Michael Kleen earned a M.A. in History from Eastern Illinois University in 2008 and a M.S. in Education from Western Illinois University in 2011. He is the author of several books, including Haunting Illinois, Tales of Coles County, Six Tales of Terror, and Paranormal Illinois. Michael has spoken about local history and folklore at conventions, libraries, cafes, schools, and colleges; and he has presented research papers at the 2007, 2010, and 2011 Conference on Illinois History in Springfield. His latest book, Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities, was released last month.
How did you come up with the concept for Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities? What makes this book different from other books about haunted places in Illinois?
I have always enjoyed college lore. Both of my alma maters, Eastern Illinois University and Western Illinois University, had their own ghostlore. WIU was remarkable for the sheer number of alleged hauntings, but EIU is the setting for one of the most well-known ghost stories in Illinois: the legend of Mary Hawkins at Pemberton Hall. I had personal experience with a number of the schools in the book, whether through friends or relatives. So last year, when I was thinking about what to write next, it occurred to me that no one had ever attempted to write a book exclusively devoted to Illinois college lore. I decided to dive into my love of collegiate life and make that a reality.
There are a lot of books of ghost stories out there that simply tell the tales without going into much detail. For the main chapters in the book, I did in-depth research and really fleshed out the legends and lore, citing all of my sources in the process. In some cases, I attempted to uncover the origin of the legends. In other cases, I showed how the ghost stories were similar to stories told at other colleges and universities. In the first chapter, I discuss how and why these types of tales flourish at colleges and universities, and why students are so attracted to them. In the second chapter, I focus on types of buildings common to college campuses and give examples of ghost stories set at those locations throughout Illinois. To my knowledge, there are no other books on Illinois ghostlore organized this way.
What are some of the colleges and universities discussed in the book?
To begin with, the book includes chapters on Illinois State University, Eastern Illinois University, Western Illinois University, Rockford University, and Southern Illinois University, and stories from nine other colleges throughout Illinois and the Chicagoland area, including the University of Illinois, Millikin University, Illinois College, and Loyola University Chicago. Nearly every college and university has a ghost story or two, but I tried to include substantive stories that would keep readers interested. Strangely, I’ve never been able to find any ghost stories at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, so maybe that is the exception.
How did you conduct the research for this book?
Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities is based on research I did for Paranormal Illinois. That book included chapters on Eastern Illinois University, Western Illinois University, Rockford College, and Illinois State University. It was written in 2008 and published in 2009, however, so they were sorely in need of updating. Not only did I focus more on my own personal experiences with these universities, but I painstakingly edited and updated these chapters with all the latest sources and information, including eyewitness interviews. I scoured books, newspapers, and websites, and drew from my wide range of contacts to gather as much information about each tale as I could. I’m particularly proud of my chapter on Southern Illinois University because it contains so much information on a variety of campus legends and lore. Better yet, I painstakingly documented all of my sources, so my readers can double check my work if they’d like. I have also personally visited many of the places included in the book.
Are there any surprises in store for your readers?
Usually, when writing about ghost stories and haunted places, authors make no connection between large student populations and other legends in the area. In my research on the legends and lore of Illinois colleges and universities, I discovered that in most cases, there was a remote destination (usually a cemetery, bridge, or abandoned building) that students sought out for its purported supernatural occurrences, often spurred on by articles in their college newspaper around Halloween. These locations—Vishnu Springs in McDonough County and Sunset Haven in Jackson County, for example—were occasionally owned by the university, even though they were located more than a mile away from campus. It struck me that these destinations are an important, but often overlooked addition to college and university lore. Although other authors have written plenty about them, their relationship to campus folklore has never been explored. That’s just one thing that might surprise my readers.
How can people purchase Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities? Where is it available?
Haunting Illinois is available on Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com, of course, and will be in bookstores soon (call your local bookstore and ask them to carry it, if they haven’t already). Like the Facebook page, and as always, keep checking back at Mysterious Heartland for more news and updates!