Famous Haunted Chicago Site: Tough Convo w/ a Surviving Family Member

This is the second of a 2-part series on dealing with YouTube comments. The last one was a little more light-hearted, but I do want to include this interaction as well because it’s an important conversation to have. Content Warning: This is a conversation that includes suicide and with a couple of shocking suicide cases in the news lately, I do feel it’s good to bring this conversation to light without shame.

If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time day or night, or chat online. Crisis Text Line also provides free, 24/7, confidential support via text message to people in crisis when they dial 741741.

Unlike the previous article, “Dealing with A*hole YouTube Commenters,” I will be respectfully hiding the identity of the commenter and the specific ghost story in question, however dedicated fans of Chicago ghost lore may be able to identify the haunted location. The story involves a haunted commercial site where the ghost was a person who perviously owned the location. Their tragic story ended at their own hands as a result of a long battle with cancer.

I will occasionally add additional comments in italics as part of this article to provide more context and more of my thought process. You will notice more name redactions throughout the conversation:

The first comment: He DID NOT shoot himself! He died from agent orange! He’s my uncle!

My reply: Hello – thanks for reaching out. As a researcher, I try my hardest to always find as many sources as possible to get things right. That doesn’t mean it always happens perfectly and that’s why having a presence online is super helpful. People like you are able to reach out and add information. When it comes to xxxx’s cause of death, I’m unable to acquire an official death certificate since I’m not a relative nor have I done any official business with him where we both had our names on a legal document. That would totally clear things up. Might your family be able to send me a photo or a scan of his death certificate? That would go a long way to setting the story RIGHT. Also, whether it’s a suicide or someone passing away from cancer, those types of things just don’t make the newspapers, so I haven’t been able to find any type of article, though I did find a very nice obituary for him in the Tribune. I imagine your family already has this, but I’d be happy to share it with you. I had no idea he played violin, piano & accordion! Just for your knowledge, and this is probably more of a semantic point than anything, as a WWII vet, he was certainly exposed to some rough stuff that may well have lead to illness, but Agent Orange itself wasn’t created until 1961, so he wouldn’t have encountered it in battle (leave that to Vietnam). Did he somehow have exposure to Agent Orange in his civilian life? Again, this is all just an effort to tell the true, honest story. Thanks again for reaching out!

Commentary: As I hope is already evident, I know and appreciate that when I’m telling ghost stories, I’m talking to real people who left loved ones behind. I take as much care as possible to tell stories respectfully and go out of my way to make sure things never come off as sensationalized. I’ve even had the opportunity to work with surviving members of a family whose loved ones left paranormal traces behind. I’m always infinitely appreciative of those family members who reach out to me to tell me more about their family in an effort to allow me to better represent their family member. It’s not just a ghost story – it’s a family story.

Also, note in the original interaction that there are already inaccuracies within the family story (the agent orange claim). It is very likely that a younger member of a family could’ve been shielded from specifics of a family member’s passing. Suicide is another way to die – it doesn’t equal a failure or shortcoming of the deceased, however, there’s long been shame associated with that kind of death.

Follow-Up Comment: I was told by his own brother it was agent orange, either way, it was definitely not suicide and as far as a death certificate goes, it is honestly no ones business and I would never share a family members death certificate with anyone. Very strange.

My Commentary: Absolutely true that sharing a family member’s death certificate is an intimate thing, but if her end goal is changing the narrative, that would be the most direct and immediate method.

My Reply: That’s okay, I’m not pushing, of course. This story appeared in a lot of books and articles through the years. I was only offering to try to help you set the story straight, that’s all.

Final Follow-Up Comment: I appreciate that. Thank you.

My Commentary: Firstly, I’m happy that the interaction ended with a “thank you,” but we sadly aren’t really any closer to establishing where the truth lies. At the end of the day, one could ask, “Does it really even matter?” The answer to that is different for everyone. I do have to wonder if the YouTube commenter is somewhat afraid to find the answer. One would think that, as this is a famous Chicagoland story, it has been re-told many times and if everyone was getting the story wrong, the family might want to set the record straight.

And though my opinion couldn’t matter less to the family in question, it’s of my personal belief that a person suffering through a painful, long-term terminal decline, if they decide to go out on their own terms, it’s still a death due to the illness.

When it comes to storytelling, I can make a mistake like anyone. And if I do get something wrong, I do take it as a proud opportunity to show the error and get it right in the end. If you ever see an inaccuracy in an article, video or book of mine – please do let me know – it’s how we all get better. Uncomfortable conversations like the one above are actually welcome by me.

If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time day or night, or chat online.

Crisis Text Line also provides free, 24/7, confidential support via text message to people in crisis when they dial 741741.

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