Register Star Runs Series on Local Haunts

Earlier this month, I was asked to lend my expertise to a series of articles on legends in the Rockford, Illinois area for the Register Star, and the results were exciting, to say the least. The Register Star has not shied away from publishing articles about local legends and ghost stories in the past, but this is their first full, multi-article spread on the subject, and I’m pleased to have been a part of it! Here are some excerpts, with links back to the original articles:

Local lore surrounds Bloods Point Road

You can’t discount the hundreds of strange encounters reported along Bloods Point Road, said Michael Kleen, a local folk historian. The road is one of Boone County’s most notorious midnight drives.

“Maybe there is something to the stories after all. … That’s what makes it exciting.”

With multiple books on local legends — including the ghostly go-to book “Haunting Illinois: A Tourist’s Guide to the Weird and Wild Places of the Prairie State,” Kleen is well-acquainted with the lore surrounding the 5-mile country thoroughfare, from phantom police cars and supernatural dogs to mystery lights and vanishing barns.

He feels the road’s sinister monicker, taken from the Blood family who settled there in the mid-1800s, has helped keep the lore alive for more than a century. Believe them or not, these spooky tales have become an integral part of the community’s social and historical fabric. Even traffic signs dare not use the road’s full name, opting instead for the abbreviated “Bl. Point Rd.” [More…]

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Myths persist about Freeport home’s ties to assassinate Charles Guiteau

What is known about the home is this: It was the home of Charles Guiteau’s uncle and aunt, A.B. and Emily Rehfield Guiteau. Charles was the son of Luther W. Guiteau, who served as a cashier at Second National Bank, was a merchant at the time, and served Stephenson County as recorder and clerk of the circuit court. Charles shot President Garfield in a railroad depot in July 1881. It would be weeks before Garfield would die. Charles never lived in the home of his uncle and aunt. He actually grew up in a house on Broadway Street in Freeport.

Michael Kleen, folk historian and author of several books, including “Haunting Illinois: A Tourists Guide to the Weird & Wild Places of the Prairie State,” has often passed the home while visiting family in Freeport. The home fascinated him, so he began his own research.

After Charles Guiteau was hanged for killing Garfield, rumors began swirling that his bones were buried in the home.

“This rumor about Guiteau’s bones is not true,” said Kleen. “According to widespread belief, after his execution, his body was boiled and his skeleton was bleached and put on display around the country. Other reports said his head had been preserved in a jar and kept by a physician in New York. Similar rumors were repeated for nearly a century, creating a lot of confusion. Guiteau’s bones are actually kept at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, Maryland.”

Kleen said Guiteau was a tragic figure and a political gadfly. For a short time, he joined a utopian religious sect known as the Oneida Community in New York, but its founder thought him to be insane and threw him out. He constantly sought appointments to political offices and felt slighted by President Garfield when he refused to appoint him as ambassador to France. He even failed at the assassination of Garfield, said Kleen. It was really Garfield’s doctors, who infected the bullet wound during sloppy surgery, who are ultimately blamed for killing the president. But, at Guiteau’s trial, Dr. Edward Spitzka called him a moral monstrosity. [More…]

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The Legend of Pemberton Hall – Expanded, Revised, and Updated!

Pemberton Hall is the oldest all-female dormitory in the state of Illinois, and its ivy covered walls are home to one of the most famous ghost stories in Illinois—the legend of Mary Hawkins. Her ghost is said to roam the hundred-year-old building, protecting the young women who reside within. This popular campus legend greets many a college bound girl as she finds herself away from home for the first time, and has become an enduring part of campus life at Eastern Illinois University.

Join author and folklorist Michael Kleen as he brings you an in-depth look at this legend, its history, and meaning, with rare photos of Mary Hawkins herself. Learn:

  • Who was Mary Hawkins?
  • What did she really look like?
  • How did she die?
  • How long has this story been told?

