According to legend, sometime in the distant past a school stood behind the set of iron gates at a sharp bend in River Road, about a mile north of Libertyville, Illinois. One day, a maniac broke into the school and abducted several girls. He killed each one and mounted their severed heads on the spikes of the gate. Every full moon, the heads reappear on the rusted spikes.
The truth behind the mysteries of Devil’s Gate, located near the Independence Grove Forest Preserve in Lake County, Illinois, is elusive. What may or may not have happened there has been lost in the minds of the older generation, who have so far not come forward with the real story.
Like most legends, there are very few facts to back up the story. There is no doubt, however, that an institution once stood on those grounds. According to the Chicago Daily Tribune, construction on what was known as the Katherine Kreigh Budd Memorial Home for Children began in the early spring of 1926.
Britton I. Budd, the president of the Chicago Rapid Transit Company, funded the project. The institution itself was to be run by the Sisters of St. Mary, an Episcopal organization, and was expected to house around 150 children in its first year.
The Reverend Sheidon M. Griswold formally dedicated the home late in June 1926. At that time, fifteen buildings, including a pool and a “large farm,” had been erected on the premises. In 1931, the home began to also accept destitute children and their families.
I discovered the three fire hydrants located on the premises were one-piece barrel model Eddyvalve Hydrants. That business was purchased in the 1940s by James Clow and Sons, the company name that is stamped on the sewer covers also scattered around the area.
Sometime in the late 1950s, Katherine Kreigh Budd Memorial Home for Children closed down. It was reopened several years later in the early 1960s as a summer camp known as St. Francis Home for Boys.
Tragedy accompanied the transition. On May 11, 1961, a two-year-old boy named Glen Bottorff drowned in the Des Plaines River adjacent to the grounds of the not-yet-opened camp. According to the Libertyville Independent Register, he had been playing nearby with his sister, who ran home to ask permission to eat lunch outside.
Depending on the account, either two men who had been searching for the boy discovered his body, or his own loyal dog led them to it.
I do not know when St. Francis Home for Boys shut down, but I do know that the Park District owned the land in 1992. At some point, all the buildings were knocked down and their contents buried on the premises. Today all that remains are cement foundations, rusted metal, and glass bottles that are slowly being reclaimed by nature, protected by a sign that proclaims it to be an “ecologically sensitive area.”
My own hunch is that the ghost story regarding the severed heads dates to when the boys camp was in operation. Many summer camps have their own ghost stories. It may be this one has outlived the camp itself.
- Ursula Bielski, More Chicago Haunts: Scenes from Myth and Memory (Chicago: Lake Claremont Press, 2000).
- Scott Markus, Voices from the Chicago Grave: They’re Calling. Will You Answer? (Holt: Thunder Bay Press, 2008).
- Daily Tribune (Chicago) 12 May 1961.
- Daily Tribune (Chicago) 28 June 1926.