We’ve probably all heard the story of the face on the courthouse window in Carrollton, Alabama, said to date back to an incident in 1878. In their book Haunted Heartland (1985), the late Beth Scott and her writing partner Michael Norman tell a story from 1920s Chicago about a mysterious handprint that lingered on a firehouse window.
The men at the firehouse on 13th and Oakley, which housed Engine Company 107 and Truck Company 12 of the Chicago municipal fire department, were spring cleaning that Good Friday, April 18th, 1924. One of the men, a thirteen year veteran named Frank Leavy, was scheduled to work both that day and Easter Sunday. He wasn’t happy about having to work on the holy day, which he would have preferred to spend going to church with his wife, son and daughter. But there was something about Leavy’s mood that ran deeper than his displeasure with the schedule; he seemed downright depressed.
Leavy was washing a window when his friend Ted McKevitt asked him, “Why so gloomy?” Leavy rested his open, soapy hand on the windowpane for a moment, then said, “This is my last day on the fire department.”
McKevitt wasn’t sure if he’d heard Leavy right, and he didn’t think the man was angry enough over the scheduling to throw away a good job. Before he could ask for a clarification, though, the company was called out to a big fire at Curran Hall, a huge four-story brick office building some two miles away.
The men from Truck Company 12 went to the roof; Frank Leavy went with Engine Company 107 to the second floor. In those days firefighters weren’t equipped with supplemental oxygen and other protective gear; they coughed and vomited and fought the inferno as best they could. Still, they seemed to be gaining on the blaze–until they heard their coworkers shouting frantically from outside the building: “GET OUT!!! GET OUT!!!”
The outer wall of Curran Hall was collapsing, as the men outside could see. Leavy and seven others made it as far as the fire escape, but before they could get to the ground, the wall collapsed, burying them all under fiery, crushing debris. When their bodies were dug from under the rubble, all save Leavy had been burnt and battered beyond recognition.
Ted McKevitt had not been inside the building when the wall collapsed. He identified Frank Leavy’s body.
The next day, McKevitt and his fellow surviving firefighters gathered at their station, their number now decimated by the events of the day before. McKevitt happened to glance over to the window Leavy had been washing the day before, and saw, to his amazement, that the image of Leavy’s left hand–the hand that had been resting on the pane when he said those fateful words “This is my last day on the fire department”–was still visible on the glass.
Try as they might, from then on, the firemen of Engine Company 107 and Truck Company 12 were unable to scrub away Leavy’s handprint. One enterprising man even tried scraping it off with a razor, and failed miserably. A worker from the company who had manufactured the glass in the window was called in; even with a special chemical mix, he was unable to remove the print. A fingerprint expert, called in to determine whether the print was indeed Leavy’s, was in no doubt; the thumbprint was an exact match for a copy of Leavy’s that had been made when he went to work for the department, thirteen years before.
Several times over the following years, it was suggested that the disturbing window, with its eerie handprint, be replaced. Each time, the men of the company, especially those who had known Leavy, objected. They didn’t know how or why his handprint was there, but they unanimously declared it wouldn’t be right to meddle with it.
Leavy’s wife and children, oddly, never came to see the print. His son, however, also became a fireman–at another station–twenty-one years after his father’s death.
The window, left untouched, survived Leavy by twenty years. On April 18th, 1944, the twentieth anniversary of Leavy’s death at Curran Hall, a newspaper boy tossed a rolled-up paper toward the firehouse. It hit the window with the mysterious handprint, shattering it completely.