Post by Graveyardbride on May 18, 2022 13:41:40 GMT -5
The Ghosts of May
While only four recurring American ghosts – one each in Florida, Illinois, New York and Virginia – appear in May, one of them, the spirit associated with Chicago’s complicated and gruesome Sausage Vat Murder, more than makes up for the paucity of U.S. hauntings.
May 1: Today, Regal Lofts (above), a luxury condominium complex, occupies 1735 W. Diversey Parkway in Chicago’s Lincoln Park area, but few residents realize many of the units are located in what was once the A. L. Sausage Factory, site of one of the city’s most gruesome murders.
Late on the night of April 30, 1897, three neighbors saw Adolph Luetgert, known far and wide as the “Sausage King,” and his wife Louisa walking from their home on Hermitage Avenue to the factory. Although it was dark, the burly 6-foot sausage-maker and his petite 5-foot spouse were easily identifiable.
Luetgert, born December 27, 1845, in Germany, claimed he arrived in Chicago with only 3 cents in his pocket, but he was a hard worker and astute businessman and by 1872, at the age of 27, he was the proprietor of both a grocery store and saloon and his establishments were among the cleanest and most orderly in the city.
His first wife died in 1877, leaving him with a two-year-old son, and within months, he was wooing Louisa Becknese (born January 13, 1855), a pretty German servant girl who wound her long blonde hair into a large braid, which she pinned to the top of her head to add height, leaving a single ringlet dangling coquettishly upon her forehead. During their marriage ceremony, Adolph slipped an impressive 14-carat gold wedding band engraved with the initials “LL” onto the third finger of his bride’s left hand.
Although her husband made a good living and their union produced four children – one died at 10 months and another at one-year – all wasn’t well on the home front. Louisa, it seemed, was something of a shrew and her husband had a wandering eye, whether by nature or brought on by Louisa’s constant nagging, no one knows.
In 1879, the body of Hugh McGowan, a local ne’er-do-well who spent much of his time drinking in neighborhood bars, was found behind Luetgert’s saloon. He had been roughed up, but the medical examiner discovered he died from having a huge wad of chewing tobacco forced down his throat. Luetgert, who wouldn’t tolerate anyone’s spitting on his scrupulously clean floors, was the prime suspect, but there was no proof and for 18 years, the matter was all but forgotten.
Not long after McGowan’s death, Luetgert sold his saloon and went into the sausage business, producing links of such extraordinary quality that he was soon serving customers all over Chicago.
By 1894, Luetgert had become so successful he expanded his business by constructing a five-story brick sausage factory on Diversey at a cost of $141,000 (equivalent to approximately $5 million in today’s currency). He also built a fine three-story home for his family nearby. Even though he was the undisputed Sausage King of Chicago, producing millions of pounds of bratwurst, knockwurst, wieners and other popular German, Italian and French sausage products, he was determined to become “Sausage King of the World,” which would necessitate a significant expansion of his operation and an enormous outlay of capital, so he presented his idea to several investors, one of whom was Robert Davy, a London promoter residing at the newly constructed Lexington Hotel on South Michigan Avenue. (Davy, it turned out, was a swindler and later, contemporary newspapers branded him a “knave.”)
Louisa didn’t share her husband’s dreams and this became yet another bone of contention in their already volatile relationship. According to neighbors, the pair argued and on occasion, Adolph actually struck his wife, causing her to flee the house and run out into the street. Finally, Luetgert packed a few personal belongings, moved into the factory and started spending most of his nights in a small room behind his office. People were soon whispering that Mary Simerling, the family’s young servant girl, had been seen sneaking in and out the building and she wasn’t his only love interest. He also was carrying on with Mrs. Christine Feldt, a rich window to whom he sent love notes addressed to “My Beloved Christine.”
In the spring of 1897, Luetgert closed the plant in preparation for the costly renovation, but come April, an investment firm determined his grandiose plan was much too risky and foreclosed on a $30,000 mortgage. Too late, the Sausage King realized he had been swindled by the wily Davy and began scrambling to save his business. Louisa, of course, wasted no time denigrating her husband, never passing up an opportunity to say, “I told you so.”
