ROSEMONT, Ill. – Chlorine gas sickened several people and forced the evacuation of thousands of guests from a suburban Chicago hotel early Sunday, including many dressed in cartoonish animal costumes for an annual furries convention who were ushered across the street to a convention center hosting a dog show.
Nineteen people who became nauseous or dizzy were treated at local hospitals, and at least 18 were released shortly thereafter. Within hours, emergency workers decontaminated the Hyatt Regency O'Hare and allowed people back inside. Six-foot-tall rabbits, foxes and dragons poured into the lobby, chatting and giving each other high paws.
“I think we'll recover from this,” said Kit McCreedy, a 28-year-old from Madison, Wisconsin, his fox tail swinging behind him as he headed back inside for the last day of the Midwest FurFest.
“People are tired but they’re still full of energy.”
The source of the gas was apparently chlorine powder left in a ninth-floor stairwell at the hotel, according to the Rosemont Public Safety Department. Investigators believe the gas was created intentionally and are treating it as a criminal matter.
McCreedy was one of a few thousand attendees for the FurFest, in which attendees celebrate animals that are anthropomorphic – meaning they’ve been given human characteristics – through art, literature and performance. Many of the attendees, who refer to themselves as “furries,” wore cartoonish animal outfits.
While authorities conducted their investigation, organizers tried to assure the participants that the evacuation would not overshadow the convention. But attendees seemed to think the evacuation was part of the fun – particularly those who recalled being herded into the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center as it was hosting a dog show.
“In walk all these people dressed like dogs and foxes,” said Pieter Van Hiel, a 40-year-old technical writer from Hamilton, Canada, chuckling as he thought back to the scene.
Others said they did not have a clue as to why anyone would intentionally disrupt the convention that includes dance contests and panel discussions on making the costumes, with some quick to point out that the brightly colored outfits are made from fake fur and foam and not real fur.
“Nobody uses real fur,” said Frederic Cesbron, a 35-year-old forklift operator who rode a plane to Chicago from his home in France. He attended the convention dressed head-to-toe in a fox outfit that he said cost him about $2,000 four years ago but would go for $3,000 today.
Attendees said they came for fun, but also for the spiritual and artistic aspects of the convention that have them celebrating animal characters from movies, TV shows, comic books and video games. Some also create their own characters and appreciate being in an atmosphere where nobody seems surprised or shocked by an elaborate, bright purple dragon.
“Everyone is from a different background,” said Michael Lynch, a 25-year-old from Madison, Wisconsin, who, like his buddy, McCreedy, dressed as a fox. “Nobody judges anybody. It’s nice to come to a place like that.”
Or, as Van Hiel put it, “It’s kind of weird, but it’s not weird here.”