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Suicides at The Chicago Water Tower


The famous Chicago Water Tower was designed by William W. Boyington who also designed the old Joliet Prison, the entrance to Rosehill Cemetery and the Illinois Building at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.   

It is the only public building that still remains that was spared by the Chicago Fire of 1871 and has become a symbol of Chicago’s tenacity and resiliency following the disaster.  

The tower is 154 feet tall and was originally constructed to cover a 138 foot standpipe that created water pressure to use for firefighting and also for helping to regulate Chicago water pressure.

I have read various accounts about a “hanging man’s ghost” being seen from the windows and faces as well as lights suddenly appearing in windows where none should exist.   To back up these sightings I had seen on ghost websites that the hauntings were due to a city worker who refused to evacuate the building during the fire of 1871 and rather than abandon his post he hung himself in the building to avoid being burned to death.

While that makes a great story it is not based on any factual account and I felt as though I should dismiss any claims of the water tower being haunted.  That was until I stumbled across the account of two suicides from the top of the water tower in 1875 and 1881.

On October 21, 1875 a young German man by the name of Frederick Kaiser had left home after an early dinner.  He had been suffering from depression from many years and was deemed a “religious maniac” by the courts and sent to the Elgin State Hospital from four months.  

He returned to Chicago after a short trip with his father and returned somewhat improved.  He attempted to find work as a bookkeeper, a job he held previous to his mental breakdown, and met with little success.  He did not have a key to the tower but it was assumed he waited by the door until someone left.  Witnesses claimed that he sat in the window for a time before jumping and that he was in the company of two men before they left him and were shocked to find that his mangled body had fallen across the walls that surround the tower at its lower levels.

A second suicide at the same location is eerily similar.  On June 14, 1881, a young German man named Hugo Von Malapert was depressed due to monetary concerns although he came from a prominent family.  At the bottom of the tower he met a fellow countryman by the name of Victor Gangelin.  

Malapert struck up a conversation with Gangelin and after Malapert produced a key to the tower he asked Gangelin to accompany him on the walk up.
Malapert stated that he was tired of America and wished to return home.  Gangelin making conversation stated that he would enjoy America more if he could find work.  Malapert handed his new found friend a card and wrote the name and address of his employer, Block and Arnstein’s mirror store at 176 East Adams Street.  Malapert stated that if Gangelin went there the next day to apply for a clerk’s position he was fairly sure they would have a vacancy.

As the two started back down the stairs, Malapert said that he had left something at the top and would meet him at the bottom.  As Gangelin continued his descent he could hear a commotion outside.  He exited the tower and was horrified that Malapert had beat him to the ground.  He laid a few feet north of the parapet walls just west of the steps  on the north side of the tower which meant he must have made a very great leap when leaving the window.  

Gangelin saw the body lying in a deep depression caused by the impact and was bleeding profusely from the mouth and nostrils.  A suicide note addressed to his former employer was found on his person in which he apologized and indicated that his father would pay his $200 in debts.

So there may just be something to the male faces that people claim to see peering out of the upper windows of Chicago’s Water Tower.