ADDAMS' HULL HOUSE
THE BUILDING AT THE LEFT IS ALL THAT REMAINS TODAY OF THE MOST FAMOUS SOCIAL SETTLEMENT IN AMERICAN HISTORY... JANE ADDAMS' HULL HOUSE.
Hull House was constructed by Charles J. Hull
at Halsted and Polk Streets in 1856 at a time when this was one of the
most fashionable sections of the city. After the Chicago Fire of 1871,
the "better classes" moved to other parts of the city and the
Near West Side began to attract a large immigrant population of Italian,
Greek and Jewish settlers. By the 1880's, Hull House was surrounded by
factories and tenement houses and soon after, became one of the most
famous places in Chicago.
Hull House has long been known as a pioneering effort in social equality. Jane Addams and Ellen Starr Gates opened the house in 1889 to educate and improve the lot of the newly arrived European immigrants. At that time, the overcrowded tenement neighborhoods west of Halsted Street were a jungle of crime, vice, prostitution and drug addiction. Jane Addams became the "voice of humanity" on the West Side, enriching the lives of many unfortunate people at the house.
Jane Addams was born and raised in the village of Cedarville, the privileged daughter of a wealthy merchant. Jane was raised under pleasant surroundings and tragedy first came into her life with the death of her father, which occurred the same year that she graduated from the Rockford Female Seminary. She went into a deep depression and unsure what to do with her life, she spent a portion of her inheritance traveling in Europe. It would be in London, in the terrible slums of Whitechapel, that she would find her calling.
In the company of her college friend and traveling companion, Elle Starr Gates, Jane would spend time at Toynbee Hall, a settlement house for the poor. Here, young and affluent students lived and worked beside the poorest dregs of London, pushing for social reform and better standards of living. Jane was intrigued by the idea of it and after her return to Chicago, began making plans for such a place in the city. She soon discovered the run-down Halsted Street mansion and worse... the terrifying conditions in the Levee district to the west....
THE WEST SIDE LEVEE
In his book, RETURN TO THE SCENE OF THE CRIME, author Richard Linberg refers to the dark neighborhood near Hull House as the "Darkest Corner of Chicago", and he was right. Crooked cops and politicians collected graft from every type of offensive character imaginable in this violent area. It was home to brothels, saloons, dope peddlers and all-night "druggists", plying their trade along Sangamon, Green, Peoria, Curtis, Carpenter and Morgan Streets. The district was awash in vice.
Exiled criminals from other parts of the city sought refuge on the west side, attracting the "lowest of the lowly" hoodlums. Prostitutes beckoned openly from open doorways to the string of whorehouses that operated between Monroe and Lake Streets. In addition, cocaine, laudanum and over-the-counter patent medicines spiked with opium were available to purchase in district drugstores.
It was a horrible place, and amidst it all were the broken-down refugees and immigrants. It was to this people that Jane Addams' Hull House appealed.
Jane and Ellen took control of the property in September 1889 and opened the settlement house. Addams was granted a 25 year, rent-free lease by Hull's confidential secretary, Helen Culver, and by the heirs to the Hull fortune, who were enthusiastic about Jane's efforts on behalf of the poor. They soon began turning the place into a comfortable house, aimed mostly at women, but affording food and shelter to the homeless and hungry as well. The house also provided education and protection for many and the staff worked to better the lives of the local people for many years to come.
Eventually, as the settlement expanded, more space was needed than the house could give. The verandah and the cupola were removed and a third floor was added to the structure. Over time, 12 more buildings were added, although were later destroyed when the house was renovated as a historic site. The third floor was also removed and the verandah and cupola were restored.
Jane Addams died in 1935 but the Hull House Association continued her work at the settlement house until the 1960's. At that time, the property was purchased by the University of Illinois, bringing an end to one of Chicago's greatest achievements in social reform.
THE HAUNTING OF HULL HOUSE
At the time when Jane Addams took over Hull House, several years had passed since the death of Mrs. Charles Hull, but this didn't prevent her from making her presence known. She had died of natural causes in a second-floor bedroom of the mansion and within a few months of her passing, her ghost was said to be haunting that particular room. Overnight guests began having their sleep disturbed by footsteps and what were described as "strange and unearthly noises".
