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Photo: Scott Thompson

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Meet the real-life ghostbusters

You’ve seen a ghost so you naturally call a ghostbuster. Dale Kaczmarek picks up the phone. He ain’t ‘fraid of no ghost and he takes your case. Just don’t expect him to show up in overalls with a proton pack on his back.

Dale Kaczmarek, local resident and president of the Ghost Research Society. Photo: Scott ThompsonChicago is one of the most haunted cities in the country.” So says Dale Kaczmarek, local resident and president of the Ghost Research Society. 

There are many like-minded investigators in the Chicagoland area, but none of them have been at it as long as Kaczmarek, who began investigating ghosts in 1975, co-founding a team called the Ghost Trackers Club. The group changed its name to the Ghost -Research Society in 1982, at which time Kaczmarek became president. The team operates out of his basement den in the quiet suburb of Oak Lawn, where cartoonish ghost decorations abound and the walls are covered with photos of Kaczmarek and his ghost-hunting colleagues.

Also in evidence at the Ghost Research Society headquarters are computers for analyzing evidence, file cabinets full of case histories, a map of haunted locations throughout Chicago and a mini-museum containing bricks and other artifacts from locations the team has investigated.

Meanwhile at Graceland Cemetery, a few blocks from Chicago’s baseball stadium, Wrigley Field, -Ursula Bielski is leading a tour. It’s a nice day for a walk in a graveyard, an environment in which the ghost investigator is comfortable. A researcher of the paranormal, she’s written ten books on the subject, including one titled Graveyards of Chicago. The group is on its way to meet some ghosts.

Among their stops is the grave of the fur trader John Kinzie, an early settler who committed the first documented murder in Chicago. His ghost is seen standing near his tombstone. Just down the path is a foreboding cloaked figure – the creepy Statue of Death, as it’s known.

“Legend has it that if you look into the statue’s eyes, you’ll see a vision of your own death,” Bielski -explains to the group, with the statue looming behind her. 

Moving on, at the Goodman family crypt, commissioned by a Chicago lumber magnate and located alongside a lake, Bielski tells another tale – of a somber ghost seen gazing at the water. 

The map of haunted locations throughout Chicago. Photo: Scott Thompson

Dale Kaczmarek’s interest in ghosts began when he was young and his parents told him the 1930s legend of another Chicago location, Resurrection Cemetery.

They have file cabinets full of case histories. Photo: Scott Thompson

The story goes that a woman named Mary, dressed in a white gown, was attending a nearby ball when she got in a fight with her boyfriend. She left the ballroom and was attempting to hitch a ride home near the cemetery when she was struck and killed by a car. Resurrection Mary is still hanging around, trying to catch a ride, or so the story goes, according to witnesses claiming to have seen her. 

“It wasn’t enough for my father to hear about the ghosts, he wanted to see for himself. On the way home after he’d take my mother out on a date – dinner, a movie, a show – the two of them would ride around the cemetery in the middle of the night,” Kaczmarek says. “My mom didn’t like that at all,” he adds with a non-haunting laugh. 

What’s more, his grandmother would often tell him Polish ghost stories. 

Since the 1970s, Kaczmarek estimates he’s done thousands of investigations all over Chicago and around the world. In the early days, his equipment was simple – a cassette recorder, a 35mm camera, and a typewriter to record case reports. Since then, he’s spent about $13,000 on various gadgets that help him detect and monitor ghosts. 

Despite ghost-hunting for over 40 years, his research hasn’t slowed down. In fact, after retiring from what he calls “blue collar” management jobs at McDonald’s and K-Mart, he’s had more time to devote to the ghost business. The Ghost Research Society currently has about 15 members in Chicago, as well as associates around the US who do investigations almost every week. 

Some of the photos of ghosts that Kaczmarek has. Photo: Scott Thompson

Ursula Bielski’s interest in ghosts dates back as far as she can remember.

The home she grew up in “was known as the haunted house of the neighborhood. My first memory – I must have been three years old – was being awakened by the sound of someone walking up our staircase, and that someone was not a person.” She frequently heard ghost footsteps and saw doors open on their own. 

Ursula Bielski. Photo: Scott ThompsonBielski’s father, a retired police officer, would often take her for rides around the city, showing her haunted locations. That’s how she first heard the story of six-year-old Inez Clarke, who’s buried at Graceland Cemetery. Her grave features a statue of a little girl sitting in a chair, which is said to disappear on stormy nights, Bielski tells her tour. Poor Inez died either of tuberculosis or by a lightning bolt during a thunderstorm, depending on how the story is told, and now her ghost runs through the tombstones as if escaping from the storm. Wind chimes hanging in a nearby tree ring in the breeze as Bielski tells this ghost story.

In college, she studied parapsychology (the study of mental phenomena, such as psychic ability and reincarnation, that defy standard scientific explanation). She also spent a lot of time at the library, reading ghost stories. 

Her first supernatural investigation was at Chicago’s Red Lion Pub in 1988. It was a quiet night, and when Bielski joked that the ghosts didn’t feel like talking, the cassette in her tape recorder shot into the air and smashed against the wall, she says, laughing at the memory of that frightening experience. 

Slowly, Bielski built her career documenting ghost stories in books with titles such as Chicago Haunts: Ghostlore of the Windy City and Creepy Chicago: A Ghosthunter’s Tales of the City’s Scariest Sites. Her -Chicago Hauntings tours, which take attendees on a range of adventures, including a haunted pub crawl, a tour of Lincoln Park, and a Killers of Chicago jaunt, which features sites related to gangsters and serial killers. Each October, Bielski runs the Chicago Ghost Conference, featuring guest speakers and workshops on ghosts. With so many reportedly haunted locations in Chicago, there’s plenty to talk about at the conference.

‘Legend has it that if you look into the statue’s eyes, you will see a vision of your own death’

Kaczmarek is also an author and tour guide. He has written six books, including instruction manuals, such as  A Field Guide to Spirit Photography, and he operates Afterlife Tours in and around Chicago. 

One of the Ghost Research Society’s most recent cases was an investigation of the Rialto Square Theater, built in 1926 in Joliet, lllinois, a town just outside Chicago. Kaczmarek says apparitions have been seen on the stage and in the balconies. Among them is rumored to be the ghost of a young actress who performed at the theater.  

Ursula Bielski leads a tour around Chicago. Photo: Scott ThompsonAt the Rialto, Kaczmarek hopes to find the kind of evidence that turned up when his team visited the abandoned St. Mary’s Hospital in Gary, Indiana, 48km southwest of Chicago. 

He sits at his desk and plays a video clip of the group walking through the hospital’s dark hallways, equipped with Ovilus, a device said to be able to channel a ghost’s voice. As the team passes a room filled with dusty boxes of patients’ records, the Ovilus says, “Get out of here.” 

In another clip, the team uses a similar device at McCaughey Cemetery in southern Illinois. “How many people are buried here?” Kaczmarek is heard asking the night air in the cemetery. 

“Over a hundred,” a voice replies. A ghost? Either way, Kaczmarek makes a note in his files. 

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