Chicago Elevated, run by effusive improv veteran Margaret Hicks, leads curious charges on eclectic group, private, and custom tours of the city. Jaunts lead natives and tourists alike through the city’s oft-overlooked nooks and crannies as Hicks’s jovial voice narrates every step, shedding light on secret areas and easily overlooked historic sites. Her pedway tour sojourns into Chicago’s tiled subterranean antecity, where retailers, restaurants, and mole people mingle. Tours explore sites of famous disasters, visit the ghostly red-light district that once stretched below what is now Printer’s Row, and gaze at downtown’s ornate architecture from the riverwalk.
Stationed in Wrigleyville after college, Hicks accrued the healthy sense of humor and comedic timing that pepper each tour at Second City, iO, and other theaters. Though she attempted a move to New York City, Hicks soon discovered she couldn’t stay away from Chicago’s majestic skyline or the skyscrapers’ subtly receding hairlines. A stint in the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s docent program, as well as acting as a tour guide for six years, arm her with insider’s knowledge that soon transfers to listeners’ brains.
Paranormal investigator Kevin Frantz, author of Naperville, Chicago's Haunted Neighbor, has led visitors through spooky Naperville settings while dispensing historically accurate yarns for eight years. As they make their way through these eerie locales, Kevin invites guests to snap their own photographs in the pursuit of a keepsake paranormal portrait.
Legend has it that Mark Twain once called Alton a "dismal little river town," perhaps referencing the area's propensity for disease, disaster, and Civil War?era violence?some of which radiated from a Confederate POW camp. Roughly a century later, another author, Troy Taylor, wrote an entire book about Alton's dark history. He also created Alton Hauntings, a company that hosts walking and bus tours that explore malevolent stories from Alton's past, as well as the supernatural happenings that have been rumored for decades. Guides lead groups to various locations throughout the town, summoning the past through their storytelling.
After undergoing a complete overhaul for the 2013 season, Eleventh Hour Haunted House swallows visitors in 30,000 square feet of strobe lights, fog, and theme park-quality sets—some of which loom over patrons at 20 feet high. Such epic scale has earned the indoor labyrinth a coffin full of accolades, including the title of "Best Overall Halloween Event" from ChicagoHalloweenGuide.com last year. But despite the ominous environments and bloodcurdling characters, Eleventh Hour actually eliminates the scariest part of the season: long waits. Instead of making guests stand in line or rake invisible leaves before heading inside, the haunted house invites them to kill time in a festival area with food and refreshments for sale.
In December 1803, Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set up the Camp River Dubois, right where the Mississippi and Missouri rivers meet. There, they and a crew of 30 men spent five months preparing for their legendary three-year expedition to chart America's newly acquired Louisiana Purchase territory. On May 14, 1804, they finally set sail on a 55-foot-long keelboat, named for its habit of keeling over in fear when it passed a shark.
To commemorate the bicentennial of its namesake's journey, the Lewis & Clark Confluence Tower opened on May 14, 2010, the 206-year anniversary, to the day, of the expedition's embarking. Tower is a slight misnomer—the structure is actually two parallel towers, connected by viewing levels 50, 100, and 150 feet above the ground.
The platforms afford panoramic views of Lewis and Clark's departure point, as well as the rivers' intersection, and, 25 miles north, the union of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. Downtown St. Louis and the Gateway Arch are visible on clear days, and during evening events, sunsets and fireworks reflect gorgeously on the water. Back on the ground, the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway, complete with educational plaques, accommodates visitors interested in following the rivers' convergence on foot.
Chicago Hauntings' "ghost bus" whisks passengers away on interactive trips to the second city's spookiest locales. Founder Ursula Bielski and her crew of paranormal researchers split their signature tours between historical yarns on the bus and time exploring supernaturally active sites on foot. The rotating itinerary of stops includes the site of the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre, the location of the Fort Dearborn Massacre, and the spot where Resurrection Mary met her fateful end.
Along with her primary routes, Ursula leads specialty tours including daytime trips based on The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson's bestseller about serial killer H. H. Holmes, and strolls down one Chinatown block where every building is allegedly haunted. She also hosts private tours, pub crawls, and kid-friendly excursions during which youngsters hear toned-down tales and learn about ghost-hunting equipment more advanced than their dog Sherlock.