On the night of Thursday, April 29, Frank Oderoffsky, a plant employee affectionately known as “Smokehouse Frank,” received a call from his boss directing him to go to the basement, where there were three large sausage vats, and break up a mixture of crude potash and arsenic – which Luetgert had inexplicably ordered the previous month – in the middle vat. “And don’t get it on your hands,” Luetgert warned his employee. “It will give you a bad burn.”
The following evening around 10:15, Louisa was sitting in the kitchen with her 12-year-old son Louis, who had been to the circus, when Luetgert appeared and ordered the boy to bed. Earlier in the evening, Emma Schimpke, who lived across the street, visited Louisa and reported the two “had a cheerful talk.” Mrs. Schimpke was one of the neighbors who saw Mr. and Mrs. Luetgert (pictured below) walking toward the factory later that night – the last time anyone reported seeing Louisa Luetgert alive.
Over the next few days, Leutgert told a few friends and family members his wife had left him and when questioned by Diedrich Bicknese, his brother-in-law, he casually shrugged and remarked, “She might have gone away or wandered away, something like that.” He admitted he hadn’t notified the police, which was surprising, because when one of his Great Dane guard dogs ran off, he practically sprinted to the closest precinct and demanded officers search for the animal. Finally, on May 8, at Briknese’s insistence, Luetgert alerted the authorities that his wife was missing, but all attempts to locate her were in vain.
A week later, on May 15, Frank Bialk, night watchman at the sausage factory, advised police that on the evening Mrs. Luetgert was last seen, he observed his boss at one of the large vats. Having run out of leads, investigators set about searching the basement area and discovered a quantity of thick, greasy, reddish-brown, foul-smelling fluid in the middle vat and when the huge container was drained of the fetid slime, officers recovered two gold rings, one of them engraved with the initials “LL,” and a number of small bone fragments. A nearby pile of ashes contained additional bone fragments, a hairpin, false tooth, charred stays from a corset and a few scraps of cloth. As news of the macabre find spread, so did rumors that Louisa Luetgert had been murdered and turned into sausage.
Leutgert was arrested three days later and charged with killing his wife and on May 22, the grand jury returned a true bill. The theory was that he had murdered Louisa, then boiled her body in a caustic solution that totally destroyed the flesh, leaving nothing more than small bits of bone. To prove their point, on August 7, prosecutors obtained a corpse, boiled it in a vat of potash for two hours and the flesh and all but the largest bones were completely destroyed.
During the trial, which began August 24, Luetgert’s attorney claimed he, too, had boiled a corpse in a potash solution, but it had not been reduced to liquid form. He also presented a letter written to Alderman William E. Schlake, signed by “Loisa Luetgert,” in which the writer claimed she was living in Chicago with friends. Unfortunately for the defense, the handwriting did not match that of the missing woman and the prosecution told the jury the letter was a forgery intended to prove the lady was alive. Additionally, during the trial, Charles Winthers was arrested for attempting to intimidate Mrs. Agatha Tosch, who was scheduled to testify concerning the smoke she had seen billowing from the factory’s chimney the night Louisa disappeared.
In addition to the smoke she’d seen in the early morning hours of May 1, when called to the stand, Mrs. Tosch also swore she had never dressed up as Louisa’s ghost for the purpose of scaring Luetgert. The powerfully built sausage maker had vociferously accused police of hiring “ghosts” to frighten him during the investigation of his wife’s murder. Whether his wife’s spirit was actually haunting him, or if she existed only in his troubled mind, no one knows.
When Bialk, the grey-haired night watchman, was called to testify, he told the jury that on the night in question, his employer sent him out for a bottle of Hunyadi János water, which manufacturers claimed would combat “the evil consequences of indiscretion in diet.” Bialk reminded Luetgert there was a case of the mineral water on the premises, but his boss said it was all gone. Because it was the weekend and all the neighborhood drugstores were closed, it took him quite a while to find the item. When he returned from his errand, Bialk noticed the boiler had been fired up and the steam to one of the vats turned on. When he asked his employer, who was in shirt sleeves and perspiring heavily, what was going on, Luetgert replied, “Just an experiment” and told the older man he could go home.
