Lectures / Classes

Overview

I have had a passion for educating from a very young age. I was an instructor in my younger military days at the Ft. Belvoir Air Assault School and in military marksmanship. As a police officer, I was a firearms instructor with a master firearms instructor rating from the Police Training Institute at the University of Illinois Champaign/Urbana and a police instructor with the North East Multi-Regional Training Group in Illinois.

As a writer and a historian, I have taught classes in genealogical and historical research for the past 17 years for libraries, private groups, and historical and genealogical societies in the Tri-State area. I have also given tours of historic areas of Chicago to groups but most of all through my non-profit, Friends of The White City. FOTWC in conjunction with the Jackson Park Advisory Council has given tours of, what was in 1893 The World’s Columbian Exposition, in Jackson Park.

As a historian and former investigator, I have been featured in various television programs on various networks to include:

  • The History Channel – “American Ripper”
  • The Travel Channel – “Mysteries at the Museum”
  • Discovery ID – “A Crime to Remember”
  • Amazon Prime – “Cold Valley”
  • BBC – Rich Hall’s “Working for The American Dream”
  • WTTW documentary – “Czechs in Chicago – A Home in the Heartland”
  • and others.

Genealogical Classes/Presentations

The following are genealogical classes that I have presented and am available to present.

Family History 101 (Beginning Your Investigation)

Join professional genealogist, author, and local historian, Ray Johnson, for a fun look at beginning the investigation into your family history. Topics include: Where do I start? Census Records, Naturalization and Immigration Records, Vital Records, Newspapers, and Cemetery Research. Tips and Tricks as well as how to stay on track.

Navigating the Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court Archives

Learn how to most effectively use this wonderful, intimidating, and most often overlooked historical research gem. Covered topics include county naturalizations, divorces, civil and criminal case files, wills and probate files, and even Chicago “Burnt Records”

Tips, Tricks, and little-known sources of Family History

Your hitting brick walls or you just want to add new dimensions to the family history you already have. Join us for a look at some little-known sources of genealogical and historical information.

Tracking Down Your Infamous Ancestors

More and more people are interested in learning more about “The Black Sheep” of their family!  Find out how to become hot on the trail by using photographs, newspapers, court cases both civil and criminal as well as prison, parole, and other state and federal records


Historical Presentations

The following are some fun presentations that I have given to various groups.

The 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago

An overview of the amazing world’s fair nicknamed, “The White City” includes the planning of both the fair proper and the famous Midway Plaisance.  What was it like to be a visitor?  What could you see?  What was new in the fields of Science, Architecture, Art, and Religion, and what were some of the firsts?

H.H. Holmes and new links to Chicago and The White City

Ever since Erik Larson’s Devil in The White City, the murderous, swindler H.H. Holmes has been linked to the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893.  What else was Holmes involved with in Chicago? What new links to two heavyweights Thomas B. Bryan and Daniel H. Burnham have been discovered and what about a possible link to a swindle in England?

1893 Cold Storage Fire at the World’s Fair

On July 10, 1893 the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago was rocked by a devastating fire at the Cold Storage Building.  It was the largest single loss of firefighters in Chicago’s history to that point.  Learn about the tragedy, heroism, and the surprising discovery at the memorial at Chicago’s Oakwoods Cemetery.

What still Exists from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition?

From May 1, 1893, to October 30, 1893, Chicago was the focal point of the entire world!  Never before and arguably never since has any World’s Fair been as grand.  A history of the White City and where you can still find what remains!

The Shootout at the Delaware Building from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition

Who was Ellis Bennett and what was his connection to the Delaware House from the Columbian Expo? How did he acquire the building and why? Why was there a shootout with the Cook County Sheriff’s Police?

The White City Society and Culture

What impact did hosting the 1893 World’s Fair have on Chicago?  How did the fair impact the city and the world and how did the city of Chicago impact the fair?

The Great Chicago Fire of 1871

The night of October 8, 1871, was warmer and dryer than usual and Chicago had just recovered from a significant fire the night before.  A spark in the barn of the O’Leary family on DeKoven Street, a strong southwest wind, and an exhausted fire department all added to a perfect storm of wood and flame that would destroy over one-third of the young, growing city of Chicago.  What was it like to live through this inferno?  Do we know what started it even today?  How and why was Chicago able to survive the calamity?  Were there other fires linked to the Great Fire?  Where can you find reminders of the fire in the city today? Take a journey with the co-author of Arcadia Publishing’s “The Great Chicago Fire”.

