Ghostvillage.com author interview
Kids love ghosts. There is a growing number of "true ghost story" books for young readers to sink their teeth into. In Creepy Chicago, historian, author, and ghostlorist Ursula Bielski takes a look at some of Chicago’s most renowned haunts. Though Bielski has written several books about Chicago’s haunts, this is her first book for kids. We asked Bielski about her book and how she talks to her own children about the subject.
What got you interested in ghostly legends in the first place?
Ursula Bielski: I grew up in our neighborhood’s haunted house, near Wrigley Field, which my parents bought a year before I was born. My earliest memories are of lying in my bed each night on the second floor of the house and hearing someone walking up the stairs from the downstairs hallway. This went on nearly every night for almost twelve years; it was something that was always with us. Naturally, I wanted to know from early on whether others had similar experiences with ghosts and the paranormal. In Chicago, even as a little girl it seemed that almost everyone had a story like this to share. At the age of five, I heard about a little ghost girl who haunts beautiful Graceland Cemetery, just about a mile from where I grew up. I became fascinated with her and, because I always begged my dad to take me there to see her grave, I began learning about her history — and the history of many Chicagoans and their ghosts — from these early cemetery visits.
You’ve written several other books about Chicago’s haunted history including: Chicago Haunts, More Chicago Haunts, and Graveyards of Chicago, but this is your first book for children. What made you decide to bring your ghostlore to the children’s market?
It’s a funny story. Since the first success of Chicago Haunts, I’ve been giving lectures and workshops for kids and schools and libraries all around the Chicago area. I was grateful that so many kids liked my books — but also horrified that they were reading them, because in the adults’ books some of the stories are pretty graphic with a lot of details about the murders and other tragedies that led to some of the ghost stories. I wrote Creepy Chicago so that kids would have a “toned-down” version of the most famous stories in the Haunts books. But you know what? Now they just read both!
Being a mother of two young girls, when and how did you first speak with
your kids about ghosts?
My daughters first learned about ghosts because mom would have to leave at night to go do ghost investigations! It was hard to explain what that was at first, but once they understood it, they were utterly fascinated by the idea. It’s funny, because when I was expecting my older daughter, I was worried that she wouldn’t be interested in ghosts, but now both of them are so far beyond my interest at that age!
Have you run into any angry parents who were upset by your book and its bigger implications of ghosts and spirits haunting Chicago?
Actually, no. It’s been interesting, because over the years I’ve met many people from the American South who think very poorly of ghost stories. Many people associate them with evil and don’t think we should be telling them. I’ve met many many other ghost hunters from other parts of the United States who’ve had a terrible time over the years because people from their towns don’t understand our scientific interest in ghosts and the paranormal.
Chicago is not at all like this. There is a keen understanding of ghosts as part of our culture and history, especially on the South side, where families have lived for generations and are very proud of the legends and folklore that has been with them for so long. Those parents love the books by nature, and parents on the North side, who are often described as more sophisticated, love the books because they see how much excitement they cause in their kids — making them want to read more and learn more about history.
Why do kids love ghosts so much?
I think that, from a very young age, kids start to appreciate the way ghosts symbolize the unknown things. As we grow up, we lose so much wonder because we get smarter and smarter and understand so much of the world. It’s so much fun and so important to have some things that we can’t completely understand. It’s relieving and relaxing not to have to know everything. Plus, it’s fun to be scared! Everyone knows that!
What haunted tale from Chicago ranks among the favorite with your readers?
Most people love the story of Resurrection Mary, Chicago’s most famous ghost. But kids tend to be more fascinated with the stories of ghostly children. It’s interesting to me, because when I wrote Creepy Chicago especially for kids, I tried to avoid talking about the ghosts of children, because the events that created them are so sad. I thought it would be scary for kids to think about other kids dying and becoming ghosts. But I was wrong.
Kids in Chicago are especially intrigued by the story of the old Iroquois Theater, which burned down in 1903. Hundreds of children were in the theater when the fire occurred, and many of them did not escape. Today they are still seen in the coblestoned alley behind the new theater that was built in the 1920s. They are also felt by some people — the ghostly children sometimes try to hold the hands of people walking through the alley, and oftentimes stagehands inside the theater will hear children laughing and playing outside in the alley — when there’s no one there. Kids love this story and love going to the old Iroquois to try and experience the children for themselves.
You also run Chicago Hauntings Ghost Tours, how do kids who take the tour react when they’re shown sites where actual ghost sightings have occurred?
It’s wonderful to watch. There is a lot of giggling and high-pitched screaming, of course. They’re riveted, and in their eyes it’s just pure wonder. It’s one of the best things about what I do.
What’s the first movie you saw in a theater?
In Search of Noah’s Ark at the old Will Rogers theater on Chicago’s Northwest side. A Saturday matinee back in the ’70s with about a thousand other kids there.
Visit Ursula Bielski’s Web site at: www.chicagohauntings.com
Click here to buy this book now.