By Adam Selzer



276pp/$16.99/October 2016

Mysterious Chicago
Cover by Rain Saukas

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Adam Selzer is known in Chicago for the ghost tours he gives, introducing Chicagoans and visitors to the supernatural eerie places in the city. Many of those locations are tied to murders, for what is more likely to cause a haunting the a violent death. In his book Mysterious Chicago: History at its Coolest, looks at 43 mysteries from the city's history, from 1812 when Jean LaLime became Chicago's first murder victim, to 2007, when the photographs taken by Vivian Maier were discovered.

Not only does Selzer cover Chicago's first murder, but also the first murder known to have occurred in an automobile, the strange murder of Barton Edsall that was overshadowed by the Great Chicago Fire, during which his wife disappeared, two days later, and a variety of multiple spouse killers including Johann Koch and Belle Guinness. Each of the murder stories has its own strange twists that separate it from others.

Nineteenth century Chicago is portrayed as a violent place (partly because of the book's focus, the individuals who lived out their full span aren't really mentioned), and of course the twentieth century offers Selzer's readers the era of Capone and Bannon, Colosimo and Torrio. While many of them have become the stuff of legend within Chicago (or beyond, in the case of H.H. Holmes), Selzer has gone back to the primary sources, not just the newspapers, which were as likely to publish sensational speculations and accounts as facts, but also to legal records, diaries, and letters.

Not all of the chapters deal with murders. Maier's photographs were the result of a regular Chicagoan's hobby that were unknown until around the time of her death. The submarine discovered by William Deneau was an artifact of unknown provenance, and the Kangaroo scare of 1974 may have been a hoax or a wild animal, but couldn't be confirmed as either. These mysteries that don't involve the violent death of a Chicagoan add variety to the book, but they are few enough that they almost feel out of place amongst the catalog of shootings, stabbings, and even beheadings.

Although the stories Selzer relates are interesting, if sometimes overwrought, one of the more thought-provoking aspects of the book is the frequency with which some of the same names appear, reinforcing Chicago's growth from a town established on August 12, 1833 into the world class city of later decades. Charles Dyer shows up as the physician who received the body of John Stone in 1840 following Stone's execution. Thirty-five years later, Dyer was sharing stories of exhumation of bodies to ensure they weren't stricken with vampirism. John W. Norton's career from a beat cop to detective can be traced throughout the stories from the 1880s to the 1830s.

Selzer's book is an examination of the darker side of the city of Chicago over nearly two centuries. While Selzer doesn't completely ignore the daily life of Chicago, it has a tendency to take a backseat, only appearing when it features marsupials or UFOs. Even some of the more normal stories involve residents who are con artists. Although the book is organized in chronological order, the specific dates when things happened are not always front and center in the descriptions of the activities. A reader who only knows Chicago through Mysterious Chicago will have a very skewed image of the city. Although Chicago is known for its gangsters, shysters, murders, and con men, it also is known for his architecture, museums, businessmen, sports teams (mostly bad), all of which gets lost in Selzer's very entertaining and well researched book.

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