Skip to main content

The Haunted Scaffold at Cook County Jail

The scaffold at the old Cook County jail.

Chicago's Cook County Jail, once home to notorious gangsters like Al Capone and Frank Nitti has been rumored to be haunted for decades. Considering that sixty-seven executions were carried out by electric chair at the California Avenue facility between 1928 and 1962, it should be no surprise that the jail is a spooky place.

However, it's Cook County's old jail, known to the locals as Bridewell ("Bridewell" is British slang for jail), where the most well-documented cases of paranormal activity took place. Many of these disturbances, it is believed, are the doings of a young prisoner named Peter Neidermeier, who was hanged at the jail in 1904. Neidermeier, along with his pals Gustave Marx and Harvey Vandine, were leaders of a gang known as the "Car Barn Bandits". Credited with eight murders and numerous robberies, the Car Barn Bandits made headlines in papers all over the country for their audacious and ruthless exploits.

In April of 1904, just days before he was to be hanged, Neidermeier attempted to cheat the hangman by swallowing the heads of one hundred sulphur matches. While the chemicals were burning his stomach he sawed at the radial artery of his wrist with a sharpened pencil. He gave up on the artery after he struck bone, and then turned his attention to one of the veins in his forearm. Unfortunately for Neidermeier, he passed out from loss of blood and when he came to, was chagrined to discover that a prison doctor had dressed his wounds while he was unconscious. Angered, he slipped the bandage off his left arm and used his fingernails to tear out the stitches. He inserted his finger into the gaping hole and feverishly sought out an artery. His groans attracted the prison physician. The criminal, with a leering smile, said: "Let me die, Doc. Go away and let me die. You were almost too late the first time. Why do you keep trying to save my life?"

Yet, in spite of Neidermeier's protests, the medical staff did their best to keep the gangster alive for the gallows. Because the match heads caused agonizing chemical burns to his stomach, the jail's doctors fed Neidermeier liquid through a tube. By the day of his hanging, on April 22, 1904, Neidermeier was so weak that he had to be carried to the gallows on a chair. While his partners in crime, Marx and Vandine, kissed an image of Christ on their way to the gallows and died with silent dignity with a preacher at hand, Neidermeier-- an avowed atheist-- eschewed final rites. According to newspaper reports, he wore a dark red rose in the lapel of his black coat, and when he was placed upon the trap he declared: "You can't kill me, you scoundrels. I will come back, and when I do come you will be sorry for what you have done."

And it appears that Peter Neidermeier made good his threat.

In the months following the bandit's execution, guards at the jail refused to enter the scaffold room at night, claiming that weird noises emanated from the execution chamber. Shortly before the hanging of a wife murderer named Francis was to take place, inmates were kept awake by the incessant pounding of a hammer throughout the night. Assuming it was the carpenters constructing the scaffold for the hanging of Francis, the prisoners were astonished the next morning when the carpenters arrived and informed the men that none of them had been working the previous night. From that evening forward the ghostly pounding of hammers have been heard on a nightly basis. Even after the scaffold was moved to the basement a few weeks later the pounding continued to emanate from the room where it was formerly housed.

By 1906, forty-five men had been hanged at the jail, the forty-fifth being a murderer named Richard Ivens. Ivens brutally raped and murdered a young woman, Bessie Hollister, by tying a piece of wire around her neck and twisting the ends with a pair or pliers until her larynx was crushed. The night before Ivens was to be hanged, the entire jail was startled by a jarring noise at midnight. The guards ran to the execution room to discover that the trap door of the scaffold had fallen. When Jailer Whitman examined the scaffold he discovered that the executioner's rope had been cleanly cut. Whitman could not account for the incident; no one had been in the scaffold room when the noise was heard.

Popular posts from this blog

The Incest Capital of the World?

At the far eastern edge of Kentucky, nestled in Appalachia, resides Letcher County. In spite of its isolation and poverty (approximately 30% of the county's population lives below the poverty line), Letcher County has managed to grow at an impressive rate, from a population of just 9,172 in 1900 to a present-day population of nearly 25,000. However, even if Letcher County tripled or quadrupled its present population, there's still a pretty good chance that virtually all of the county's inhabitants would be related to each other-- thanks to one particularly fertile family whose astounding rate of reproduction can put even the friskiest rabbit to shame.

Around the year 1900, Letcher County was the home of a man by the name of Jason L. Webb, who made national headlines for having the one of the largest families in the world. According to newspaper reports of the era, Jason had 19 children, 175 grandchildren, and 100 great-grandchildren. Perhaps even more impressive was his b…

The Ticking Tombstone of Landenberg

If you look closely at a map of Pennsylvania, you'll see an anomalous semi-circular border at the extreme southeastern part of the state. This circle, known officially as the "Twelve Mile Circle", serves as the border between the Keystone State and Delaware. Much of the strange circle is surrounded by Chester County, one of the three original Pennsylvania counties created by William Penn in 1682. While there are many historical points of interest in Chester County, few are strange or as steeped in legend as the Ticking Tombstone.

Near the London Tract Meeting House in Landenberg is an old graveyard which contains a tombstone which is said to make eerie ticking noises, much like the ticking of a pocketwatch. Landenberg locals claim that the ticking is the result of two very famous surveyors who arrived in town during the 1760s- Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon.  A young child supposedly swallowed a valuable pocketwatch owned by Mason and later died, and the boy's head…

Jenny Hanivers, Mermaids, Devil Fish, and Sea Monks

Three centuries before P.T. Barnum attracted flocks of crowds with his mummified Fiji Mermaid (which turned out to be a papier-mâché creation featuring a monkey's head and a fish's body), sailors around the world had already began manufacturing "mermaids".  Known as Jenny Hanivers, these creations were often sold to tourists and provided sailors with an additional source of income.  These mummified creatures were produced by drying, carving, and then varnishing the carcasses of fish belonging to the order rajiformes- a group of flattened cartilaginous fish related to the shark which includes stingrays and skates.  These preserved carcasses can be made to resemble mermaids, dragons, angels, demons, and other mythical creatures.

Jenny Hanivers became popular in the mid-16th century, when sailors around the Antwerp docks began selling the novelties to tourists.  This practice was so common  in the Belgian city that it may have influenced the name; it is widely believed …