The trial continued for weeks during which the state and newspaper reporters depicted Luetgert as a thoroughly despicable human being, a “bull of a man ... with immense shoulders and great rolls of fat on the back of his neck bearing testimony to an insatiable appetite for food and drink.” According to prosecutors, his temper matched his other appetites and 18 years earlier, in one of his uncontrollable rages, he had likely killed a man for spitting on the floor of his saloon.
The defense then produced several experts disputing the prosecution’s contentions, including one who claimed the bone fragments presented by the state were, in fact, from the femur of a hog. Additionally, William Charles, Luetgert’s business partner, testified that the caustic potash was purchased to make soft soap to clean the factory prior to turning it over to an English syndicate. The state, however, countered Charles’s testimony by calling a deputy sheriff who swore there were in excess of 100 boxes of soap in the factory’s inventory.
The defense also refuted some of the testimony presented by prosecution witnesses. For example, Mrs. Christina Feldt told the jury the Defendant had often expressed hatred for his wife and implied he was going to get rid of her, but Mary Simerling countered by claiming her employer treated his wife with kindness.
On October 18, after the lawyers made their closing arguments, the jury began deliberating, but after 66 hours, the 12 jurors were unable to agree on a verdict: nine voting for conviction and three for acquittal.
The state wasted no time refiling charges and on November 29, 1897, Luetgert’s second trial started. The Sausage King appealed to the public for financial assistance, but few contributed to his defense fund. On January 19, 1898, when he took the stand, extra police officers were called in to control the crowd of people clamoring to get inside the courthouse. This time, the jury convicted Luetgert and he began serving a life sentence in May 1898. A little more than a year later, on July 27, 1899, as he was about to eat breakfast, Adolph Luetgert dropped dead at the age of 53. The medical examiner attributed his death to long-term heart disease.
The following day, Frank Pratt, a Chicago lawyer who fancied himself an amateur palm reader, claimed he was visiting a client by the name of Chris Merry at Joliet in February and while there, asked Luetgert if he would like his palm read. While examining the lines in the burly German’s palm, Pratt told him his hand indicated he possessed a temper so violent he couldn’t always control his actions, which prompted Luetgert to all but admit murdering his wife, claiming he sometimes felt he was possessed by the Devil. The attorney added he did not feel at liberty to divulge this information while Luetgert was alive. Nonetheless, when Adolph Leutgert was laid to rest at Forest Home Cemetery on July 30, his three sons, Arnold, Louis and Elmer, proclaimed their father’s innocence.
Through the years, there have been rumors that both the old sausage factory and surrounding area are haunted by the spirit of the hapless Louisa Luetgert and even a 1913 fire that practically gutted the building failed to lay the ghost. On one occasion, a police officer claimed to have actually chased the wispy wraith through the basement one night, and as recently as the 1970s, a family living in a basement apartment complained of poltergeist activity. Although there are few reported sightings of Louisa’s ghost today, it is said that every May 1st, the anniversary of her gruesome demise, the apparition of a small woman walks the sidewalks in the area where she lived and haunts the basement where she died.
May 2: An old legend has it that every 50 years, the spirit of Manonah, an Oneida Indian chief, appears on the Chenango River at a location approximately 1½ miles south of Earlville, New York. In an alleged sighting on May 2, 1880, Manonah told witnesses the river belonged to the Oneidas and 50 years later, in 1930, he warned that too many fish were being taken from the river. Because sightings were sporadic, some surmised the ghost of the old chief manifested every 50 years, but in the latter part of the 20th century, there were several reports of sightings wherein the apparition did not speak – instead, he simply stared sadly at the misused and polluted river.
May 23: Twice a year, on the 23rd of May and November, an unearthly scream reverberates through Haw Branch Plantation (above) in Amelia County, Virginia. See “November Ghosts” for the story of this haunting.