Now peer behind the locked doors and find out what really happened on that dark and stormy night at Eastern Illinois University. The answers to all your questions about this famous story are just a click away! Feel free to download, print, or email this .PDF to your friends. It is 100% secure. If you cannot view the file because you do not have Adobe Acrobat Reader, or you do not have the latest version, download it here for free.

Click on this image to download and read "The Legend of Pemberton Hall" in .PDF

Click on this image to download and read “The Legend of Pemberton Hall” in .PDF

If you have trouble downloading the file by clicking on the photo above, right click on this link and select “save as”: The Legend of Pemberton Hall by Michael Kleen

Citations: if you wish to use any of this in a paper or presentation, cite it in the following way (Chicago style): Michael Kleen, The Legend of Pemberton Hall (Rockford: By the author, 2014), page#.

The Weird and Wild Side of Coles County, Part 3

SmilingMikeWelcome to the exciting conclusion of “The Weird and Wild Side of Coles County.” As MysteriousHeartland.com and MichaelKleen.com prepare for the upcoming release of the new edition of The Legend of Pemberton Hall, I thought it would be of interest to my readers to share with them the story of how I became fascinated with Coles County, Illinois. Join me for this three part article and take a journey through the recent past. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Ashmore Estates

Not long after I predicted a dismal end to Ashmore Estates in the June 2006 issue of the Legends and Lore of Coles County, a man named Scott Kelley, who owned a local computer company, contacted me and informed me that he had plans to rent or even purchase the property. Scott first became interested in Ashmore Estates around ten years earlier. Scott, a longtime operator of haunted attractions including the local haunts at Elsinore Farm and Rockome Gardens, believed the institution would make an excellent haunted house. The Kelleys purchased the property from Arthur Colclasure in early August and immediately began renovating. To finance the project, they offered flashlight tours of the interior for five dollars a person, and volunteers helped clean up the property and the interior of the old almshouse.

The EIU publication Pulse apologizing for plagiarizing my Legends and Lore of Coles County website.

The EIU publication Pulse apologizing for plagiarizing my Legends and Lore of Coles County website.

That October, for the first time in its history, the doors of Ashmore Estates were opened to the general public, and people who had swapped stories about the building for over a decade lined up to get a look inside. On June 8, 2007, the Kelleys asked me to come and speak about the history and folklore of Ashmore Estates at an overnight event. That was my first real speaking engagement. I stayed for pizza and the movie White Noise, but I left before midnight. Thanks to Ashmore Estates and the Legends and Lore of Coles County, my reputation in the county grew. On October 22, 2007, I gave a presentation on local ghost stories at the Charleston Middle School and my picture made the front page of the Times-Courier the next day. When I first began to explore Coles County, I never thought the interest would take me that far, but there was even more to come.

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The Weird and Wild Side of Coles County, Part 2

SmilingMikeWelcome to Part 2 of “The Weird and Wild Side of Coles County.” As MysteriousHeartland.com and MichaelKleen.com prepare for the upcoming release of the new edition of The Legend of Pemberton Hall, I thought it would be of interest to my readers to share with them the story of how I became fascinated with Coles County, Illinois. Join me for this three part article and take a journey through the recent past. Read Part 1 here.

Tales of Coles County

Fascinated by the county’s history, I browsed through archives of the Daily Eastern News and the nearly 700-pages of William Henry Perrin’s The History of Coles County, Illinois (1879). It was the summer of 2003, and I was back home in Prospect Heights working at the River Trails Park District. Picking up garbage at six o’clock in the morning gives a person a lot of time to think, and as I sweat, mowed lawns, and pruned my way through the hottest months of the year, I got an idea for a book of historical fiction stories based on past events in Coles County. I distinctly (if not fondly) recall picking empty bottles of Corona and cigarette butts out of the playground of Willow Trails Park, while conceptualizing the stories I would tell in Tales of Coles County, Illinois to pass the time.

The cover of Tales of Coles County, 3rd edition chapbook.

The cover of Tales of Coles County, 3rd edition chapbook.

