Geoffrey Baer investigates a UFO sighting and the city’s famous style of hot dog in WTTW’s ‘Chicago Mysteries’

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Liz Farina Markel/WTTW

Geoffrey Baer at Chicago's Graceland Cemetery, where he investigated mysteries such as the vanishing "girl in glass" statue for "Chicago Mysteries."

Longtime WTTW host Geoffrey Baer will get to the bottom of why ketchup doesn’t belong on the city’s famous style of hot dog in his new Chicago Mysteries feature premiering April 16. 

The answer has to do with ketchup ruining the blend of other toppings that reflect the history of diverse migration to the city, but not all of the show’s mysteries are as easily explained. 

Baer, the show’s host and co-writer, also looked into a reported UFO sighting at Chicago O’Hare International Airport in 2006 and how an alligator ended up in the city in 2019, for example. 

“The fact that some are unsolved is, I think, great,” Baer said. “We leave some of these open to mystery, and that’s fun.”

The hourlong show will air at 7 p.m. April 16 on WTTW. It will also be available on WTTW’s website and the PBS app.   

Baer, who also hosted the PBS series 10 that Changed America, has routinely made programs about Chicago’s history and architecture for WTTW since 1995. Chicago Mysteries was a new way to tell the city’s story. 

He said his locally focused shows are successful fundraisers.

“They are core programming, and they are among the top-grossing programs,” Baer said. “We’ve found this kind of sweet spot.”

While Baer said he knows what resonates in Chicago, he assumes people in other cities such as St. Louis or Kansas City, Mo., would also be curious about their own hometowns. 

“I always call it the ‘I never knew that phenomenon,’” Baer said. “Chicagoans love learning about Chicago.”

Coming up with the mysteries

Baer brainstormed the show’s mysteries with producer and co-writer Sean Keenehan. He also worked with the Chicago History Museum and other community sources. 

Traditional and new media figures appear on the show, including former Chicago Tribune transportation reporter Jon Hilkevitch and Shermann “Dilla” Thomas, billed as a TikTok historian.

Baer said he also consulted his database from his “Ask Geoffrey” segment that answered viewers’ questions on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight for about a dozen years.

Chicago Mysteries ended up with more ideas than it could use. It isn’t planned to be a series, but viewers will be able to learn more on WTTW’s website about some of the mysteries that didn’t make the final feature. 

Those will include what could be inside a small slab of concrete on a bookshelf at the University of Chicago Library, as well as the unsolved 1982 “Tylenol murders,” according to a news release.

The murders, involving poisoned Tylenol, didn’t fit the show, Baer said. 

“The show was so much fun, and this one was so grim,” he said.

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