Month of May: According to legend, some time around 1800 during the month of May, the pirate José Gaspar and his band of cutthroats boarded a Spanish ship in what is now Tampa Bay, Florida. They wasted no time butchering the crew and within minutes, streams of red running down the sides of the wooden vessel rivaled those of the setting sun. With all the men on deck dead or dying, the pillagers swarmed into the hull of the ship in search of loot. When Gaspar kicked open the first stateroom door, he discovered a young Spanish lady in a white dress with a white mantilla covering her raven tresses. She had heard tales of pirates and knew she faced death – or worse. Still, clutching a violin to her breast, she stood before the intruders with the bearing of a princess. Two of the marauders moved toward the woman, but were stopped cold in their tracks as Gaspar bellowed, “The first man who touches her will die by my hand!” The villains backed out of the room and proceeded to raid the remainder of the ship. Gaspar stayed behind.
Finally, the brutal pirate offered the lady his hand and escorted her onto the deck above. Mercifully, darkness had fallen and she was not forced to look upon the corpses of the slaughtered crew. Gaspar placed the violin in the lovely señorita’s hand and bid her play. She raised the instrument and a mournful tune wafted across the bay as the bloody buccaneer and his men, with loot in hand, leapt over the side of the vessel into their dinghies. A sudden wind blew in from the east and the ship, with its sole living occupant, sailed into the blackness of the night.
Ever since, on dark nights in the month of May, when only the lapping of the waves disrupt the stillness of Tampa Bay, one can still hear the melancholy strains of a phantom melody played by the Spanish princess as she drifts out to sea and into oblivion. And on occasion, people have glimpsed the ship itself moving westward under full sail even though there is no discernible breeze. The most recent reported sighting occurred in the late 1980s.
England, Scotland and Wales
Twenty-three anniversary hauntings in the UK occur during the month of May, but the legends behind some of them are so sketchy the precise locations and circumstances are impossible to ascertain.
May 1: As dawn breaks on May Day, phantom voices raised in song emanate from the ruins of Godstow Nunnery on the banks of the River Thames in Wolvercote, Oxfordshire. But the singing nuns aren’t the only spirits haunting the long abandoned religious community. Rosamund Clifford (aka “The Fair Rosamund” and “The Rose of the World), mistress of King Henry II, was educated by the nuns and when she died in her mid-20s – there are rumors she was poisoned by Eleanor of Aquitaine – around 1176, the king and the Clifford family paid a handsome sum for her entombment within the monastery church. Her place of burial was a popular shrine until 1191 when the Bishop of Lincoln noticed Rosamund’s flower- and candle-laden tomb and ordered her remains be removed from the church and buried outside “with the rest, that the Christian religion may not grow into contempt, and that other women, warned by her example, may abstain from illicit and adulterous intercourse.” People continued flocking to her grave site until her resting place was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-41). It isn’t certain when Rosamund’s spirit began haunting the site, but having been disturbed not once, but twice, is the most likely reason her restless wraith still walks the location once occupied by Godstow Nunnery.
May 1: According to British author Hippsley Coxe, a fiery Viking longboat appears on the water in the Norfolk village of South Wallsham. Although he doesn’t specify the precise location of the spectral funeral, some believe it manifests on South Walsham Broad.
May 1: A white horse accompanied by a fairy rise from the treacherous waters of the Wharfe River known as Wharfedale’s Strid in North Yorkshire. Those foolish enough to get too close to the apparition risk being drowned.
May 1: On the banks of Loch Ashie, a Scottish lake known for peace and quiet, located just a little more than six miles southwest of Inverness, a phantom battle rages in total silence.
May 1: It is said that every year on the date of the ancient Celtic fire festival of Beltane, a secret door opens somewhere in the Brecon Beacons, a mountain range in Wales, and those mortals who dare enter will be transported to the fairy realm. According to local legend, at one time, the door was always open, but after a man stole a fairy flower, access was restricted. The area is also haunted by the spirit of an old woman who uses music to lure the weak-willed into the waters of a lake where they drown.
