Hell Night at The Congress Hotel

It was a damp foggy Halloween night in 2012. We had just gotten into Chicago. It was difficult to see the skyscrapers because of the heavy fog rolling in off Lake Michigan. The traffic was awful, more so than usual. When finally, we turned off Lakeshore Drive, we headed down to our favorite parking lot on Wabash Ave. The side streets were hopping with ghosts, goblins, minions, and sexy little red riding hoods, and the air crackled with ghoulish excitement.

Once we got out of the truck, the parking lot was surprisingly quiet compared to all the hoopla on the streets. We had a reservation at the Congress Plaza Hotel. We gathered all our baggage and started to make our way down the long city block to our destination. Out of nowhere we could hear odd sounding footsteps behind us. It sounded like wood was banging on the concrete.

Oh my God! I could feel the hair lifting on my arms. Once I overcame the fear I looked back… Only to find it was a guy dressed up in rags, with a peg leg.  The dude gave us a toothless grin, said Happy Halloween, and then laughed with the craziest, scariest laugh I had ever heard. I grabbed my husband’s arm and held on for dear life.  Wow, scared the hell out of us, or me for sure!  Laughing, my husband said, maybe that was Peg Leg Johnny, (a well known Congress poltergeist). With a little more pep in our step, we kept walking until we reached the hotel.

Once inside The Congress, the entire ground floor was buzzing with Halloween guests.  We made our way through the crowd to the front desk and finally  were able to check in. The clerk gave us a room key for the 12th floor.  Cool, the 12th floor is the most haunted, as we had learned from previous research into the hotel.  Although the thought of it now kind of creeped me out with it being Halloween and all. 

We were in town to see Gov’t Mule at the Riviera Theatre. We dropped our stuff on the floor of the room, iced our beer, and away we went. What a night of great music, and so many crazy fun costumes, the revelers put my witches hat to shame. The show was over far too soon and security swooped in to force the merriment outside. “You don’t gotta go home but you can’t stay here” echoed in our ears. Pushing through the crowd we were soon standing on the curb, flagging down a cab. We made our way back to the Congress, for what we did not realize would be a night we would never forget.

 Once in the elevator we decided to go looking for ghosts once we dropped off our coats. We put the key in the door and the green light blinked, but the door seemed extremely heavy and hard to push open. It was as if someone was on the other side, holding it shut. Once inside we grabbed a beer and sat down to rest our legs and chatted a bit.  My husband’s chair started to wobble, then the back leg of his chair pushed forward, sending him crashing to the floor in a heap.  We both look at each other in amazement and one of us said, “Peg-leg Johnny must’ve followed us”.

 (Peg Leg Johnny is known to be one of the more playful spirits roaming both towers.  Johnny had been a hobo who had met an untimely death at the hotel many years ago. Johnny, to this day is one of the most active spirits roaming The Congress, apparently still looking to have a little bit of fun.)

We called the front desk and asked for another chair. The service technician arrived a few minutes later and switched out the chairs. He laughed and said that this was like the third chair broken that week. That said, we exchanged a knowing glance and drank a silent toast to Peg Leg Johnny. Happy Halloween indeed!

Soon after our Peg Leg Johnny misadventure, we decided to venture up to the 13th floor. We took the stairs because the stairwell is reportedly a hot spot for ghosts. Peeking through the window of the entry door to the 13th floor we could see it was only lit by the exit lights. We slowly opened up the door and hesitated to enter. It was extremely cold and eerily foreboding. We slowly made our way through the hall, and felt our way to the next exit. Once we reached the exit and tried to push to go through, we noticed the door was locked.  We turned around and headed back the way we came, but this time we didn’t move so slow. Upon reaching the original exit, we found this door was locked too! Someone must be playing a joke on us. We pushed the down button on the elevator and nothing. Not funny! We were suddenly trapped on the 13th floor of one of the most haunted hotels in America. On Halloween! Instinct took over and I grabbed my cell phone, only to find, NO SERVICE! Oh. My. God!

After what felt like an eternity, the elevator finally dinged and out popped a couple, dressed in costumes, apparently coming to explore the hotel the same as we were doing. “Hold the door please!” In we jumped and down we finally went. Wow what had just happened? “Ok I’m done I said”. My husband responded with, “really? Are you chicken?” While we laughed outwardly, I think inside we were both breathing heavily and experiencing that same internal voice shrieking at us to get the hell out of there! Fight or flight is an amazing instinct. At that moment in time FLIGHT was surely winning!

As we were getting off the elevator something dripped on my head. Not thinking too much of it, we headed down to the ground floor. Once there my husband said, “come on let’s go check out room 441”. “I don’t think I’m ready for that yet,” I answered, still trying to quiet that inward shriek. Instead we decided to go to the 6th floor. While wandering the winding hallways and back stairwells, we ended up in a small sitting area on one of the floors. We were startled by a bellhop, whom I greeted with the question, “have you seen any ghosts?” To which he responded with a simple “nope,” before seemingly vanishing into thin air.  Freaky!

We took the steps to the 4th floor, which was also only lit up by exit signs, just like the 13th floor. I really wasn’t into getting caught up again like we had before.  But I sucked it up and we went, in search of room 441.

Once we found the infamous room, we put our ear to the door and it seemed as though we could hear a woman talking. Then there was nothing. As we started walking away, we heard a large crash. That was it, we couldn’t get out of there fast enough. We pushed the button for the elevator. Thank you, Jesus it opened right up and welcomed us in like a mother’s embrace! Down we went to the ground floor. I had had enough ghost hunting for one day, or year, or perhaps a lifetime.

On our way back our room, I snapped a few more pictures just for fun. It was a beautiful night and the moon was shining brightly over lake Michigan. As my husband was getting ready for bed and changing out his shirt, he said “what is this on my sleeve?”  It was some type of pink waxy substance. We had no clue what it might be. I said, “maybe that’s what dripped on us in the elevator.” Not thinking too much of it as we went to bed.

The next morning while laying in bed I noticed out of the corner of my eye what seemed like something glittery falling from above or maybe just a reflection from outside. My husband came out of the bathroom saying, he had just washed his face with a white washcloth and it looked as though had been wearing make-up. The colors had washed off onto the pure white cloth. Once I got up I looked on the floor, where I noticed a piece of silver confetti in the shape of a butterfly. 

Looks like Johnny was playing pranks on us again.

Eventually we started for home. During the trip I was looking through the pictures we had taken the night before and noticed a strange pink object in one of the pictures.

What is it???

Does it have anything to do with the pink substance on the cuff of my husband’s shirt? The answer to that question may lie inside room 441. Oddly enough, the room is continually booked for the foreseeable future. Maybe The Congress will reach out to us when it is ready. Will we be prepared for the answer?



  • mm

    Debra McRainy is a a contributing Editor at www.betherain.org and will write in the areas of Environment and Social Welfare. Find Debra on Twitter: @D3bBi361

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