CHICAGO — Chicagoans have questions about the characters and architecture that make up the city’s history — and Adam Selzer has the answers.
The tour guide and historian reveals little-known facts about the city — who were the Chicagoans who died on the Titanic? Who built that brownstone? What was Chicago’s first blues song? — during daily livestreams about Chicago’s past and frequent walking tours through his company, Mysterious Chicago Tours.
“There’s more to history than just people’s business transactions or the name of the architect or the date that something was built,” said Seltzer, who’s guided tours around Chicago for more than a decade.
Every morning, Selzer travels to “something cool around the city” and streams for 15 minutes while he shares the story behind whichever mural, building or historical site he’s standing in front of.
Selzer knows all kinds of details about Chicago’s historical buildings, spookiest ghosts, infamous criminals and suspicious politicians, but he’s “much more interested in the ordinary Chicagoans whose stories never got written down,” he said.
“In my tours and in my books, I try to show what people from the past were like; not what they did — what it was like to know them,” Selzer said. “These people sang songs, played games, got diarrhea, fell in love, fell out of love, got diarrhea again. So often we narrow people down to what their job title was, who they married, who they gave birth to, what they owned.”
Selzer started posting history content online at the beginning of the pandemic because he could no longer give in-person tours, but he has continued the streams even after things started to open up again because they “grew a lot bigger than [he] ever thought they would,” he said.
More than 30,000 people — who call themselves Mysterians — have liked Selzer’s Mysterious Chicago Facebook to keep up with his stories.
“Suddenly, there were a lot of regulars and there are a number of hardcore followers who come to tour after tour or whose names I recognize in the comments every day,” Selzer said. “Especially when we were isolating, it became a place where people could check in with each other, and it was something to look forward to every morning.”
At the end of each week, Selzer hosts a stream called Find A Grave Friday where he wanders around a cemetery looking for a particular historical figure with the help of his viewers, who research the grave’s location and send him hints in the comments.
“We just try to make it a fun online space for people to hang out, and it’s very low-drama as online communities go,” Selzer said. “We get people from all over the world popping in.”
In addition to Selzer’s online presence, he offers private walking tours through Mysterious Chicago Tours.
Selzer’s specialty is a tour that takes participants through Graceland Cemetary, 4001 N. Clark St. The Uptown cemetery was founded in 1860 and is the final resting spot of numerous well-known Chicagoans. Selzer recently published a book about the lives of people buried there.
“It’s a thing in cemetery tours that sometimes they’re just stories about dead rich white guys and what they owned,” Selzer said. “I always want to find out more than just what someone’s job was. I try to learn about the jokes they liked to tell or a random story about them performing at an amateur opera.”
Generally, Selzer hopes his virtual and in-person tours make people look at Chicago a little differently.
“There are a million stories behind every building and every person in this city,” Selzer said. “There are stories around every corner, hidden in every microfilm reel. You just have to look for them.”
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