May 2: St. Mary the Virgin Church (above) at Burgh St. Peter, Norfolk, is best-known for its huge 18th century ziggurat tower inspired by those of Ancient Mesopotamia. However, like many Old World churches, parts of the edifice have been rebuilt and added to over many generations and there’s a legend that Adam Morland, the original builder of St. Mary’s, either borrowed a large sum of money, or sought knowledge, from a man who turned out to be the Devil and in exchange for such, Old Scratch laid claim to his soul. No one has explained why Satan would aid in the construction of a church, but it is said that when Morland died on May 2 (the year is unknown), he was buried in the churchyard – which is consecrated ground – and ever since, the Prince of Darkness has been forced to wait for Resurrection Day to snatch Morland’s soul. According to some reports, every May 2nd, a skeletal figure in a cloak, often mistaken for the Grim Reaper, can be seen lurking about just outside the confines of the graveyard.
May 4: In the village of Prestbury, Gloucestershire, the glowing apparition of a horseman felled by a Lancastrian arrow on May 4, 1471, during the War of the Roses, gallops at breakneck speed along Shaw Green Lane. Of interest, in the early 20th century, a skeleton with an arrowhead lodged in its ribs was discovered in the area.
May 8: Local legend has it that many years ago, St. Michael and the Devil fought in the skies above Helston, Cornwall, and during the conflict, Satan dropped a great stone which hit with such force it was driven into the ground – likely a meteorite. When The Angel Hotel at 16 Coinagehall Street was constructed in the 16th century, some of the stones were hewn from the Devil’s rock and every year on May 8th, Old Nick returns to have a look at the location where he lost an important battle. The hotel, known far and wide for its Flora Day and Furry Dance in early May, also has a resident ghost called “Nelly.”
May 12: The phantom reenactment of a gathering in which the spirits of medieval (some say Roman) celebrants are seen and heard feasting and dancing around a bonfire takes place late on the night of May 12th at Salthouse Pool in Salthouse, Norfolk. According to some sources, the manifestation occurs on the third Tuesday in May.
May 15: Although the precise location is unknown, there’s an old legend that somewhere in Ormesby, Norfolk, the apparition of an old mill manifests and is burned down with the miller, his daughter and a visitor inside. The reason for the burning is unclear.
May 19: At midnight, a phantom coach carrying the spirit of Anne Boleyn, who was beheaded the morning of May 19, 1536, pulls up to Blickling Hall, where the tragic queen was born, and she steps out, her head tucked beneath her arm. After dropping off his headless daughter, the coach, driven Sir Thomas Boleyn, Anne’s father, continues, crossing several bridges, including, but not necessarily limited to, those in Aylsham, Belaugh, Burgh, Buxton, Coltishall, Little Hautbois, Wroxham and the lost community of Oxnead. And in addition to his mad cross-country journey, he also fights a duel outside St. Andrew and St. Peter Church in Blofield.
May 21: On May 21, 1471, while praying in the chapel of Wakefield Tower within the Tower of London, King Henry VI, last of the Lancastrians, died, and the general consensus is that he was murdered on orders of Edward IV. Now, on the anniversary of his death, the monarch’s spirit is said to appear in the chapel just before midnight.
May 25: What’s left of St. Benet’s Abbey in Ludham, the first Benedictine monastery in Norfolk, founded in AD 1020, is haunted by a monk who betrayed his brothers to Norman soldiers. In the end, however, he gained nothing, for the invaders hanged him.
May 27: On May 27, 1541, Lady Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, was executed on orders of King Henry VIII. She was 67-years-old at the time and died a bloody and extremely painful death. There are two accounts of what happened that day: The first contends the executioner was inexperienced, missed the lady’s neck when he swung the axe, gashed her shoulder and it took a total of 11 blows to separate the old Plantagenet’s head from her body. The second version has it that, defiant to the bitter end, the elderly woman refused to place her head on the chopping block and the axeman pursued her, chopping madly until he felled her after 11 blows. The spectral reenactment on the anniversary of the execution has allegedly been witnessed by several reputable individuals.
