H. H. Holmes Murder Castle Tour

H. H. Holmes Murder Castle Tour


Hello! Welcome, welcome. My, it’s chilly
for this early in September, isn’t it? As soon as the rest of our group arrives, we’ll
be heading inside. I apologize, I know the group tour is unusual, but the owner, Mr.
Holmes is eager to sell. I’ll tell you a little about the building while we wait. The property was constructed in 1887. The
third floor was actually an extension to the original structure–it was added in 1892-1893.
Locals affectionately refer to the building as The Castle because the building nearly
takes up a full city block. The address is: 611 W 63rd St, Chicago, IL 60621. If you’re
interested in buying, the property is about a 3 miles’ walk west from where they held
the World Fair last year. I visited the fair 4 times, even saw those Hula dancers from
the Hawaii’in Isle. Quite the spectacle! The Castle is 3 stories tall. I’m not aware
of the exact footage, but the Castle is 162 feet long and 50 feet wide. The ground floor
is slated for business–currently there’s a drugstore, a barbershop, a candy store,
a restaurant, a tinsmith and a jewelry store. Potential to bring a lot of customers to the
area. The other 2 floors are mainly living space. Note the brick facade, decorative battlements–I
believe the iron used is from a local company Aetna Iron and Steel. The wooden bay windows
are quite lovely. Right now the bay windows are covered with sheet iron–I’ve heard
that Mr. Holmes is a very private man, however you could easily rip them out and have sunlight
drenched window seating overlooking the street. Wouldn’t that be cozy? It’s said the roof used to have a turret,
perhaps Mr. Holmes fancied himself a chivalrous knight of old? Last summer the 3rd floor caught
fire. No, I don’t know how it started, but they put it out before it spread. Mr. Holmes
rebuilt, but created a flat roof. It’s a shame, I believe he’s still fighting with
the insurance company. They’re trying to claim fraud. Companies these days, eh? No, I’ve never met Mr. Holmes, my real estate
company was hired–Great! It looks like everyone has arrived. Ladies and gentleman right this
way. Ah! It’s nice and toasty inside. This is the reception area. As I was saying, Mr. Holmes is a prominent
doctor. He’s been called out of town on urgent business, I think to Fort Worth or
was it Boston? Anyway, you’ll find that the Castle is competitively priced to sell,
all reasonable offers will be considered. Step this way please to the waiting room.
Some rooms have already been emptied, in anticipation of the sale. The castle is considered a bit of a fixer-upper,
but the foundation is sound. Both the foundation and the basement are made out of stone. I’m
told the basement is larger than the Castle itself and extends under the sidewalks. A
bonus 4th floor for the price of 3! More on the basement when we visit it. In general, the property might need some work
because Mr Holmes…well he had some odd decorating tastes. In fact, he was very exacting and
switched construction companies several times during building. He had a certain vision that
he was intent on achieving, which admittedly many people found off putting. So as we walk
through the Castle, you should picture how it could look, rather than how it looks now. Let’s go into the hallway and we’ll take
the stairs up to the third floor. Sir, don’t lag behind please, we don’t want you to
get lost. Yes, you totally could get lost. The second floor has close to forty rooms
and some of them are quite unusual. We’re starting at the top floor though, we’ll
see the rest of the second floor next. Mind the third step on the stairs, it has a pressure
plate. It’s wired somehow, it’s electric, I think. Throughout the house and in the drugstore,
there’s a system of alarms which ring a buzzer in Mr. Holmes’ personal rooms. Quite
ingenious really. Makes it hard for guests to sneak out without paying. So this is Mr. Holmes’ personal office,
yes the sheeting could come off that window too and since it’s in the Northeast corner
of the building, you’d get some nice morning sunlight. Please don’t touch the items on
his desk. Once the place sells, he’ll be sending for the rest of his belongings. No,
I don’t think that skull is real, it’s just a paperweight. In addition to being a
businessman, Mr. Holmes is a doctor you know, I suppose doctors have rather morbid senses
of humor. Those switches on the wall? Those are another
modern innovation by the owner, they control the heat, gas and electricity for some of
the guest rooms on the second floor. With a flick of his finger, Mr. Holmes could override
the settings in individual guest rooms giving or depriving them of heat and light. Sounds
a bit stingy to me, but I guess it’s a last resort when dealing with ill tempered guests. As you can see, also on the top floor are
several empty guest rooms, some are set up as apartments. Lots of space, but plenty of
privacy, perfect for if you want to live with extended family. You could live up here and
continue to rent out rooms on the second floor. This room is actually a large steel vault,
yes, you can walk into it. No, don’t close the door though! You’ll suffocate! I don’t
have keys to open the lock! The walls are completely made out of steel, lined with asbestos–it’s
soundproof and air tight. No, I don’t know what was kept in here. Maybe the valuables
of guests…and other items? It’s been well used though. Lots of scuff marks on the walls,
but they should buff out, no problem. One of the other amenities on the top floor
is this dumbwaiter; it goes straight to the basement. No, it doesn’t stop on the second
floor. It’s big enough that a man could ride it down. Maybe for escape in case of
fire? Now that we’ve seen the third floor, let’s
go back down to the second….. Follow me down the hallway. As you can see,
this room doesn’t have any windows. But the right lamps will totally cheer it up. This room is actually quite spacious once
you get inside, it just has an unusually small doorway.
