EDGEWATER — Officer Martin J. Qualey didn’t believe in ghosts.
But in September 1895, that didn’t stop him from trying to chase down the mysterious, shadowy “thing” floating about the dimly lit streets of Edgewater, according to a Tribune article written at the time.
For several weeks, he spent his overnight shift pursuing the ghostly figure to no avail. Despite his disbelief in the otherworldly, he eventually called for the figure to “Halt!” only for it to again disappear into the night.
The next time Qualey saw it, he vowed to shoot — above it, not at it — with the exasperated hope of a response, he told the Tribune.
“I don’t believe in ghosts a little bit, but it seems mighty queer when the thing don’t make no noise even on a paved street,” the officer said. “I ain’t afraid of it anyway.”
It’s been 127 years since that ghostly sighting — but some neighbors said they still see the Edgewater apparition. Others brush it off.
As Qualey stalked the apparition, it too stalked him — and others.
Described as a “dark-robed something” which was “clothed in drapery of black instead of the traditional garments of snowy whiteness,” the figure was said to have glided across the lawns and streets of the neighborhood at night with “no physical effort,” the Tribune reported.
At first, the apparition was usually “standing still, as if in thought, or gliding about some spot with an uneasy motion,” according to the paper.
Though others claimed to have encountered the spirit, it didn’t seem keen on reciprocating — according to the Tribune, the ghost would keep either 50 paces ahead of its followers or “disappear entirely.”
“As the something slips here and there with noiseless tread beneath the trees, nothing but mystery is left in its train,” according to the paper.
On the street, the shadow was always “as silent as the night.” But as the neighborhood ramped up development with new homes and businesses, its habitual silence turned to a spirited raucous.
The specter’s presence was noted for weeks before Qualey’s story appeared in the Tribune. It took a particular liking, the paper reported, to the corner of Ridge Avenue, Bryn Mawr Avenue and Broadway, then called Evanston Avenue.
The spot was home to Arthur Johnston’s — sometimes spelled “Johnstone” — two-story brick family residence and barn.
Johnston lived there with his family and men who worked for him, Henry Block and William O’Connell.
To begin establishing a commercial business block, Johnston decided to relocate his home up the street to what is now 5626 N. Ridge Ave. The old farmhouse still stands and is most likely the oldest brick home in Edgewater, according to the Edgewater Historical Society.
But once the home began preparing to move, the workers started hearing sounds at night.
“Here is where the trouble commenced,” according to the Tribune. “The site of the old building is the favorite haunt of the strange thing.”
The disturbance of the home’s basement brought about “mysterious rappings” at doors, Block told the paper.
The noises became so loud and unsettling, he and others were kept awake, he said.
The house was moved, and on July 23, 1895, a permit was issued to Johnston to construct a two-story brick “flat iron” building at the site where his house formerly stood. That property also still stands today at 5600 N. Ridge Ave.
After the move, and while the new building was still being constructed, temporary housing for Johnston’s workers was made at the back of the remaining barn. Joining Block and O’Connell was William McMullen, a coal-heaver for the local power house.
While staying in the barn, the rappings appeared to have escalated to sheer terror for not only the three men, but for the horses, as well.
“Mysterious noises, sounds of something moving about the barn, creeping through the corn bin, and all so slowly, were too much even for the horses, let alone the men,” according to the Tribune.
The horses “broke their fastenings and in the morning were found collapsed stalls and stable floors,” with the “racket from the horses” bringing a “relief from the noise of the stealthy tread by the strange intruder to the men who felt their hair standing up,” according to the paper.
After three nights of such an experience, the men picked up and left to find sleeping quarters elsewhere, with Block and O’Connell possibly taking shelter at a boarding house, according to the historical society.
“The broken mangers in the barn still remain to tell the story,” it was reported.
Testing The Ghost
The frightening encounter wasn’t the first Block had with the spirit. He told the Tribune he saw it several times, and each was near the new commercial building.
According to the article, two weeks earlier he and his “best girl” had been walking down Broadway at night near the new Ridge Avenue structure when they spotted the thing moving briskly ahead of them. The couple followed in pursuit, as the “girl clung to Block’s arm in terror, but Block was determined to put the something to a test,” according to the aper.
A block ahead south was a crossroad, and Block guessed that if the figure were truly a ghost, it wouldn’t venture into the intersection — “and it didn’t.” Rather, it “slid off to one side and disappeared in the bushes,” according to the paper.
While Block and O’Connell sought refuge outside the barn loft, it was reported McMullen opted to stay above the Edgewater Depot of the rail line. He had allegedly witnessed the phantom several times himself while walking home after his shift ended at midnight.
Though McMullen hoped to keep away from the figure, he reluctantly encountered it. On at least four separate occasions, he and owner Johnston had apparently independently chased the thing into the new building, according to the Tribune.
What The Record Says
Of note is that the original Tribune story does not include a byline, but neither did most other stories throughout the newspaper. However, there are established historical records for at least two of the people mentioned in the story — officer Qualey and property owner Johnston — as well as records of certain locations and events, such as the layout of the Johnston property, the moving of the house and the construction of the new building.
Johnston was a real Edgewater resident who, along with his siblings, inherited portions of the triangular farmland property on the west side of the five-point intersection of Broadway and Bryn Maw and Ridge avenues.
Before the area was subdivided into lots, like much of the Far North Side, the area was vacant land. The Edgewater Triangle, as it’s known today, was partially bound by two of the area’s first roads — Ridge Avenue and Clark Street — which were trails traversed by Indigenous tribes, according to the historical society.
