Group probes ghostly happenings at former Elgin coffin factory
By Emily McFarlan Miller firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com October 8, 2013 5:26PM
Investigator Kristiena Kurtz sets up equipment in the boiler room of the old Elgin coffin factory by the light on John Besch's flashlight. The Elgin Paranormal Investigators spent the night Saturday to Sunday in the building, now Evil Intentions Haunted House. | Emily McFarlan Miller~Sun-Times Media
On the Web
Evil Intentions: evilintentionshauntedhouse.com
Elgin Paranormal Investigators: elginparanormalinvestigators.com
Updated: November 10, 2013 6:18AM
ELGIN — There are scarier things in Evil Intentions Haunted House than Skillz the Clown.
Jason Strackany of Elgin, who plays Skillz, ran into one of them when he and his co-workers at the haunted house were playing a “huge game of hide and seek” earlier this year in the sprawling stone building that once housed Elgin Metal Casket Co., he said.
Strackany had seen somebody run into the basement, and he followed them down, he said.
Or so he thought. There was nobody there when he got to the bottom of the steps, he said.
That’s when “I heard a growl, and when I heard the growl, I immediately froze.”
Something burned into his back, he said, sending him running back up the steps. Later, scratches rose in that spot on his skin.
Peeling pieces of jagged white makeup from his mouth and shoveling in pizza after the busiest Saturday night yet this season at Evil Intentions, Strackany insisted he wasn’t alone. Dina Schwartz of Aurora, who plays Bloody Mary, won’t even go in the basement, she said.
And Jeremy “Vegas” Esquivel said he has seen heavy metal doors inside swing shut on their own and an apparition of a little girl wandering through the haunted house.
Every year, actors have quit after paranormal encounters in the building — two already this year, according to Evil Intentions owner Mike Fitzpatrick. Some have taken off in the middle of a busy night at the haunted house, still wearing their costumes.
“There are so many — every one of our actors is experiencing stuff,” Fitzpatrick said.
Those are the kinds of ghost stories that brought the Elgin Paranormal Investigators out to the old Elgin Metal Casket Co. factory as midnight struck and Saturday turned to Sunday, as the last visitors fled the haunted house and the actors started to scrub off their ghastly makeup.
EPI is the third paranormal investigation group to spend a night in the building, Fitzpatrick said, an invitation that came after EPI founder Greg Stout struck up a conversation with Schwartz about a month ago. Stout, who drives a black hearse with the letters “EPI” and “Bone Collector” across its windows, had spotted Evil Intentions’ hearse parked in a lot in Elgin, he said.
“I’ve been hearing a lot of reports out of here over the years, and I’m glad to get in here — any place with this much history,” said Mike Rohr, co-founder and tech manager of EPI.
The building at 900 Grace St. first belonged to Western Casket Hardware, established on the east side of Elgin in 1903, according to “Elgin: Days Gone By,” written by local historian and Courier-News columnist E.C. “Mike” Alft. It acquired its competitor, the west-side Elgin Silver Plate Co., in 1926, and operations were consolidated into the east-side plant, Alft wrote.
About two years later, Western began manufacturing metal caskets, and in 1939 it changed its name to Elgin Metal Casket Co., according to Alft.
At its peak, Elgin Metal Casket Co. shipped up to 70,000 caskets throughout the country in a year, he wrote. Former President Calvin Coolidge was buried in an Elgin casket, and the body of President John F. Kennedy was transported in one from Dallas to Washington, D.C., after his assassination in 1963.
The company was purchased by Simmons in 1968 and Gulf & Western in 1979, then moved to Indiana in 1982, according to Alft’s book.
Since then, the building has had several tenants. EPI investigator Frank Tripoli of South Elgin said he remembers working in a furniture warehouse there. Fitzpatrick pointed out a bullet hole in the window above one entrance; reportedly, a man was murdered on those steps about 20 years ago, he said.
Evil Intentions moved into the old Elgin Metal Casket Company plant five years ago, partly because of its history and “just the look of the building,” Fitzpatrick said.
“That’s what sets us apart. We’re actually in a haunted building,” he said.
Electronic equipment has stopped working and lightbulbs exploded while filming videos in parts of the building, he said. Actors in the haunted house have reported several different apparitions: a little girl; an old man; a “mimic” that takes the form of other people who work there, only to disappear when that person walks into the room.
Walking through Evil Intentions last week with Stout, Fitzpatrick pointed out a wicker rocking chair in the entrance where another paranormal investigation group reportedly captured a ghostly photograph.
As they moved into an open area surrounded by chain-link fence, he pointed out the spot where a psychic reportedly had seen a vision of a pentagram in the concrete and demons, dragging body parts to hell. He pointed out the doors that reportedly slam, and the huge, open basement that he said sits over an Indian burial ground.
That basement is where EPI captured the most evidence of paranormal activity. The group takes a “scientific” approach to its investigations: no psychics, just historical research, audio and video recordings, and temperature and electromagnetic field readings.
There was a deep exhale and what sounded to investigators like faraway screaming, banging sounds that mimicked two knocks from investigator Dave Umbach. All those experiences were supported by audio and video recorded by the group.
Film documentarian Nikki Holley also said she thought she saw a shadow move behind her as she filmed investigators in the open space.
Upstairs in the haunted house, the group recorded what’s known as an EVP — or electronic voice phenomena — as investigators moved through the narrow, coffin-shaped halls. An EVP is a voice that isn’t heard at the time, only later when a recording is played back — the theory being a spirit can use the energy from the recording device to make its voice heard.
In response to a playful, “Hello-o-o?” from investigator Brenda Delhotal, a faint voice answered back on the recorder, “Hello.”
Afterward, Stout said, the coffin factory-turned-haunted house was “a great place to go.”
“Apparently, it has some kind of activity,” he said. “I don’t know if I’d call it ‘haunted,’ but it does have some kind of interactive activity.”