Widow McCleary's Investigation

The GRS was the first and only group to ever investigate this location.

History: The Village of Thornton, the oldest settlement in Thornton Township, is built atop a 400-foot deep deposit of limestone, which is about 410 million years old, and was once the bottom of a warm water sea. Thornton is located on the plain created by glacial Lake Chicago. Thorn Creek flows through the village from the south and empties into the Little Calumet River. In 1835, Thorn Creek was 40-feet wide with an average depth of five feet. Native Americans lived along Thorn Creek and artifacts dated to 1400 have been found at the Hoxie Site. Potawatomi Indians, who left by 1838, told Europeans that ruins along Thorn Creek were once a French fort.

Thornton was named in honor of General William F. Thornton, Commissioner of the Illinois and Michigan Canal. William Woodbridge was the first European settler.

The brewery was built in 1857 by John Bielfeldt who brought his beer-making recipe over to America from Bielfeld, Germany. Bielfeldt built his brewery on land bought from Gurdon Hubbard, one of Thornton’s original settlers. The land was a dowry from an Indian maiden named Watseka. Watseka was a member of the Potawatomi tribe. The Indians gave Hubbard the land by mutual agreement to promote his business. He later left his squaw and moved east.

Bielfeldt started the brewery in a one-room log cabin on Ridge Road. This was when Thorn Creek was a clear-flowing stream with deer and prairie chickens wandering through the area. The beer was brewed from clear spring water which ran across Ridge Road. A few years later, a well was drilled to get water. The drain was ground by an old horse going around in circles toting his yoke. He died December 31, 1899.

Until 1910, the beer was delivered to Beecher, Illinois, Eagle Lake, Crown Point, Hessville and
Dyer, Indiana by a horse and wagon. The brewery acquired a truck in 1910. Legend has it that one of his employees, Sean Patrick McCleary and his wife, Margaret Mary, took over the operation of the brewery in the early 1900s until Prohibition began. When Al Capone visited this site and offered to become partners with the McCleary’s, Sean refused. Within a few days, in 1922, a fire broke out at the brewery and Sean McCleary was never seen again. Capone then took over the brewery from Mary. The front of a soda-bottling factory was used while Capone’s illegal brewing continued, being transported out of the brewery through a maze of underground tunnels. Capone was said to have made trips to Thornton late at night to inspect the brewery, but he never bothered the townspeople. His brew was supplied to gangsters in the nearby towns of Chicago Heights, Harvey and Calumet City.

In 1926 the brewery was owned by Joe “Polack Joe” Saltis (1894-1947), a Joliet saloon keeper and bootlegger, who wisely joined forces with Capone after a summit meeting of Chicagoland mobsters and bootleggers. Saltis spent an estimated $100,000 into building this rustic two-story cedar log lodge, cabins and nine-hole golf course. He was constantly being pursued by, Edward C. Yellowley, the Chief of Prohibition Agents in Chicago.

After Prohibition, a series of brewing companies occupied the site, including the Thornton Brewing Company (1933-1936), Illinois Brewing (1937-1940) and Frederick’s Brewery (1940-1948). The last was the White Bear Brewing Company which produced a thick Lithuanian lager in the 1950s. A man name Ebner owned the brewery for a short time around this time however nothing is recorded about him. The brewery then went to the Frederick’s Brothers in 1936. They manufactured McAvoy beer (1948-1950), evidenced by a washed-out sign on one of the buildings. Frederick’s owned the brewery until 1949, when they apparently went bankrupt from racetrack gambling.

Joe Sadauskas bought the brewery in 1951, after coming to America from Lithuania in 1949. He said the place was in shambles with caved-in roofs despite the $400,000 Fredericks Brothers had spent in modernizing the complex. The artesian well they dug in 1945, was still working.

Sadauskas said government men discovered the bones of men when they investigated the brewery in 1951. He said Capone locked up the men who wouldn’t pay for his bootlegged beer. Sadauskas estimated that about 10 men had been left to die without food or drink in Capone’s “jail cell.” Perhaps some of these men included Sean McCleary?

Mr. and Mrs. Sadauskas lived in the old Bielfeldt home for 24 years. He said he was run out of the beer-making business in 1957, by the crime syndicate when he refused to pay for “protection.”

