Los Angeles Times

Haunting tales fill late-night haunt

We've heard the ghost stories about Excalibur.

There's the one about the little girl who has been spotted wandering and laughing at various hours of the day. There's the one about the lit candle mysteriously appearing on a ledge in the Dome Room--70 feet above the floor.

And there are the unexplained open beer bottles, accompanied by creepy noises, that can be found on tables downstairs well after closing time, when the staff has called it a night.

Yes, the gothic building that houses Excalibur nightclub, 632 N. Dearborn St., is supposedly haunted. Sounds like the perfect place for necromancer Neil Tobin to conduct his weekly one-man "Supernatural Chicago" show on Fridays.

"There are a bunch of stories as to why this place is haunted," said the 39-year-old Tobin, a psychic entertainer who says he has been delving into the world of the supernatural since he was a kid.

The necromancer (a term for those who can communicate with the spiritual world) went on to tell me about the group of women who sought refuge in the building during the Great Chicago Fire, only to burn alive. He talked about the Eastland disaster of 1915, and how bodies from the fated passenger ship were piled in the building, which operated as a temporary morgue. He told me about the wealthy lawyer who bought the place, turned it into his mansion, then hung himself in the Dome Room.

"I guess you could call this site ripe for [supernatural] activity," said Tobin, who shares these and other stories while conjuring up spirits during his one-hour shows.

That's why one recent Friday night--against my better judgment--I decided to check the place out for myself. I was reluctant at first, not because I don't believe in such things but because I do. Plus, I've been to Excalibur before and I must admit, I've always felt a strange vibe--and not just from some of the living that hang out there.

A doorman brought me down to the bowels of the club, to the "ghost room," the basement lounge where Tobin does his interactive demonstrations for about 40 people who pay $25 each. He told the story of "Resurrection Mary," a long-told tale about a South Side ghost who picks up men at clubs, dances with them and then disappears when she gets a ride home.

The highlight of the show came when Tobin asked a volunteer to sit with her eyes closed within the circle of people. Tobin had the woman listen for a voice that would tell her the first name of a little girl. The name the woman heard was "Mary." Tobin then told her that same voice would give her a number. The number was "8."

Some people were engrossed with the animated Tobin. Others seemed bored. A few giggled.

Then came the payoff. Tobin handed an envelope to someone in the crowd. The woman opened it to find a note that Tobin allegedly wrote the night before. The note said he would be contacted by the spirit of a little girl named Mary who had died eight years before.

Freaky stuff.

"Content or clever deception?" Tobin asks the crowd. "Let's just say it's a mixture of both."

Some were impressed. Some weren't.

"Did it move me? No," said June Kretzer, a tourist from Youngstown, Ohio, who attended the demonstration with her husband, Alan. "I thought it was entertaining but I didn't buy into it one bit."

The woman sitting in the circle bought into it. She also was convinced that at some point, she felt something touch her shoulder. She was convinced it was the hands of a little girl named "Mary."

"[Tobin] said I was going to feel something," said the woman, 27-year-old Ia Jorjoliani, who moved to Chicago eight years ago from the Republic of Georgia. "I felt a punch on my shoulder. I thought it was him, but everybody else said he didn't."

Everybody--including her husband, Patrick.

"I thought it was impressive," he said, shaking his head. "I have a difficult time coming up with an explanation for what happened."

Some believe (I do), some don't.

Tobin understands.

"It's a healthy mix," he said. "The people who don't believe, at the very least it teaches them a lot about Chicago."

- - -


Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times