If you’re hankering for the truth behind a legendary Chicago haunting — have I got a story for you.
If you want to be spooked, Chicago’s your town. We’ve got the phantoms of Fort Dearborn, the spirits of Montrose Point and ol’ Resurrection Mary, the ghostly hitchhiker who supposedly stalks Archer Avenue.
Clarence Darrow’s ghost is said to show up at a bridge near the Museum of Science and Industry. The owner of the Red Lion Pub, Joseph Heinen, swears he’s heard footsteps and a woman screaming, “Help me,” on the Lincoln Park tavern’s second floor. And there’s plenty more ghost stories to go around.
In fact, I’m almost convinced something supernatural locked my cat in the upstairs bathroom with a bag of sea shells the night I moved in to my house in Pullman.
How much you believe any of that is really up to you. But if you’re hankering for the truth behind a legendary Chicago haunting — have I got a story for you.
It starts, of course, on a dark and stormy night — Aug. 1, 1880.
Inez Clarke had been a naughty girl that day. Her parents locked her out of the house as punishment.
Clouds gathered and the sky rumbled. The wind howled and a cold, hard rain fell on the muddy city. In the violent darkness, the storm let loose a lightning bolt that struck little Inez dead. She was just 6 years old.
Her parents, overcome with guilt and regret, told people tuberculosis killed their daughter.
They buried the girl at Graceland Cemetery in Uptown, the final resting place of early Chicago’s most famous citizens — Marshall Field, Cyrus McCormick, Potter Palmer and George Pullman among them.
Inez’s parents marked their daughter’s grave with a lifelike marble statue of her sitting cross-legged in a lace dress, holding a parasol and wearing a ribbon in her long wavy hair — her gaze forever fixed on the horizon.
Ever since, legend has it, Inez Clarke has haunted Graceland.
On the anniversary of her death or when a storm rolls in, the girl’s spirit is said to inhabit the statue above her final resting place.
Some folks have “seen” tears streaming from the marble girl’s face. A night watchman once reported the statue vanished from inside the plexiglass case that protects it. Children playing in the parklike grounds have told their parents they’ve met a little girl wearing “funny clothes” named Inez at Graceland.
Thousands of people come to the graveyard every year hoping to see her. Some folks even leave toys or coins at her grave in hopes she’ll come out to play.
Ursula Bielski, an author who spent most of her life chasing ghost stories and runs Chicago’s Ghost Tours, says Inez’s spirit lingers in the graveyard to bring the truth out about her death.
She claims to have talked to people who know of someone who’s spotted Inez’s spirit frolicking in the graveyard.
There’s only one problem with that — no one named Inez Clarke is buried at Graceland.
In fact, there may never have been an Inez Clarke, says Al Walavich, a historian, tour guide and Chicago cemetery know-it-all.
“Based on cemetery records there’s no such person buried in that grave,” Al says.
He’s even looked up U.S. Census records from the 1800s and found “no indication that such a child ever existed.”
There’s even an affidavit from Inez’s “supposed mother” issued in 1910 — 30 years after the child’s death — that claims the Clarkes had two daughters, both of whom were still living at the time. The document also stated neither parent had any other children, Walavich says.
“And the most telling fact was that one of the Clarke family [relatives] had been in touch with cemetery about statue and grave. When asked who Inez was, she said, ‘I have no idea, but isn’t it a lovely statue,’ ” he says. “It’s kind of hard to have a haunting when the supposed person never really existed.”
Walavich says cemetery records show an 8-year-old boy, Amos Briggs, is buried under the Inez Clarke statue according to cemetery records.
Aki Lew, Graceland’s administrative manager, vouched for Walavich’s research.
“Everything Al said is true,” says Lew, who 10 years ago took a phone call from the Clarke family descendant. “The story of Inez has become enhanced. . . . She became popular about 12 years ago when someone wanted to write a book and embellished on it.”
Lew is of course referring to Bielski, who penned Chicago Haunts: Ghostly Lore of the Windy City, and other authors who’ve furthered the legend of Inez in print and on the Internet.
But why is that sculpture of Inez at Graceland?
Well, the statue was probably an advertisement for the work of Scottish monument maker Andrew Gage, who completed the statue in 1881.
“I truly think Gage wanted to make sure his work was being seen and this specific section of the cemetery was an active section at that time,” Walavich says.
“Why it stayed there? We have no idea.”
At least that’s still a mystery.