In the wee morning hours of April 6, 1991, eleven members of the Ghost Research Society decided to spend the overnight at Billy Siegel's That Steak Joynt in an attempt to document some of the strange paranormal events that have been attested to in the past.
So begins the press release issued by Dale Kaczmarek, president of the Ghost Research Society, and Howard Heim, research director of that organization. On a muggy Friday afternoon in mid-May, Kaczmarek and Heim are seated on bar stools at That Steak Joynt on North Wells. I arrive in response to this clarion call to the media along with two reporters from the Lerner papers and Anita Gold from the Tribune. Normally open only for dinner, the restaurant has thrown wide its doors to welcome the four of us with ribs, chicken, calamari, and pasta salad.
After one's eyes adjust to the gloom inside, the famous restaurant can be seen to resemble a funeral home or a Mediterranean brothel. Red-flocked walls and somber Italianate woodwork punctuated with white sculpture and Victorian paintings lend immediate credibility to the idea of a haunting.
Kaczmarek is a thin man with soulful, intelligent eyes and a drooping Fu Manchu mustache; he wears khaki pants and a long-sleeved beige shirt that make him look like a sensitive washing-machine repairman. Leaning forward, his back to the bar, he peers into the middle distance of the room. Heim is a robust, almost corpulent man in a dark suit and a red flowered tie, clean-shaven with hair neatly razor-cut. He answers reporters' questions with a casualness that belies his almost military posture.
On the fateful evening in question, the press release goes on, the investigative team was made up of Kaczmarek, Heim, a psychic named Jan, and eight GRS members. They were joined by Celeste Busk of the Sun-Times. The psychic--and Busk--were allowed to "roam free" to obtain the information they needed.
The restaurant was broken up into four separate outposts which included #1 the west end of the main dining room, #2 the lower level dining room, #3 the upstairs dining room and balcony area and #4 the east end of the main dining room. Each outpost was manned by two people who were equipped with FM headsets, clipboards, writing materials, a log sheet and various pieces of equipment including tape recorders, cameras, flashlights and camcorders.
Several eight-by-ten photographs are mounted on tripods between the cocktail lounge and the main dining room. Two color photos of the white Carrara marble bust over the back bar stand out. The bust is a rendering of an old peasant, or possibly a sailor, wearing a stocking cap. Both the photos and the bust itself are creepily lifelike. The shots were taken within seconds of each other but from slightly different angles; viewing them together, the effect is of the old man twisting his head to one side. Heim points out that in the first photo, an electrical cord on the bar is draped over a stapler and an address book. In the second photo, the cord seems to have been moved off the stapler, and the pages of the address book are lifting as if in a slight breeze; behind the Carrara bust is a smear of white smoky light.
Kaczmarek picks up his pointer so that the entire entourage of pad-and-pencilers can follow his remarks about other photos. "These two were taken upstairs in the dining room. This is the top of the stairs right here, the women's washroom here." Points. "This was taken with infrared film, and this is Tri-X--black-and-white, 400 speed. These were taken at the same time, as close as you can get two cameras side by side. Nothing so much in this photograph," and he points to one. And then to the other: "But here, a monkish figure."
"Yeah," Anita Gold says. She nods in recognition at an amorphous transparent gray area at the bottom left of the photo.
"Nothing was seen when it was taken," Heim contributes. The press are circling the steam tables, piling chicken and calamari onto plates, nodding, chewing, looking interested.
"And," Kaczmarek continues, "you can see a circular, crescent-shaped glow on the stairs in the last photograph." Indeed, there is a circular, crescent-shaped glow in the photograph. "That was taken with a 110 Instamatic."
"What prompted you to come here and investigate in the first place?" they're asked.
"Well," Kaczmarek answers. "Phenomenon. The press release tells quite a bit about it, but briefly: cold spots. They are felt halfway up the stairs."
"I've seen one smile," Gold says and nods knowingly.
Kaczmarek looks at her as if to ask, You saw a cold spot smile? He opens his mouth to continue but turns his head to Gold and says, "Oh--the paintings." She's still nodding. He continues: "Yeah, uh, there was the incident of the waitress cited in the release. She was grabbed by someone, had her heel broken, and of course quit the next day."
Past paranormal occurrences in That Steak Joynt include: a cold spot felt by many people along the stairway leading to the second floor, strange feelings in the women's washroom as if you are not alone, activity and feelings around the bust behind the bar and the uncanny reactions by several members of a seance held by Robert Dubiel several years ago.
"Who called you on this?" one media representative asks Kaczmarek, raising his hand for attention over the hubbub of forks clattering against appetizer plates.
"We just decided to set it up. We talked to Billy, of course. I've been friends with Billy for a number of years now. He's the owner. Billy Siegel."
"Tell us about the murder," Gold prompts.
"Billy's kind of teased me with this story," Kaczmarek says. "He's told me there has been a murder here, but he's never really told me about it exactly. He says it was back when this place was Piper's Bakery."
"It was a love triangle," Gold supplies. "One guy killed the other guy, and then he was sorry for it."
Nothing else seems to be forthcoming about the murder. Heim is asked how long he has been involved in paranormal investigations. "About a year and a half," he says. Is it something he's doing full-time? "No, I'm a security supervisor for a real estate company. I work the graveyard shift--heh, heh."
What does Kaczmarek do when he is not hunting otherworldly beings?
"I work for a distribution warehouse--Certified Grocers. Off of LaGrange Road."
"What about good ghosts?" asks Gold.
"Most ghosts are not harmful--in fact, only 2 percent are negative. The ones that are most often reported are playful."