I had just come off a terrible experience with print-on-demand publishing. Impatient as always, I sent my first two novellas and a collection of short stories to a company called Xlibris, and I did not have money for their editing services or any of the dozens of other extras that traditional publishers offer as part of their regular business. Consequently, my books went unsold to all but a few loyal friends, and as 2004 rolled around, I decided that I would go into the publishing business for myself. I learned how to make chapbooks by dissecting The Vehicle—the EIU English Department’s publication for student poetry, fiction, and photography.

Chapbooks, traditionally, are four to forty-eight pages in length and consist of a regular 8.5 x 11 inch piece of paper folded over and bound together by stitching or staples. They were very popular during the 16th and 17th centuries when printing was expensive and time consuming. Today, pamphlets and chapbooks can be printed for pennies on the dollar. At 5 or 10 cents a page (at an average print shop), you can make dozens of pamphlets for very little cost.

The cover of Autumn and Winter, one of my first novellas.

The cover of Autumn and Winter, one of my first novellas.

I sold my first chapbook, The Distance of Sorrow, for five dollars. The Distance of Sorrow was a sixteen page story that I expanded into a “special edition” and hawked to my dad’s friends and coworkers. In that form, and with all the “special features” included, the booklet ran exactly 42 pages. Its special features included author commentary, deleted scenes, and alternate endings. The response was positive.

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The Weird and Wild Side of Coles County, Part 1

SmilingMikeAs MysteriousHeartland.com and MichaelKleen.com prepare for the upcoming release of the new edition of The Legend of Pemberton Hall, I thought it would be of interest to my readers to share with them the story of how I became fascinated with Coles County, Illinois. Most of you are familiar with Coles County either through my book, or because Ashmore Estates has been featured on TV shows like Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures. Less well known is the story of how places like Ashmore Estates rose from obscurity to capture the imagination of people all over the United States. Join me for this three part article and take a journey through the recent past.

I have always thought Coles County was a unique and fascinating place, but even I was surprised when in June 2010 CNN rebroadcast a WTHI Channel 10 News in Terre Haute report on Lerna’s “world’s fastest pop machine.” Purchased in the late 1970s by Ivan Thompson for his welding business, the faded, clattering soda machine has become something of a tourist attraction in this village of 300 in Pleasant Grove Township.

Friends enjoy a visit to Lerna's "fastest pop machine." Photo by Michael Kleen.

Friends enjoy a visit to Lerna’s “fastest pop machine.” Photo by Michael Kleen.

As a student at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, I often brought my friends to it while I showed them various sites around Coles County. They never failed to be amazed by how quickly the cans fell into the delivery tray. Like the independently-owned Burger King in Mattoon, the “world’s fastest pop machine” adds to the charm of life in the county, a charm that has not been lost on the outside world.

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There’s Something About Mary

The Ghost of Mary Hawkins by Katie Conrad

The Ghost of Mary Hawkins by Katie Conrad

Creaking wooden floors, stone walls, a forbidden fourth floor–if Eastern Illinois University’s Pemberton Hall didn’t come with its own legend, the students that live there would probably invent one. Pemberton Hall is home to one of the most famous ghost stories in Illinois: the legend of Mary Hawkins. A lot has been written about this story over the years, but only one article has ever told the complete story from beginning to end: my own “The Legend of Pemberton Hall.” First published as a free PDF in 2008, “The Legend of Pemberton Hall” has been downloaded over 2,200 times. This year, I am releasing a revised and updated version of that article with three more pages of additional information and rare pictures of Mary Hawkins herself.

In anticipation of the article’s release this Friday, October 10th, Mysterious Heartland and I will feature the story of how and why Charleston, Illinois and Coles County (where EIU is located) is such a  fascinating place everyday this week. Then, on Friday, “The Legend of Pemberton Hall” will be posted for free to download. Who was Mary Hawkins? What did she really look like? How did she die? How long has this story been told? Peer behind the locked doors and find out what really happened on that dark and stormy night at Eastern Illinois University. The answers to all your questions about this famous story will be just a click away!

But first, enjoy this video of me telling the story of Pemberton Hall last year at Eastern Illinois University.

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