“They meant business. They came over and dumped about 140,000 gallons of beer from bottles and kegs into the creek.”  Since that time, Sadauskas and his partner, Anthony Stakanas, have allowed the small industrial companies to come in. Sadauskas acts as handyman to repair equipment for the companies.

In 1957, the buildings became known at the Thornton Industrial Complex with portions of the building being rented by several different occupants. The Village of Thornton bought one of the artesian wells from Sadauskas in 1961. This and the other well helped produce White Bear beer from his own Lithuanian recipe. After partner died, Sadauskas sold the brewery to Ed Huelat who was looking for new tenants.

In the 1970s, the residence portion was rented out before being converted into a restaurant in the 1980s. The restaurant has changed owners several times over the years, but stories of hauntings haven’t. Widow McCleary's has closed and the location was, at last visit, up for new tenants again.

Address: formerly at 400 Margaret St., Thornton, IL 


Hauntings: Employee Sharon Ford can’t talk about her experiences without getting goose bumps. “Once I was standing behind the bar waiting on some regulars and felt someone touch me from behind, “Ford said. She said she was initially startled, but figured it was a co-worker playing a joke. When she turned around and saw that there was no one there, she really got nervous. On another occasion as she sat at the bar, she said she felt someone tapping on her knee. “And one night I was lying across the stools when we were getting ready to close and the floorboards started wobbling like someone was walking around and it got really cold in here,” she said.

Sharon Birkenfeld, who once operated the tavern with her husband Moe and another business partner, said she has never heard or seen anything ghostly, until much later, did have an odd experience the first time she was in the building. “The first day I was here it was in the summer at about 10am. We were trying to decide if we wanted to sign the lease. I got the key and came in alone. It was stifling in here,” she said. “I looked around the bar and thought, ‘what a mess,’ so I thought I’d see if I could clean up a little. As soon as I went behind the bar, it just felt like someone came in the door. It felt like I wasn’t alone and I knew absolutely nothing about the place. It was such an intense feeling that I went outside and sat on the porch and waited for my partner to get here. That was one of the few times I’ve been here alone.”

A couple of good friends of Birkenfeld’s reported a strange instance of feeling an ice cold gust come in between them as they sat at the bar. “I walked around the corner right at that moment and they just had such horrified looks on their faces,” she said.

Others have photographed what they believe to be ghostly images in different parts of the buildings. Birkenfeld has a number of photos that show circular and foggy images within the photo, most of them taken around the area of the opening for the spring water that was used for beer brewing. “The day this was taken, it was clear as a bell down there,” she said, pointing to the photo that bears a hazy image in front of the door leading to the Artesian well. Birkenfeld said that clairvoyants who have been out to visit the site have reported that they “felt a lot going on.” The most activity that was reported was in the upstairs bar, where customers have said they have seen glasses fly off the bar onto the floor. “They explained that part of the whole thing is that it wasn’t a proper death or there was violence involved,” Birkenfeld said.

Birkenfeld also confided to me that a dark shadowy figure was been seen by the pool table and that one day before opening the doors, she was in the back room getting the money ready to put into the cash register when she heard the distinct sounds of people talking in the bar area. She quickly came out only to find absolutely nobody there!

Ermina Blank, whose father, Henry Blank, was a night watchman in the brewery many years ago, and he claimed that the place was haunted by the ghost of the former night watchman, a man named Hundt. Mr. Hundt lived in the back of the brewery all his life. Henry said that he would turn lights off in rooms and when he checked later they would be back on.

The Ghost Research Society investigated Widow McCleary's on September 16, 2004. Team members included: Stan Suho, Howard & Virginia Hight, Michael Ganster, Michal Lee and Dale Kaczmarek.








Equipment setup: The Command Center was set up in the beer garden with the G.E.I.S.T. equipment deployed in the Artesian Well along with the GhostCam and a static IR camcorder. An additional IR camcorder was deployed in the restaurant/bar area to monitor that location.

Personal experiences: Very little in the way of personal experiences and no paranormal evidence was collected that afternoon either in the restaurant or the Artesian Well. A lot of moisture droplets, dust and insects were however recorded on the IR camcorder in the Artesian Well.

Conclusions: While this is a relatively haunted location, it did not produce any paranormal evidence either in audio, video or still photography. While there were some minor chills in the air and what I consider "small brushes with the paranormal", nothing worth noting in this report that could not be explained away under natural circumstances.

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