Mrs. Hull's bedroom was first occupied by Jane Addams herself, who was awakened one night by loud footsteps in the otherwise empty room. After a few nights of this, she confided her story to Ellen, who also admitted to experiencing the same sounds. Jane later moved to another room.
But she would not be alone in noticing the unusual happenings. Helen Campbell, the author of the book PRISONERS OF POVERTY, reported seeing an apparition standing next to her bed (she took Jane up on the offer of staying in the "haunted room"). When she lit the gas jet, the figure vanished. The same peculiar sounds and figures were also observed by Mrs. Louise Bowen, a lifelong friend of Jane's, Jane and Mary Smith, and even Canon Barnett of Toynbee Hall, who visited the settlement house during the Columbian Exposition in 1893.
According to Jane Addams' book, TWENTY YEARS AT HULL HOUSE, earlier tenants of the house, which included the Little Sisters of the Poor and a second-hand furniture store, believed the upstairs of the house was haunted as well. They had always kept a bucket of water on the stairs, believing that the ghost was unable to cross over it.
Regardless, the ghost was always considered to be rather sad, but harmless, and residents and guests learned to live with its presence. Unfortunately, it was not the only "supernatural" legend connected to Hull House!
THE DEVIL BABY OF HULL HOUSE
Hull House received its greatest notoriety when it was alleged to be the refuge of the Chicago "devil baby". This child was supposedly born to a devout Catholic woman and her atheist husband and was said to have pointed ears, horns, scale-covered skin and a tail. According to the story, the young woman had attempted to display a picture of the Virgin Mary in the house but her husband had torn it down. He stated that he would rather have the Devil himself in the house that the picture. When the woman had become pregnant, the Devil Baby had been their curse. After enduring numerous indignities because of the child, the father allegedly took it to Hull House.
After being taken in by Jane Addams, staff members of the house reportedly took the baby to be baptized. During the ceremony, the baby supposedly escaped from the priest and began dancing and laughing. Not knowing what else to do with the child, Jane kept it locked in the attic of the house, where it later died.
Rumors spread quickly about the baby and within a few weeks, hundreds of people came to the house to get a glimpse of it. How the story had gotten started, no one knew, but it spread throughout the west side neighborhood and was reported by famous Chicago reporter Ben Hecht. He claimed that every time he tried to run down the story, he was directed to find the child at Hull House. Many people came to the door and demanded to see the child, while others quietly offered to pay an admission. They believed the wild story to be absolutely true!
Each day, Jane turned people away and tried to convince them that the story was fabricated. She even devoted 40 pages of her autobiography to dispelling the stories. Even though most of the poorly educated immigrants left the house still believing the tales of the Devil Baby, the stream of callers eventually died out and the story became a barely remembered side note in the history of Hull House.
Or did it?
As the years have passed, some people still maintain the story of the Devil Baby is true... or at least contains some elements of the truth. Some have speculated that perhaps the child was actually a badly deformed infant that had been brought to Hull House by a young immigrant woman that could not care for it. Perhaps the monstrous appearance of the child had started the rumors in the neighborhood and eventually led to Hull House.
Regardless, local legend insists that at some point, there was a disfigured boy that was hidden away on the upper floors of the house. The stories also go on to say that on certain nights, the image of a deformed face could be seen peering out of the attic window.... and that a ghostly version of that face is still seen by visitors today!
HULL HOUSE is located at 800 South Halsted Street in Chicago and is open to the public as a historic site. The West Side Levee District no longer exists but was once bounded by Madison Street on the south and running north to Lake, east to Halsted and west to Center Street (now Racine Avenue). The bordellos and saloons have been replaced by loft apartments, parking lots, a few ethnic restaurants and Oprah Winfrey's HARPO STUDIOS on Washington Boulevard.
COPYRIGHT 2000 BY TROY TAYLOR. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.