The Importance of Legend Tripping in College Lore

Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities by Michael Kleen is now available on and! Just in time for the fall, you can own a copy of the first book exclusively devoted to Illinois college folklore and ghost stories. Published by Crossroad Press, Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities is 166 pages and retails for $12.99. Please enjoy this excerpt from Chapter 1: Folklore, Legends, and Ghost Stories.

Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges & UniversitiesOne often-overlooked aspect of campus lore is the popularity of mysterious places outside the immediate boundaries of the college or university. These allegedly haunted locations are destinations for an activity known as legend-tripping. Author Lisa Hefner Heitz defines legend-tripping as “Visits by young people to a locally famous site that is known to be haunted or a hangout for monsters and other supernatural creatures.”

Others have described it as “a usually furtive [secret] nocturnal pilgrimage to a site which is alleged to have been the scene of some tragic, horrific, and possibly supernatural event or haunting.” These destinations, though not located on campus, should be included in any discussion of university folklore because students often make no meaningful distinction between these places and reportedly haunted locations on campus.

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 yet to be explored.

I engaged in my own legend-tripping while an undergraduate at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois when friends and I sought out the shell of an old almshouse and care facility in a windswept cornfield off Route 16. We parked our car on the side of a gravel road and snuck into the entrance to get a peek inside. Today, Ashmore Estates is infamous for its purported paranormal activity, having appeared on television programs like Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures. In 2001, however, it was simply “that abandoned asylum.”

Students at Eastern Illinois University read about it in the Daily Eastern News, and heard rumors of strange sounds, axe murders, and mentally deranged patients returning to their former home. Graffiti covered the walls, and the chilly breeze blowing through the shattered windows heightened the sensation of being unprotected and alone. The fact that we were technically trespassing was an additional thrill. This is an experience that hundreds of college students seek out each year, but why?

Legend tripping is a form of escapism for students who can be stressed out or overwhelmed by exams, paper writing, lectures, and deadlines. It offers a chance to experience something out of the ordinary. It is a test of courage to travel to a place where there is the perception of danger, and through that shared danger, it can help create a group bond. Signs warning against trespassing heighten the risk and the perception of adventure, so efforts by authorities to keep the curious away often have the opposite effect. [Read more in Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities by Michael Kleen]

Author: Michael Kleen

Michael Kleen is an author, raconteur, and occasional traveler. He has a M.A. in History and M.S. in Education. He enjoys studying military history, folklore, and philosophy.

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