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Englewood's 'Swastika House' a Haunt for Tourists - And Maybe a Ghost

By Mark Konkol | November 28, 2012 6:44am | Updated on November 28, 2012 10:51am

ENGLEWOOD — In the heart of Chicago's most notorious neighborhood — just down the street from where white supremacists in 1966 doused blacks and cops with sulfuric acid — you’ll find an ironic, possibly haunted, curiosity.

I discovered it on a summer overnight patrol when not a single soul was shot. The Chicago police sergeant taking me around used the rare downtime to show off the twin brick A-frame cottages — perfect mirror images of each other — behind a single iron gate near 60th Street and Loomis Boulevard.

The spotlight the sergeant aimed on tiles embedded in brick above the front windows sent a blast of bright light into Tommy and Dorothy Tate’s living room.

The couple didn’t flinch. After living there for 19 years, the retired machinist and his wife knew it was just the police showing off the swastikas again.

Englewood's 'last tourist spot'

On Christmas Day 1993, the Tate family home at 59th and Wolcott burned to ground. They lost everything except each other.

Dorothy Tate, a retired school security guard, declared it a family emergency to get her displaced children and grandchildren under the same roof.

A sturdy house at 6011 S. Loomis Blvd. had plenty of room. Sure, it needed fixing up — outdated bathrooms, worn floors and a crumbling ceiling — but her handy husband could handle the work. Without thinking twice, they bought the place and got their family back together again. It wasn’t until they settled in that the Tates noticed the strange attraction folks had to their new digs.

“People would be like, ‘The police keep passing by and stopping to point at the house, what’s going on over there?’” Dorothy Tate said. “Then one day I was outside … and I was like, ‘Holy Smack.’”

She saw the swastikas — one above each window.

And there were two more on the house next door.

“I told my husband, ‘Did you see that up there?’ He was like, ‘I’m just like you, I was just trying to hurry up and get in.'”

Ever since, they get “tourists” and cops stopping out front for a look. Some people linger to snap pictures and a few have even knocked on the door to ask for a look inside.

“It’s really popular,” Dorothy Tate said. “Like the last tourist spot in Englewood.”

In 1996, the Tates bought the house next door. At first, neighbors in the mostly black neighborhood pressured the Tates to remove the swastikas — a variation of an ancient Hindu symbol hijacked by Adolph Hitler — but their realtor advised against it.

“He said, ‘Don’t worry about what people think. Don’t no Nazi’s live in there. They know that. Why disfigure your house to satisfy somebody else,” Dorothy Tate said. “So, I didn’t touch it.”

“Plus, that might be key bricks to the house,” Tommy Tate said, laughing. “I look up at those swastikas and I say, ‘They mines.’”

Making 'bombs or something' in basement?

It was pretty common to see a swastika included on buildings constructed in the early 20th century. But the twisted crosses on the Tate’s houses have become something of an urban legend.

Some folks say the American Nazi Party used the houses as a compound before the infamous “white power” march down Loomis in September 1996.

Tate, an Army veteran, said when cleaning out the basement of 6015 S. Loomis he did find shelves filled with military-issued ammunition tins, canisters of “some kinda oil, some kinda solvent” and a bunch of rotted tents.

“My neighbor said the man who lived there never let anyone in the basement,” Tommy Tate said. “It looked like someone was making bombs or something. I thought those cans might have nitro in it. I just got rid of it — nice and easy.”

But he prefers the story neighbors tell of the folks who used to live in the houses — a Jew and a German who were best friends.

“That’s what people told me, so that’s what I tell people,” Tommy Tate said.

But the Tates never found out when or why their house got marked with the twisted cross — and they never really cared to know.

Even a search Cook County property records dating back to when New York real estate speculators took title to the land in 1874 — three years after the Great Chicago Fire — didn’t offer a definitive answer.

The original building permit for both houses showed spinster Bobbette Austin commissioned Russian-born Architect Carl Shparago to design both houses in September 1930.

And the contractor who built the houses was listed as an Italian-immigrant named “DeTommasse,” who finished the job, materials and all, for $6,500, according to the handwritten building permit on microfilm at the Chicago History Museum.

There were no archive photographs or blue prints in historic archives to show whether Shparago or DeTommasse indeed added the swastikas tiles to the brick work.

But a historic look back at who owned the houses — neither of which are listed among Chicago’s historic homes — did shed some light on their small place in history — and maybe even the ghost in the attic.

Austin, who built the houses before marrying advertising man Edward J. Goodman, was forced to sell both of them less than a year after they were finished.

William J. Wright, president of an insurance company, and his wife Pearl, next bought the Tate house. And James Mitchem, a secretary at Underwriters Laboratories, and his wife Katie, purchased the house next door at 6015 S. Loomis.

In 1945, Dr. Walter A. Adams, Chicago’s first black psychiatrist, bought the house where the Tates now live for $4,000. With his wife, Osbeth, they raised their daughter Elizabethe there. They counted sociologist and author Allison Davis and Ebony founder John H. Johnson and his wife Eunice Walker Johnson among their friends.

Adams was born in Texas, educated at Howard University and worked as a Pullman porter to pay his tuition. He was chief of the psychiatry department at Provident Hospital, where he was a “pioneer in rehabilitating the Negro community’s dope addicts,” according to a 1957 Chicago Tribune profile. In 1955, Adams offered testimony to the U.S. Senate about race and narcotic addiction in Chicago.

In 1959, Adams fell down the stairs at home, which caused a blood clot on his brain that led to his death on Feb. 22.

His widow remarried and continued to live in the house until she sold it to the Tates for $59,000. Osbeth Adams Crews died in Arkansas on June 20, 2009 — four months short of her 101st birthday.

The Ghost Upstairs

Dorothy Tate keeps a padlock on the door leading the staircase to the second floor, and it’s for good reason.

“Someone’s walking up there, man,” she said. “I hear it.”

Tommy Tate has heard the "clomp, clomp, clomp" coming from the empty upstairs bedrooms, too.

Dorothy Tate can’t forget the night her son once ran downstairs yelling, “'Momma, momma, someone’s sitting in the chair with a red plaid jacket on by my bed,'” Dorothy Tate said. “You can’t pay him to go up there now.”

Sometimes, the door flies open when no one is around. Her husband says it’s just the wind, but she doesn’t believe him. All the upstairs windows are screwed shut.

“It got so serious that I said whoever is up there ain’t coming down to get me,” she said. “That’s why I lock that door every night and open it every morning.”

When I told her the story of Adams' fatal fall in that very hallway, her eyes got wide. She gasped.

“Them stairs?” Dorothy Tate said. “So, we do hear somebody up there. Oh, my.”

Tommy Tate laughed.

“She’s scared, but she doesn’t believe in ghosts,” he said. “I believe in ghosts.”

The noise usually sounds like it’s coming from a room that the Tates think Adams must have used as an office since they found an old hospital bed up there and there’s a wall safe hidden in the closet.

“So now we know what to call him,” Tommy Tate said. “Ol’ Walter.”

Dorothy Tate joked about having a séance to reach out to Adams, if indeed his ghost is stopping around.

“He must have really liked this house,” Dorothy Tate said. “I know I do.”