I spent 3 nights in Chicago's most haunted hotel, and it was just as terrifying as 'The Shining.' Take a look inside.

·8 min read
the congress plaza hotel exterior on the left and a dark hallway on the right
The Congress Plaza Hotel is rumored to be haunted. Frank Olito/ Insider
  • In June, I stayed at Chicago's Congress Plaza Hotel, which is considered Illinois' most haunted building.

  • During my stay, it felt like I was the only guest because public spaces were empty.

  • I tried to visit the most haunted room in the hotel, but the labyrinth of hallways got me spooked.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

In June, I booked a three-night stay at the Congress Plaza Hotel not knowing I was walking into one of the most haunted buildings in the Midwest.

the exterior of the Congress Plaza Hotel in chicago
The exterior of the Congress Plaza Hotel. Frank Olito/Insider

The Congress Plaza Hotel stands on Michigan Avenue in the middle of Chicago's Loop neighborhood. The hotel opened in 1893 for the World's Fair. Over the decades, it has undergone many transformations and seen many guests. It's said that some of those guests never checked out.

In fact, Travel + Leisure once named the Congress Plaza Hotel the most haunted place in Illinois and, as I would learn, for good reason.

I didn't know any of this before booking a three-night stay at the Congress Plaza Hotel, but I was to find out more about its spooky past during my visit in the first week of June.

When I first stepped inside the lobby of the Congress Plaza Hotel, I was impressed by the grandeur, but something definitely felt off.

The lobby of the Congress plaza hotel filled with empty chairs
The lobby. Frank Olito/Insider

At that point, I couldn't put my finger on what felt odd about the hotel, but I remember feeling strange while walking through the lobby and during check-in.

At the back of the lobby, there was an ornate table and chair that the White House donated to the hotel, hinting at its past.

a table and chair located in the back of the congress plaza hotel lobby
A chair and table were located in the back of the lobby. Frank Olito/ Insider

"The White House presented this chair to the owners of the Congress Hotel in the early 1900s," a plaque on the chair reads. "It was a favorite of Presidents Polk, Van Buren, Harrison, and Harding...and it's a favorite of ours too!"

After doing some research, I learned that the hotel's nickname is "Home of Presidents" because Presidents Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Franklin Roosevelt all worked and stayed at the Congress Plaza at some point.

The presidents used the hotel as campaign headquarters, as a meeting place for caucuses, and for historic interviews.

During my research, I also learned the hotel has a haunted past.

two gold elevators at the congress plaza hotel in chicago
The elevators. Frank Olito/Insider

For starters, the building is rumored to have been mobster Al Capone's headquarters. People also talk about "Peg Leg Jonny" who is said to have been killed in an alley behind the hotel. Plus, there's the story of two children who were pushed from a 12th-story window by their mother.

It's said all of these guests still roam the hallways of the Congress Plaza Hotel.

Guests have reported the elevators mysteriously stopping at the most haunted floors, blankets being pulled off them in the middle of the night, and sounds of whispering at the bottom of their beds.

However, Shakeel Siddiqui, the general manager of the hotel, told me these incidents are only rumors.

"We do not consider our hotel haunted," Siddiqui said. "We never experience any paranormal activity in any of our rooms. There are rumors because of the age of the building."

I took the elevator up to my room on the 14th floor for the first time and was surprised by the size of the space.

the hotel room with purple carpet and blue bed spread at congress plaza hotel chicago
The room I stayed in for three nights. Frank Olito/Insider

It was easily the largest hotel room I have ever stayed in, but the design choices felt dated to me. The purple rug with the blue suede comforter made it feel like I was stepping back in time to the colorful '80s.

That first night, I could barely sleep because the ghost stories were swirling around my mind.

congress plaza hotel room with tv on wall
I slept with the lights on. Frank Olito/Insider

In bed in the dark, I couldn't stop thinking about the ghost stories I read when I first arrived at the hotel. At one point in the night, I turned on the lights in the room because I kept imagining a ghost in the far, dark corner whispering. I even imagined a ghost ripping the blankets off me.

Around 3 a.m., I made two decisions: First, I was going to sleep with the lights on, and second, if anything strange did happen to me, I would check out the next morning and get a new hotel.

