Hull-House

Hull-House A Chicago landmark, now a museum, which in 1913 was widely believed to house a living “Devil Baby.” Hull-House is still included in some haunted tours of Chicago and is said by some to exude an uncomfortable atmosphere.

Hull-House was built in 1856 as the residence of Charles J. Hull. Located in what was then the southwestern suburbs of Chicago, the house became surrounded by factories and tenements that housed thousands of immigrants. In the late 1880s, the house became the United States’ first welfare center, founded by social workers Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr. The center provided numerous services to the large numbers of immigrants who settled in the area. Hull-House was an oasis of comfort. It became so successful that a third floor was added. Eventually, 12 more buildings were added.

Addams had become interested in social work while traveling abroad in England. In the slums of Whitechapel, the setting of the famous Jack the Ripper murders, she went to work helping the poor and championing social reforms. When she returned home, she was fired with a zeal to do the same work in Chicago. She leased Hull- House and turned it into a settlement house for the poor, the abused and the homeless. She campaigned for funds among the wealthy women of the city.

Addams died in 1935. Her work has been continued by the Hull-House Association. Hull-House moved to new quarters in 1963, and the original house was preserved as a museum.

In 1913, a strange rumor about a so-called Devil Baby hidden away inside Hull-House seemed to come from nowhere and gather great speed as it spread throughout the communities of immigrants. For about six weeks, throngs of women descended upon Hull-House demanding to see the Devil Baby. The perplexed and vexed Addams explained and reexplained that there was no basis to the rumor.

In interviewing women about the story and why they believed it, Addams discovered that it seemed to be based on fears of the plight of immigrant women, especially older women with Old World mores and superstitions that involved religious beliefs and the treatment of women.

The story had various ethnic versions. According to the Italian version, a young Italian woman defi ed her family and married an atheist. She became pregnant right away. A few months later, she hung a picture of the Virgin Mary on the wall. This angered her husband, who tore it down, ripped it up and swore he would rather have the Devil in the house. The couple was punished with the birth of a baby who looked like a miniature Satan, with horns, cloven feet, pointed ears, a tail and a scaly body. It could walk and talk and would run about the house threatening the father. It danced on church pews, laughed hideously and smoked cigars. Finally the father took it to Hull-House and beseeched Addams to take it in.

Other ethnic versions varied only in the sins that brought on the monstrous birth:

• An Irish girl failed to confess to her priest that prior to her marriage she had conducted an affair with another man.

• A Jewish girl married a Gentile without her parents’ permission. Her enraged father said he would rather have the Devil as a grandchild than have a Gentile for a son-in-law.

• A Jewish woman, who had several daughters, became pregnant. Her husband, desirous of a son, told her that he’d rather have her give birth to the Devil than to another girl.

• Two young Jewish women, one of them pregnant, attended a performance of the play Faust. The pregnant one looked too intensely at the stage devil.

• An Orthodox Jewish woman hid the truth about an illegitimate child, claiming that her second child, born in wedlock, was her first. Her third child was the Devil.

The visitors who came to Hull-House were convinced that Addams had taken in the Devil Baby and locked it away in the attic. Rumors circulated that discounts were being given to view the child. One man from Milwaukee called to say he wanted to organize a tour. Another woman, from the poorhouse, borrowed a dime to ride the trolley to Hull-House in hopes of seeing the monster, only to be crushed to hear the truth.

The rumor finally diminished. Addams wrote about the event in her book The Second Twenty Years at Hull- House, in which she theorized that the story had fired the imaginations of women who largely felt excluded from mainstream life in America. The Devil Baby was something they could grasp and understand. Seeing it would elevate their status.

The story has refused to die, however. It was rumored that the child remained locked in Hull-House until it died or that it was removed to a retreat in Waukegan, north of Chicago. Reports continue in present times that the Devil Baby still can be glimpsed in an attic window of Hull-House.

Other Haunting phenomena have been reported. Addams’s ghost is believed to haunt the premises, as well as the Ghost of a woman who allegedly committed suicide in an upstairs room (no documents exist to substantiate the SUICIDE). Individuals also have claimed to photograph Ectoplasm and PHANTOM MONKS inside the house. The story of Hull-House was an inspiration for Ira Levin’s 1967 novel Rosemary’s Baby, in which a young wife is tricked into giving birth to the Devil’s child.

See URBAN LEGEND. 

Further Reading:

 

  • Bielski, Ursula. Chicago Haunts. Chicago: Lake Claremont Press, 1998. 
  • Riccio, Dolores, and Joan Bingham. Haunted Houses USA. New York: Pocket Books, 1989. 
  • Scott, Beth, and Michael Norman. Haunted Heartland. New York: Warner Books, 1985. 
  • Taylor, Troy. Haunted Illinois. Alton, Ill.: Whitechapel Production Press, 1999.

The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits – Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley  – September 1, 2007

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