Irish Ghosts of America: Givins Castle, Chicago

Givins Castle in Chicago: Come on, how can this not be haunted?

This is the story: Robert G. Givens, a Chicago real-estate developer turned novelist, wanted to build a castle. He had visited Ireland and sketched a castle on the River Dee between Belfast and Dublin — possibly Ardee Castle, a Medieval tower house. And so he built his own castle in 1886, built from local limestone.

They said the castle was intended as a gift for Given fiancee or wife, who was Irish, and that she died before she could move in. And they say she now haunts it. And of course they do — Givens castle looks like it should be haunted.

Or perhaps it is somebody else who haunts it. There are also stories of influenza killing a young woman there when the castle was the Chicago Female College, starting sometime in the 1890s and the 1990s. When the castle later became a church, a caretaker claims he met a young woman there, and she mentioned living there and how much it had changed. The caretaker left her and then realized that the building had not had anybody living there for at least 20 years, so the young woman could not possibly have been a resident. He rushed back in to find her, but she was gone. This is the story.

Here’s what we know. Firstly, his name was not Robert G. Givens, but Robert Cartwright Givins. He was indeed a developer in Chicago. He was also an author, and his titles were delightful. They include “The Millionaire Tramp” from 1886 and “Around the World With Three Girls Or Jones Abroad” from 1911. He also sometimes wrote under the pseudonym Snivig C. Trebor — his own name spelled backwards.

There does seem to have been a Mrs. Robert Givens, who was injured in Denver by a runaway carriage in 1897 — the Denver Post confirms this. She was still alive in 1930, according to the Evansville Courier Press, while Robert is reported to have passed away in 1915.

As to the Chicago Female College and the young woman’s death from influenza? Well, firstly, the timeline is often claimed to be the 1930s, which is too late — the castle had a private owner, Dr. Miroslaw Siemans, at that time. There was a 1889–90 flu pandemic, and it’s possible that the school was in the Castle at this time and that a young woman perished of it. If so, newspapers of the era declined to report on it, which is an extraordinary oversight considering Chicago newspapers reported on Miss Genvieve Green of the West Point female college, who produced a gun from her cape in 1990 and put a bullet through her own heart.

I feel like a monstrous debunker now, so I will close with one more story. The Register Star reported on rumors of the building’s hauntings in 1983, and instead of a ghostly women, they said witnesses had seen a little girl with an Irish brogue who appears and disappears. The building is now a church, and it was parishioners who claimed to have seen the spirit, and then-pastor Reverend Roger Brewin told the paper, “In my view, they saw or heard something.”

If a man of the cloth says so — and, indeed, another says so. The  Daily Northwestern ran a story on October 30 of 1996 that told of the little girl and the castle, and they interviewed Leonetta Bugliesi, the minister. She descibed the wee girl as often showing up at social events (“She’s kind of a party girl,” was the exact quote), and said she had witnessed the girl herself. In February 1994, at a party in the old castle, Bugliesi saw two ghostly arms reach out and embrace her husband around the waist.

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Max Sparber

Max Sparber is a playwright, journalist, and history detective in Omaha, Nebraska.