In high-spirited Chicago, Halloween is the most spirited weekend of the year.
We didnt know that before we arrived one Halloween weekend, but then a few thousand Smurfs, zombies and cowboys bicycled past us on the monthly Critical Mass ride through Lincoln Park.
A pirate skull was perched on the turnips the next morning at the farmers market, and we saw oversized ghouls and witches waving from the windows of mansions. Downtown, orange gushers rose from the fountain in Daley Plaza.
In the northwest corner of Illinois, there's no more cheerful place than Galena.
Today, it's known for its shops and giggling bands of women on a girlfriend getaway. But in the
1850s, it was the busiest port between St. Louis and St. Paul, and rows
of elegant homes were built with lead-mining fortunes.
Eventually, demand for lead waned, and the river connecting Galena to the Mississippi filled with silt. The town went into a deep sleep until the 1960s, by which point it had become a virtual museum.
It's funny how, wherever there are tourists, there are ghosts.
In Chicago, two ghost tours put titillated tourists on the track of Al Capone and John Dillinger, thrill-killers Leopold and Loeb and serial murderer H.H. Holmes, the Devil in the White City.
There's enough lingering ectoplasm in St. Paul, Milwaukee and Winnipeg to keep guides busy there, too, especially around Halloween.
In late fall, ghosts go hand in hand with shipwrecks and the malevolent storms that cause them.
Crews and passengers have been coming to bad ends ever since boats sailed the Great Lakes, starting with the French explorer La Salle's Griffin, which disappeared in 1679 after leaving Washington Island in Door County and may have been found off Michigan's Garden Peninsula.
Some say the ship was done in by an Iroquois curse on the French invaders, and that it still can be glimpsed lurking in the fog.
It began with a sepulchral fugue, crashing through the frigid steel corridors. Then there was a shriek. And throbbing blood-red lights.
At a fork along a curtained gantlet, a hand-lettered sign
advised, "Choose wisely.'' We chose. Another sign said, "You chose
poorly.'' Then the ghouls began to crowd in, chattering like monkeys:
"Where you goin'? Where you goin'?''
A skeleton slowly turned to face us. We climbed a Plexiglass ramp over an open coffin and into an electrocution chamber. A tortured face poked out of the wall. Behind us, the tunnel closed.
It isn't true that dead men tell no tales.
Actually, they can be quite chatty. At Graceland Cemetery in Chicago, their stories keep up to seven tour guides busy, especially during Halloween season.
Graceland's residents are a Who's Who of Chicago society: retailer Marshall Field, meat-packer Philip Armour, hotelier Potter Palmer, piano maker William Kimball.