Writer and filmmaker, Scott Markus is an Illinois native who brought his interest in creating to the world of true ghost stories and folklore of the Chicago area with his book and documentary Voices from the Chicago Grave. Despite film work taking him across the country, Markus has used the opportunity to learn about more folklore, from the “Night Marchers” of Hawaii to Hollywood’s celebrity ghosts. Markus currently resides in Los Angeles and maintains the popular hub for discussion on all things ghostly, SlimPictures.com
When did you begin exploring haunted places around Chicago? What was the first place you ever visited, and why did it appeal to you?
I’ve always had the casual interest in ghost stories that everyone has, but it wasn’t until I picked up “Chicago Haunts” in ’99 that I was pushed into getting involved. At that point, learning so many great stories and having all this knowledge of filmmaking, I couldn’t help but make a documentary about our journeys into some of the most famously haunted sites of Chicagoland. The doc chronicled our adventures and misadventures more than about the stories themselves. It was really just an excuse to be able to go out and see these legendary places ourselves.
We started at Calvary Cemetery. I picked it because the story itself was interesting and that while it was the site of a great ghost story, it wasn’t an actively location, so it was a lot more relaxed being able to focus on the shoot rather than having to be afraid of having an “encounter.”
You originally released “Voices from the Grave” as a documentary in 2000. Did you anticipate at the time that you would be writing a companion book, or that your project would experience such success? Looking back, is there anything you would do differently?
I think by half way through the production of the documentary I knew that there were just way too many good stories to tell and I wouldn’t be able to do them justice in a 90 minute documentary. In film you only have people’s attention for so long and I had a lot more stories to tell.
Eventually, I settled on doing a CD-ROM (yes, that’s how long ago it was). I was excited to be able to write as much as I wanted, include as many pictures as I wanted, and even incorporate video clips. I saw the medium as extraordinary since I could really give readers the experience of visiting these places without them having to go themselves. However, I soon realized that people don’t really want to read that many pages on a computer screen. So, I combined it all and self-published a book that came with a CD-ROM. After that, the book got picked up and the CD-ROM portion went online. It’s kind of interesting to see a single product transform as technology changes.
The nearly instant public acknowledgement was a surprise as was how quickly the web site took off as soon as I started including ghost stories on it. As for regrets, since I didn’t know how many people would’ve been interested in it, I would’ve spent more time making the documentary professional. At the time I thought it was just a fun, throw-away project. I don’t even make it available to the public anymore.
From film, to print, to radio, you seem to have done it all. What is your favorite medium for talking about haunted places and the paranormal and why?
There’s no simple answer to that as there are so many great ways to connect with an audience. I really love giving speeches in person for the meet & greet period afterwards. However, there might be nothing better than the power of the internet, primarily by responding to reader e-mails with video responses on YouTube videos. It’s amazing the reach and therefore the response I’ve gotten from the web. The re-release of the book in 2008 was nearly 100 pages longer than the original and that is due strongly to how many great leads I got through the internet, whether it be tips for new locations and stories or additional information on existing stories, and, of course, exciting firsthand accounts.
Hosting the radio show, The Mothership Connection on AM-1050 WLIP was also an amazing experience as it forced me to talk to so many other experts in all aspects of the unexplained. Frequently, I would have absolutely no interest in the topic, but then I’d be forced to interview someone on the topic live on the air for sometimes an hour and a half while also trying to be entertaining for the audience. By the end of my time on the show I was definitely open to a lot more theories.
Have you ever had any unusual experiences at any of the locations you have visited? Is there anywhere you would say with 100 percent confidence that is haunted?
I think I’ve probably encountered something I couldn’t explain, whether it be at the moment, or later when reviewing footage or photographs, less than 10% of the time. However, I covered over 100 places and visited each place multiple times, so that adds up quick. For the longest time I couldn’t go to Robinson Woods in Norridge, Illinois without encountering something I couldn’t explain, and it would usually be quite dramatic. I certainly believe with 100% certainty that something’s going on there. However, it’s now been years since I’ve had anything strange happen on a visit.
I also have to fully endorse the tales of ghosts at the legendary gate in the Independence Grove Forest Preserve in Libertyville, Il even though I’ve never experienced anything there myself and I’ve spent quite a lot of time at that site. There’s just so much passion that comes from people in regards to that spot. Recently I’ve started hearing new types of stories – specifically that of a phantom scream that follows people, chasing them off the property. It’s something that’s been recently reported by multiple unconnected people, so it almost seems the type of paranormal phenomena is changing over time, which is pretty fascinating in and of itself.
What projects are you working on today? What can we expect from Scott Markus in the future?
Well, the “real work” is keeping me quite busy as I work in LA as a director of photography and editor on anything from web series to feature films, but I do try to keep my ear open for a good ghost story as frequently as possible. I would love to write “Voices from the Los Angeles Grave.” I’m still, albeit slowly, publishing videos to YouTube. My most recent was on an impromptu investigation of The Great Escape Restaurant in Schiller, Illinois, which is a real diamond in the rough. I can’t believe that place hasn’t been written about. I also shot a video about the local legends of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and another about a very haunted mansion in northern Illinois. Like the Great Escape, these are tales that have gotten little to no attention so far, which is the most exciting thing to me. In bigger news, I shot and am just about to start editing a feature film about a remarkable ghost story out of western Wisconsin. Unfortunately, I can’t expose much about that yet, but it will definitely be a project that turns some heads.
Reader Mailbag – Oct 2010 Red Lion Pub, Victorian house in Willow Springs:
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