"We had a playful one that was a delight." Gold smiles and shares her story. "Of course, my husband is a skeptic, but we had a very frightening experience where our bed actually raised up 12 inches off the floor. We jumped off. It was levitated, you know? My husband won't talk about it even though it happened. It happened for a reason, we felt. Two days later there was a tremendous flood in our house, and we felt that somebody was trying to warn us to, like, pick up the furniture or whatever."
When asked if the effects in the photographs could have been faked, Heim says, "I was into photography in high school, and I did stuff like put my face on rock stars." He laughs. "It looked absolutely perfect!"
But these photographs have not been tampered with?
"Another thing I've heard about," Heim says, "is that you can go to a spot with a tape recorder, a spot where there might have been agony or pain or slavery or something. You say you've come in peace and everything, and ask, 'Would you like me to convey something to the living?' Tell them you're only there temporarily so they don't think you're moving in or something, and just let the tape recorder run. They say you get pretty good results when you play back and listen with headphones rather than through open speakers--almost like in Poltergeist where the response comes through the static of the television, you'll hear, 'Help' or 'Thank you' or 'We love you.' Actual words."
Couldn't this be projection? The mind imposing a desired response on white noise?
"I have no idea, I've never tried it," Heim replies. "I'm almost frightened to try it."
Gold asks everyone in the room for his or her astrological sign. There are two Sagittarians, one of them Kaczmarek. Gold lets out a long "Aaahhh!" and asks her fellow fourth estaters if they have had any personal experiences with the supernatural. No one, with the exception of Gold, has had any to speak of. "Here's Billy," she announces. "Billy has had experiences. Billy is, in my opinion of course, reincarnated from the 30s."
A short, dapper man in a dark suit and black shirt is introduced. His mustache is neatly trimmed, his eyes are red, as if he's just woken up or suffers from allergies. He smiles at Gold.
When asked if he's seen anything in his restaurant that might be in the realm of the unexplained, he pauses dramatically and says, "I'll show you."
Siegel leads the way to the downstairs dining room and when we get there indicates two Victorian portraits. They are thought to be renderings, Kaczmarek says, of William and Catherine Devine, milk merchants. "I've seen the expressions change on these faces here." The eyes are certainly lifelike. Siegel directs our attention to a painting across the room, of some British lord whose name escapes him. The painting seems to be the work of the same artist. "Even my daughter has seen what I've seen," says Siegel. "We've all seen his eyes follow us." He raises his eyebrows and indicates slow movement across the room with an upraised finger.
"Then we had a seance here, which was filmed by Fox 32. Anita, you remember the seance?"
"Oh yeah," Gold nods. "Did you ever get the film?"
Siegel continues. "We had Alan Gross, Pat Brickhouse, Celeste Busk from the Sun-Times, Warren Black, Anita Gold, Herb Gould, Ken Hall, who at that time was the number-two man at CBS. Fox 32 filmed it."
Did anything interesting happen?
Siegel quickly responds: "Celeste Busk not only threw up and passed out but really freaked out. We heard noises. Warren Black almost fainted. . . he left. Ran out of here."
"The lights flickered," Gold says. "Remember?"
"Yeah, this was with Fox 32 filming," Siegel reminds the by now well-fed journalists. "Excuse me." He has to take a phone call.
The press conference has divided into three discussion groups of two each. Heim tells me about weeping Madonnas and how that effect can be achieved by mixing glycerine into the paint beneath the statue's eyes. Kaczmarek and Gold discuss satanism, and the Lerner reporters talk among themselves before taking their leave politely.
There were several instances of alleged paranormal activity at various locations throughout the night. We have only been able to explain away one of the instances while the others remain a mystery to date. (see psychic observation sheet). . . .
I now believe that there may indeed be several different ghosts attached to the property. Many times spirits can become emotionally or physically attached to a place, an antique object or a person. With the amount of antiques in That Steak Joynt, this may be the reason it is so haunted.
Asked if there are any other promising areas of supernatural activity Kaczmarek might suggest for the budding ghostbuster, areas he himself has not yet studied, he says, "Gangsters."
He mentions the Lexington Hotel on South Michigan Avenue, where Al Capone rented the entire fifth floor, and where Geraldo Rivera opened the famous vault on national television. Kaczmarek also mentions the alley next to the Biograph where a shadowy figure with arms upraised has been seen walking before it falls to the pavement and disappears from view. Finally, there's the site of the Saint Valentine's Day massacre, where certain unconfirmed phenomena have been said to occur. Wailing, moaning, etc.
The press conference concluded, there seems little harm in stopping by the massacre site, at 2122 N. Clark, now a vacant plot of grass chained off at shin level and home of five trees and a row of bushes. No cold spots. Very warm and muggy, in fact. It is difficult even to strain for the sounds of wailing or moaning over the traffic on Clark.
3:45 PM. A visit to the Clark Bar several doors down might provide information, insight. The bartender confirms that the site is the right address. "They say the original owner of this place was one of the guys killed in that garage that day," he says. "But here, this guy down here is an old neighborhood regular. He can tell you all about that stuff."
The bartender calls over a man in his 50s with gray hair and missing a few teeth. He pours himself another glass from a pitcher of beer and seems eager to recount the history of Capone, Bugs Moran, and the events of that fateful day.
Had he ever heard of any ghostly phenomena in the area?
"Oh, yeah. I think it's all imagination myself, but some guys I live with say they've heard machine-gun fire and stuff from that spot. 'Course, I live in a psychiatric halfway house down the street. I guess you gotta figure that in, huh?"