Next to the bathroom is a room called the Five Door Room because…you guessed it, it
has five doors. I suppose you could keep some of the doors locked for privacy.….Yes, that’s
a tight little space, I’ve not sure what was stored there, maybe laundry? The chute
in the bathroom, it goes to a mini room in between floors, in that room is a chute to
the basement. Your eyes don’t deceive you, there should
be another room in this space, but there’s no door. Mr Holmes is storing a lot of valuable
furniture–I heard it was purchased from somewhere fancy like the Tobey Furniture Co.– he doesn’t
want it to get messed up so he walled that room shut for safety. So we’re in the middle of the Castle, lots
of small dark rooms here, quite cozy, especially if you brighten them up with a light colored
paint. Maybe a sunny yellow or ivory? Some of the rooms are really tiny though, hardly
space enough for a person to lie down in, I think they are supposed to be extra storage. Mind where you walk though, there’s a trap
door to a steep staircase which leads to the basement in one of these rooms, but I’m
not exactly sure where. Yes, I agree, the place is kind of like a maze. There’s a
door or two that open to brick walls–I think Mr. Holmes changed his mind during the building
process and those were an easy way to fix mistakes. The design on the gas fixtures in this bedroom
is quite unusual, of course the valves have a way to be turned off; no unfortunately I
don’t know how they work. No, I’m not sure where they were purchased either. Ye,s
some of the rooms are metal plated, it’s to help retain heat in during winter.
This laboratory is tiny, but fully functioning. I suspect Mr. Holmes compounds the more expensive
and complicated drugs in here rather than in the back room of the drug store. I think
he had a problem with competitors trying to steal his formulas? He created this great
tonic for hangovers, I’ve used it myself. Nasty and hard to swallow, but works marvelously.