May 28: At Sutherland House in Southwold, Suffolk, the apparition of a young red-haired woman awaiting the return of Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich, is occasionally seen, but more often heard, on the anniversary of the earl’s death in 1672. His body washed ashore a week after he was killed when his ship was attacked during the Battle of Solebay. Montagu opposed the war, but did his duty and predicted his own death, telling a friend he would see him “no more.” Even after the passage of more than 350 years, there are still reports of phantom footsteps and doors opening of their own accord at Sutherland House.
May 29: At Claypotts Castle in Dundee, Angus, Scotland, once a year, the wraith of a woman rumored to have been a mistress of Cardinal David Beaton, who died May 29, 1496, is seen frantically waving a white handkerchief from a high window.
May 30: Mysterious blue lights are said to dance over St. Mary and St. Walstan Church at Bawberg, Norfolk.
May 31: Once a year at St. James’s Palace in London, the gruesome ghost of a man rumored to have been killed by the Duke of Cumberland, son of George III, is observed dripping blood from his slashed throat.
May 31: At the stroke of midnight, a mustard-colored coach makes its way along the driveway leading to Hill Hall at Theydon Bois, Essex. The conveyance is believed to be carrying the Duke de Morrow, who once lived at the Hall.
Month of May: The following hauntings occur during the month of May, but on no specific date:
Coleby Grange Airfield in Sleaford, Lincolnshire, was established in 1939 and remained operational until May 1963. The location is now farmland and the only thing left of the once vital military installation is the old air traffic control tower (above), where the ghost of an RAF (Royal Air Force) officer briefly manifests during the month of May, ostensibly because he regrets having unwittingly sent dozens of young men, including a close friend of whom he was particularly fond, to their deaths.
On May 14, 1264, the Battle of Lewes, which left hundreds dead, was fought at Offham Hill in Lewes, Sussex, and through the years there have been reports of phantom reenactments of the conflict during the month of May.
At the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Layer Marney, Essex, the phantom voice of Henry, 1st Lord Marney, who died May 24, 1523, echoes through the building. Lord Marney’s tomb, topped by his spectacular black marble effigy, is located inside the church.
Sources: The Angel Hotel, Helston, Cornwall; Edward Baumann and John O' Brien, The Chicago Tribune, August 3, 1986; Bloodletters and Badmen: A Narrative Encyclopedia of American Criminals from the Pilgrims to the Present by Jay Robert Nash; The Anne Boleyn Files; Stacia Briggs and Siofra Connor, The Eastern Daily Press, November 6, 2021; Britain's Haunted Heritage by J. A. Brooks; Broadland Memories; Commission on Chicago Historical and Architectural Landmarks; The Daily Mail, March 14, 2010; Famous Crimes the Word Forgot by Jason Lucky Morrow; Get Outside in Scotland; The Good Ghost Guide by John Attwood Brooks and Mari Roberts; Great British Ghost Tour; Haunted Britain: A Guide to Supernatural Sites Frequented by Ghosts, Witches, Poltergeists and Other Mysterious Beings by Hippisley Coxe; Haunted Heritage by John Mason; Haunted Rooms; Heritage Gateway: Historic England Research Records; Highland Ordnance Survey; "Is Anne Boleyn England's Most Active Ghost?," WhatLiesBeyond; Alchemy of Bones: Chicago's Luetgert Murder Case of 1897 by Robert Loerzel; Library of Congress; LincolnshireLive; Mysterious Chicago; The New York Times, May 19, 1897; "November's Ghosts," WhatLiesBeyond; The Paranormal Diary; Public Officials of Chicago 1895-1896; Harold Schechter, The Yale Review, February 18, 2019; Scottish Places; St. Mary the Virgin Church, Layer Marney, Essex; Supernatural England by Eric Maple; People of the State of Illinois v. Adolph Luetgert, Case No. 1157; Mick Swasko, "Haunted Chicago: Places You Didn't Know Were Spooked," The Chicago Tribune, October 15, 2014; No Rest for the Wicked by Troy Taylor; and The Urban Fantasist, May 16, 2018.