Several years ago, when I was working for one of the local tour companies here, I was in my parents' neighborhood (Little Italy) and wandered into a bar there for a drink. The place was then known as Jay's on Taylor, and it was just the latest in a series of incarnations of that establishment during my parents' three-plus decades there.
A charming woman named Jennifer poured me a drink, and since she, the cook, and I were the only people in the joint, we talked. When she learned that my gig included Chicago's murderous, bizarre, strange, and paranormal, her eyes lit up.
"Clarence, you’ve got to bring a tour through here; this place is haunted."
She went on to tell me about an old man who came in, claiming to be the descendant of a man who had been murdered there when it was the Italian American Social Club nearly a century before. Apparently, this gentleman's grandfather had testified in open court against the Sicilian "Black Hand" and had been murdered there on the very afternoon of his testimony. Every year his descendants gather around the anniversary of the event to pay tribute, and he was hoping to have that year’s party at the proverbial (and literal) scene of the crime.
"That's a great story, Jennifer, but what has that got to do with a haunting?"
"I'm getting to that…"
And she did. In his hopes of celebrating his ancestor at Jay's on Taylor, the old gentleman brought copies of newspaper coverage and documentation of the event for Jennifer and Jay's (her husband) consideration a few days later. Jennifer dutifully read the articles, tucked them away in the cash drawer of their register, closed up, and went home. Upon her return the next day, she found the electricity fried and the basement floor covered with water.
"That's not a ghost, that's a bad pipe!"
"No. Wait. We had just had everything fixed. There was no explanation. Wait here."
I waited. She went and fetched the documents for me to read. As I did, the lights in the bar dimmed and increased back to their original brightness. She and the cook were the only other souls (of this world) who were there with me. I was curious.
Two weeks later (on my birthday, for goodness sake), I indeed took a group of clients from my regular tour in there for Jennifer's story. As she told the story, a single light illuminating an oil painting behind the bar dimmed and grew stronger, similar to the first "demonstration." I was more than curious.
It is perhaps all coincidence.
And it is also perhaps coincidence that in the almost forty years since my parents moved to that neighborhood, no business has lasted longer than a year or two in that spot. This in spite of the fertile hub of Taylor Street and all its nightlife.
And perhaps it's just coincidence, but in the nearly ten years since this strange tale happened, every time I walk by and sneak a peek, there are precious few patrons.
Clarence Goodman is a self-styled musician and historian obsessed with all things Chicago, his place of birth. For information about him, his work, and where to catch his act, go to www.clarencegoodman.wix.com/clarencegoodman or the always reliable Book of Faces.
"There's a Little More There Than Little Italy," copyright 2018 Clarence Goodman