Those stairs go outside down to the alley behind the Castle. These bolts on the wall
are odd, no I don’t know what they are used for. Yes, I guess you could attach chains
or handcuffs to them…. So that’s actually the extent of the notes
I have on the second floor. You can wander through those back rooms freely, but be careful,
don’t close any doors! Some of the doors can only be opened from the outside. Much
of the second floor is also sound proofed, for guest comfort and privacy, of course. Let’s meet at this staircase in few minutes
so we can go down to the basement. You can only use these stairs to get to the basement,
don’t use the other staircase, that leads to a dead end, another construction error
I’m afraid…. Is everyone here? Great! Sir, if you could
take this lantern, I’ll carry one too. Even with the lamps lit, it’s quite dark down
here. Carefully on the stairs, they’re steep. Ladies, be sure to watch the hems of your
skirts, the basement floor’s very dirty. Yes, it does stink down here–Miss, please
don’t wander away, there are two large quicklime pits that are used for getting rid of animal
remains, you wouldn’t want to fall into one. I do apologize for the stench, Mr. Holmes
occasionally taught a dissection class in his basement where medical students practiced
on animal remains. He was experimenting to find new techniques for butchering and storing
meat too. I’m sure you can get rid of the dissection table and all the medical instruments,
that is if Mr. Holmes no longer wants them…. Clear the space, give it a good airing out,
sprinkle some lavender oil or burn some aromatic wood, that should fix the smell. Oh, the gas tank in the corner? I was told
that it was for bending glass. Mr. Holmes also owns a glass bending factory on the North
side. He tends to send boxes and trunks over to the factory from here. Very particular
man, very private, didn’t like people touching his stuff. He was always worried that someone
was out to learn his secrets or steal his creations. Sir, I’m going to have to ask you not to
open the jars and sniff the powder inside. Remember Mr. Holmes has a drugstore, many
of his medicines and compounding agents are kept down here. You wouldn’t want to accidentally
poison yourself, would you? The stove was used for heating medicines and
tonics, I believe. The crematorium? Probably for burning trash
or disposing of old medicine. I don’t think it was used for people…why would it? I don’t
know what to say, that’s a really disturbing suggestion… Ahem. This concludes our tour of the Castle;
if you would follow me back to the reception room. You can contact me at the address on
my card if you’re interested in making an offer. No, sorry no time for anymore questions,
I have another appointment, I really must be going… (VO and Animation Note – change from Real
Estate Agent character back to normal narration) With insurance companies trying to prosecute
him for arson, H. H. Homes fled Chicago in July of 1894, heading to Fort Worth, Texas.
Several months previously, he and a business/fraud partner Benjamin F. Pitzel had begun building
another Castle there, even larger than the one in Chicago. However, locals were suspicious
and creditors started breathing down his neck so Holmes left Fort Worth, the new Castle
abandoned and unfinished. While there’s no proof that Holmes tried to sell the Chicago
Castle, as always he was eager to make money, so it’s not entirely outside of the realm
of possibility. Within a few months of leaving Fort Worth,
Holmes was arrested in Boston for the murder of Pitzel, whom he had killed during an insurance
fraud scheme. In the summer of 1895, as Holmes sat in jail, Chicago police investigated Holmes’
unusual building. The Castle was found to contain oddly angled hallways, deadends and
small soundproof, airtight windowless rooms designed for suffocation. The police also
found bones, although they were mainly animal, scraps of women’s clothing, a blood splattered
dissection table and other suspect items, however there wasn’t enough evidence to
charge Holmes with any other murders. It’s hard to know exactly what happened
at the Castle; no known pictures of the interior exists, although some architecture plans and
newspaper sketches have survived. Many of the lurid details about the place and the
evidence found there was made up or enhanced by newspapers of the time. The public was
endlessly fascinated by this charming, yet diabolical man and lapped up any information
they could get, no matter how questionable. By the time Holmes’ trial got underway,
it was evident that in addition to Pitzel, Holmes had also killed 3 of the Pitzel children.
During the proceedings, Holmes confessed to 27 murders. However, Holmes was a consummate
liar, a bigamist and a con artist–plausibility points to him killing 9 people. Whatever the
body count, Holmes was convicted and hanged in 1896. In 1895 while Holmes sat in jail, the Castle
mysteriously caught fire and was gutted. There are a couple of theories as to who set it
alight. Locals sick of all the curiosity seekers making pilgrimages to the area, revenge by
a family member who suspected Holmes of killing a loved one, etc. After the fire, the building was refurbished
and used for a while before falling into disrepair. In the 1930’s, the US government bought
the property and tore it down. In 1938, a US post office was built on the site. The
Post Office shares part of its foundation with the original basement space of the Castle.
There’s an old narrow tunnel accessible from the Post Office’s basement which leads
to a part of what used to be the Murder Castle’s basement; the tunnel’s believed to have
been part of an escape route made by H. H. Holmes. There are rumors of the property being haunted
or cursed; a few people associated with the Holmes investigation or case died suddenly,
mysterious or tragically. Only once has the US government allowed a ghost hunting crew
from the History Channel to explore under the Post Office, since then they have denied
all other requests. If you liked this video then we’ve got two
more great episodes of The Infographics Show that we picked out just for you so click on
the one over here or over here. We’ll leave the final decision to you but you have to
pick now before it’s too late!