smoking is glamorous

Since life IS short, it truly is important that all of us have at least some vices to get us through the tough times, and I’m absolutely adamant about not telling anyone what they should or shouldn’t do.

If you feel that you’d like to have an occasional cigarette, and you live to a ripe old age, all I can add is this:

You’ve come a long way, baby.