A Man, A Monkey, and An Amusement Park

The “Old Chicago” amusement park and mall was groundbreaking at the time but very short-lived. Many children remember the “Italian” man with his organ grinder and monkey that wandered the cobblestone streets of the mall but did anyone really know him? He was the source of many fond childhood memories and his real life is just as fascinating as “Old Chicago” itself.

Brewster Apartments (Is it a haunted Chicago landmark?)

Discover the strange history of the landmark Brewster Apartments at Pine Grove and Diversey in Chicago. This historic building was built in the late 1890s and is virtually unchanged. Could a tragedy that occurred over a hundred years ago be blamed for a recent accident on the site?

The Unsolved Murders of Barbara and Patricia Grimes

Quite possibly the most famous and troubling unsolved murders in Chicago history and quite possibly the nation! Go deeper into the details of the crime and the various theories that have materialized over the years. New information is being brought forward every day in hopes that some piece of the puzzle may still exist.

Chicago Links to the R.M.S. Titanic Disaster

There are many myths and legends surrounding the Titanic Disaster as well as many little-known Chicago links to the ill-fated night of April 14, 1912.

Resurrection Mary (Chicago’s most beloved spirit)

Who is or was “Resurrection Mary” and what makes the Chicago version of this “Vanishing Hitchhiker” legend so special? Where did the story start? What are the facts? Are people still seeing Mary’s ghost today?

An Elmhurst Haunting (The Wilder Mansion or Whitebirch)

In 1865 Seth Wadhams built his “Whitebirch” estate in “Cottage Hill”  Sixty years later stories of hauntings began and exist to this day.  What was the history of the Wadhams family and what tragedies could be responsible for the claimed paranormal activity?

The Tonic Room Witch (Now the Golden Dagger)

For years people have told the stories of strange happenings at Chicago’s Tonic Room at 2447 N. Halsted St. Most attributed the activity to “mob murders” but what is the true history behind the Tonic Room and the goings on at the location and what would explain the ritual dagger found during renovation work?

The Curious Case of Teresita Basa (Can you solve your own murder?

In 1977 a young woman named Teresita Basa was murdered in her apartment.  Soon after a co-worker started “channeling” the dead woman during epileptic-type episodes naming her killer and various specific details that eventually led to an arrest.   Is it a strange case of a ghost solving her own murder or something else?

The Haunting of a Cicero Landmark

Explore the history of J. Sterling Morton East High School’s landmark Chodl Auditorium with an alumnus of the school and the story behind the spirit of a deceased theater teacher that may still linger in the historic theater on Austin Boulevard. 

Psychics and Law Enforcement

The media and reality television are all over the successful use of psychics in helping to solve cases.  How much of it is hype and how much is fact?

The Chicago Rippers

For almost two years from May 1981 through December 1982, a crew of serial killers hunted down as many as 20 victims in the city of Chicago and surrounding suburbs. Who were they? Who were their victims? Why have most people never heard of this crew? What was their motivation? How did they get caught? Where are they now?

Our Lady of Angels School Fire (December 1, 1958)

The Monday after Thanksgiving break would be no ordinary school day for the priests, nuns, teachers, and children of Our Lady of The Angels parish and school at 909 Avers Ave. in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago.  An intentionally set fire would ravage the school in mere minutes leaving 92 children and 3 nuns dead.  What was it like to be in the inferno?  Who were the heroes and who were the villains? How could this have happened?  Who set the fire and why?  How did school fire codes across the country change after this disaster?

The Murder of Bobby Franks – Chicago’s Crime of the Century

Americans’ views on murder and capital punishment changed forever on May 21, 1924, with the discovery of the brutal murder of 13-year-old Bobby Franks.  Where the murder happened and who the perpetrators were shook the city to its core. Follow former criminal investigator and historian, Ray Johnson, and he leads you through the twists and turns of the investigation and its aftermath.


Bookings

If you or your organization would be interested in any of the presentations or classes feel free to reach out to Ray Johnson for more information. It is best to reach him by email at:

chicagohistorydetective@gmail.com