A Burning Need: Ghostly Hands of Death are a Cry for Help

For generations, Chicagoans have shared two tales of ghosts who made an unusually lasting impression on observers. These spirits are believed to have left their very handprints behind, literally burned into the environment and left as phantom calling cards for the living. But these stories are far from unique in the annals of ghostlore.



On Good Friday in 1924, firefighter Frank Leavy left his ghostly handprint on the window of his firehouse, Engine Co. 107 and Truck Co. 12, at 13th Street and Oakley Avenue.  He had been washing the window that afternoon when he rested his soapy had on the window and predicted that "this is my last day on the fire department."  Leavy died fighting an office building fire later that day at Curran Hall, and as his buddies sat and chatted in the bay the next day, they happened to glance at the window he'd been washing: imbedded in the glass was Frank's ghostly handprint.  Known forever as "The Hand of Death," firefighters still tell the tale of Leavy's hand; his prediction of his own demise, and the attempts to remove the reminder. His colleagues scrubbed, employed harsh chemicals, and tried to scrape it off.  According to legend, an administrator came with Frank's file from headquarters and compared his fingerprints with those on the window. They matched perfectly.


 A second event continues to be talked about with great fervor by believers in Chicago and around the world: the burning of the cemetery bars by the city's most famed phantom, Resurrection Mary (the ghost behind our Resurrection Mary/Vanishing Hitchhiker fragrance). 

In the 1970s, curiosity-seekers came by the hundreds to view the front gates of Resurrection Cemetery on Archer Road, where--one night, around 1am--a mysterious young woman had been seen standing, grasping the bars of the gate, apparently locked inside. When police arrived to let her out, they found no one there. But the bars she'd been clutching were pried apart--the strong bronze mangled by incredible force--and seared with the imprint of a woman's hands. A famed photo exists, above, as evidence of the event.

I was amazed to discover, years ago, that Chicago is not the only place these strange permanent paranormal objects (PPOs) have materialized. A friend of mine told me about an obscure museum in Rome where he had recorded for electronic voice phenomenon--ostensibly the voices of the dead--to be used for his experimental musical recording, "The Phantoms of Purgatory Souls." 

The museum is called the Museum of the Holy Souls in Purgatory and is tucked away in the back of the Church of the Sacred Heart--the only Gothic style church in the city.

On display is a collection of artifacts displaying burn marks reportedly made by the hands of spirits: handprints burned onto the nightcap of a man whose deceased wife appeared to him asking for prayers; a book which developed similar ghostly burn marks after its owner's mother-in-law appeared to her asking for prayers; bibles burned with phantom fingers.


The museum was founded by a French missionary priest, Father Jouet, who strongly believed that these artifacts are signs of the reality of Purgatory. Catholics believe that when a soul leaves its Earthly body, it almost always spends some time in a place called Purgatory before being allowed into Heaven.  Purgatory is a place of repentance, amend-making, and "paying off" debts of sin while waiting to join God.  According to Catholics, our prayers can make the difference as to the length and severity of the stay in Purgatory. Some paranormal investigators believe that the ghosts we encounter are these souls, either asking for prayers or remaining hostile and unrepentant even in death. 

I sent a photograph and short write-up to the museum about the bars at Resurrection Cemetery and the handprint of Francis Leavy, though my friend says they stopped taking artifacts when the founder passed away.  Hopefully it will at least go in their files as a further testament to this remarkable phenomenon. 

You can read an excerpt about Leavy's "Hand of Death" in Great Chicago Fires: Historic Blazes that Shaped a City by David Cowan, and you can read more about Resurrection Mary's most memorable visit in my book, Chicago Haunts: Ghostlore of the Windy City, available at Amazon. For a truly in-depth look at the "Hands of Death" on display at Rome's amazing museum (and more about Purgatory), check out the important and compelling book, Hungry Souls, available here.
I recently published a prayer journal called A Year with the Holy Souls, which is a simple journal to encourage daily prayer for the souls in Purgatory. You can pick up a copy here. Proceeds go to have Masses said for the dead. 
For an up close and personal look at the gates of Resurrection Cemetery, Chicago Hauntings Tours offers occasional tours of the ghostly locations of Archer Avenue at www.chicagohauntings.com
Thanks for reading!

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