The Red Lion Pub is the most haunted place in Chicago. These are tales -- real and imagined -- set in this wondrous old joint!
What I write here of my experiences, I swear, is the truth. The rest? I don't know. John Cordwell loved a story and, "a story," he always said, "is best told, tinkered, sar; yes sar. Tinkered!"
As I write that, I hear John, in his Seventh Earl of Muffington voice. John Cordwell was not an Earl and there is no Muffington except in a foul tale or two, but being both very British and not-an-earl-of-anything was also part of the Book of Cordwell: that special creation, his life, his tale, a tale he tinkered all the time. Not lying, you understand, simply enhancing the experience of being John Cordwell for the credulous unenlightened.
All right, the Red Lion is a bar. A pub. A red pin on the map of my life. I've gone steady with the place since I moved to Chicago from the east. That was in the 70's of the last century. I was a theater-head when I arrived -- a director, looking for stories and people to direct.
The Lion is on Lincoln Avenue. Back then, Lincoln was a respectably seedy diagonal slant of Northside real estate: booksellers, coffee shops, folk joints and blues clubs, vastly trendy, ultra-edgy record shops, places that gathered the shuffling, the sweaty, the muy hip and the giggly, the pop-girls with their shy smiles and belly buttons and all those who wanted to feed on them all…
And theaters. Lincoln Avenue wove through what then was America's theater wonderland: Steppenwolf, Organic, St. Nicholas, Body Politic, Victory Garden. Oh, then was the heyday, high-water mark and Holy Golden Age of brash theatrical life and blood that was Chicago. Alas.
The area also had a reputation for the weird.
Across from the Lion is the Biograph Theater. In 1934, Gentleman Johnny -- John Dillinger -- spent the last two of his earthly-coiled hours watching Manhattan Melodrama at the Biograph. Then he walked onto Lincoln, into Chicago night, and was blown into history by G-Man Melvin Purvis. It's said when the wind swirls from the west to make the shadows moan, Dillinger's ghost loiters by the brick wall at the alley where he fell, a scent of the Indiana fields on which he grew up, rising, drifting…
Well, I don't believe in ghosts. Didn't believe.