In 1894, Johnson took out a permit to build a basement at what is now 5626 N. Ridge Ave., later moving his family’s farmhouse from 5600 N. Ridge Ave. up the street to the 5626 address. The following year, he took out a permit to build a commercial property where the house once stood. That’s when the supposed activity began.
The home at 5626 N. Ridge Ave. still stands in excellent shape, and it has been featured in the Edgewater Home Tour. Though Johnston sold his prime real estate at 5600 N. Ridge Ave. in 1898 to Fenton B. Turckl, he lived in his family home until he died in 1924, and his family continued living there into the ’40s, according to the historical society.
The building at 5600 N. Ridge Ave. is also still there, now occupied by the Andersonville School of Rock branch in a ground floor space, and tenants of The Flats apartments above.
Jim Sellers, owner and music director of the Andersonville School of Rock, said he recently had a strange experience at the building after installing a wireless doorbell purchased from Clark Devon Hardware.
“It worked fine for a few days, and then it started going off all the time when no one was there,” Sellers told Block Club. “One of our staff eventually put some tape over it, and for some reason that stopped it from ringing. Is that spooky enough?”
Sellers said he plans to hold a family-friendly haunted house at the business on Oct. 28, and the event was planned before knowing of the property’s spirited past.
The existence of Qualey was also on record, appearing in newspapers for a number of high-profile cases — including the investigation and trial of Adolf Luetgert, the owner of a meat packing plant who was convicted of murdering his wife in a grisly scenario that involved dissolving her body in a sausage vat and attempting to burn her remains in the factory’s furnace.
Qualey’s policing wasn’t always in the spotlight positively, though. In 1890, five years before he claimed to see the phantom, he was featured in The Inter Ocean newspaper for falling asleep on duty and beating up and arresting the citizen who woke him. During a police board trial, Qualey’s lieutenant testified that the officer was “frequently under the influence of liquor.”
That reputation appears to have been well-earned, as a 1906 article in the Tribune provided a laundry list of offenses for which Qualey had been discharged, then reinstated, over the years — including sleeping while on duty, intoxication, neglect of duty and immoral conduct.
Marsha Holland, a board member of the Edgewater Historical Society, said that there was a saloon on the other side of the street, near where the Walgreens stands today, but it didn’t appear to be open during the time of the ghost sightings.
Also nearby was a building with upper floor lodging, but, “as with the saloon, no one working or staying at this establishment apparently was on the street when the ghost was active.”
So What Could Explain This?
Holland said that she couldn’t know exactly what the ghost witnesses actually saw, but she guessed that there was a practical explanation for the story.
“I can believe that the men sleeping in the barn probably heard frightening noises, but the ghostly sightings are another matter,” Holland said. “Perhaps those nights were windy, kicking up leaves and dust in patterns in a manner that could be construed as a supernatural presence. Or perhaps the men collaborated with the reporter to create an imaginative tale on a slow news day.
“Since the article contains the names of the supposed witnesses, it was more likely a collaboration rather than something made up by the reporter himself.”
However, some residents said the intersection does have a supernatural feel.
“We have ghosts coming through here all the time,” said Dana Garcia, a manager at Alchemy Arts Occult Supply bookstore, which has resided at 1203 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. — the intersection in question — for more than 15 years.
Garcia, an Edgewater resident who lives two blocks away from the intersection, said she’s been coming to Alchemy Arts her entire life and has worked there on and off for the past nine years.
The bookstore describes itself as “the most comprehensive occult and metaphysical book and supply store in the known universe” and makes available a “supernatural and paranormal” log book for staff and customers to leave reports of sightings and experiences. The book asks writers to “please use honesty as well as accuracy” and “include specific details.” Garcia, who read aloud some of the entries, said several users mention a similar apparition.
“It’s a man, right?” she said. “He’s usually all in black and looks like, kind of weird and shadowy? Oh, we see him all the time, then. … Everybody has seen the ghost guy by now.”
One entry from April recalled: “While working … I began to notice strange orb-like shapes in the corner area where we keep our pantry stuff fluttering in and out of my peripheral vision. Also known as the ‘black shadow figment,’ of what appeared to be a Victorian-era man with a long black coat, monocle and a top hat.”
Another writer described a figure “about 6 feet tall and seemed to have a dark cloak.”
In a 2019 newsletter for the historical society, Holland offered a softer perspective on the story’s events and the supposed haunting of 5600 N. Ridge Ave.
“Perhaps the ghost of the summer of 1895 was Arthur’s father checking up on how his oldest son was managing the hard-earned real estate asset he inherited,” she wrote.
Regardless of what actually happened, the buildings are part of the neighborhood’s legacy, Holland said. It remains to be seen if its ghost story will be, too.
“Whatever the ghost’s further activities in the vicinity of the flat iron building, the project was successfully completed in 1900,” Holland wrote. “While the names of the architect and the construction contractor Johnston used were not listed on the building permit, whoever they were, they left Edgewater with a landmark of graceful simplicity which has stood the test of time.”
The story of the 1895 phantom didn’t surprise Garcia, who said the intersection possesses a “very busy” spiritual energy.
“It keeps you awake,” she said, echoing Block’s sentiments of rappings on the doors.
The ghostly figure, however, felt sadder.
“I’m not going to lie, it doesn’t feel positive when the dude’s around,” she said. “He’s kind of, I don’t want to say he has malicious energy, but it’s very sad, very draining.”
Garcia described the figure’s aura as being stuck here in the Earthly realm, but she said “he also doesn’t want to move on, either.”
“He visits sometimes, but I don’t think he’s happy,” Garcia said. “It’s like he comes just to tell us, ‘I’m not happy,’ and I’m like, ‘Well, what do you want me to do? You’re dead.’”
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