Luckily, I fell asleep with the lights on and the rumored ghosts weren't active.

The following morning, I went down to the restaurant for breakfast, and the strange feeling I felt when I first entered the hotel returned.

an empty restaurant at the congress plaza hotel
The empty restaurant. Frank Olito/Insider

I realized the feeling was complete solitude. Since I checked in the day before, I only saw one or two guests in the entire hotel. There was no one in the lobby, there was no one in the restaurant, and there was no one in the halls. It felt like I had the entire hotel to myself, and I didn't like it.

I was reminded of Stephen King's "The Shining" where the family spends the entire winter alone in a hotel. In fact, King spent a few nights at the Congress Plaza Hotel and, according to Patch, his story "1408" was inspired by one of the rooms, 441, at this Chicago hotel.

Over the next two days, I noticed every hallway was empty.

empty hallways with windows at chicago conress hotel
The hallways were empty. Frank Olito/Insider

Every time I entered the hotel, got in the elevator, and walked the hallways to my room, I only spotted one or two other guests.

Siddiqui later told me this was most likely because of the pandemic. The hotel has not been up to its full capacity because of limited global travel.

In fact, every corner of this hotel seemed to be devoid of human life.

empty hallways at Congress Plaza Hotel
Everywhere was empty. Frank Olito/Insider

It really felt like I was the only guest at the hotel. Well, just me and a few ghosts.

I even walked by the famous Gold Room on the second floor and found nothing but caution tape.

caution tape in the gold room at the congress plaza hotel
The Gold Room has caution tape. Frank Olito/Insider

Strangely, the lobby of the Gold Room — a large events space — was dark and there was no one around. One of the doors was propped open to the room, and I peeked my head inside. To my confusion, the place was lined with yellow caution tape.

Siddiqui later told me the tape was used to direct people at a veterans event at the hotel, but the information did little to ease my panic and confusion in the moment.

On my last day, I decided to explore the hotel a bit more, particularly the place that's said to be the most haunted room in the entire building: Room 441.

a hotel room sign with staircase in background at congress plaza hotel
Just outside the hallway to Room 441. Frank Olito/Insider

Room 441 is largely considered the most haunted room in the Congress Plaza Hotel. Reportedly, this room has had the most ghost sightings, including the silhouette of a woman. Past guests of room 441 said objects moved without being touched and the lights flickered on and off throughout the night.

I decided to venture 10 floors below and walk past the door. It was easier said than done.

Along my way, I noticed the hallways of the Congress Plaza are a mind-bending, confusing labyrinth.

a view of a hallway through a door window at the congress plaza hotel
The hallways never ended. Frank Olito/Insider

It seemed the hallways went on forever. As soon as I got to the end of one hallway, there was a heavy door that opened and led to another. There were twists, turns, and even dead-ends. After just a few minutes wandering the halls, I realized I was lost and began to panic.

I passed several doors that didn't have any door knobs. I wondered if they were boarded-up rooms.

closed off doors in the congress plaza hotel in chicago
Some doors seemed to be closed off. Frank Olito/Insider

I began to wonder if the hotel was keeping people out of these rooms or keeping something in.

As I got closer and closer to room 441, my heart beat faster and faster.

a dark hallway in congress plaza hotel in chicago
The hallway near Room 441. Frank Olito/Insider

Although the hallway leading up to room 441 was no different than the others, it definitely felt different. There were two heavy doors at either end of the hallway, making me feel trapped.

I also noticed this hallway was completely silent. There was no noise coming from any of the hotel rooms. The feeling I was completely alone in this hotel crept up again.

I wish I could say I found room 441 and stood in front of it bravely. But truth be told, I freaked myself out. I ran out of the hallway and back toward my room without even stepping foot in front of the supposedly haunted room.

Although I left the Congress Plaza Hotel with no real proof that it's haunted, the stories alone freaked me out.

The exterior of the Congress Plaza Hotel in chicago
The exterior of the Congress Plaza Hotel. Frank Olito/Insider

From the sleepless nights to the eerie feeling that I was the only one in the hotel, my stay at the Congress Plaza will definitely haunt me for some time.

But no matter how scared I got during my time at the Congress Plaza Hotel, at least I was able to check out — some don't seem to be so lucky.

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