Mysterious America

University of Illinois’ Suicidal Specters

As one of the oldest public universities in the state of Illinois, this college campus hosts a number of folktales and oddities.

The University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois was established as an industrial university in 1867 and first opened on March 2, 1868. It became the University of Illinois in 1885 and was renamed the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1982. As one of the oldest public universities in the state of Illinois, the campus hosts a number of folktales and oddities.

John Milton Gregory, the first president of the university, is buried on campus. His grave rests between Altgeld Hall and the Henry Administration Building, marked by an unsculpted stone and a plaque that reads, “if you seek his monument, look about you.”

The university is home to a number of ghost stories as well. To my knowledge, Troy Taylor is the first person to have written about these stories in a book. His accounts can be found in several editions of Haunted Illinois (2001, 2004) and were reprinted briefly in Field Guide to Illinois Hauntings (2001) by Jim Graczyk and Donna Boonstra. Cynthia Thuma and Catherine Lower filled in some of the blanks in their book Creepy Colleges and Haunted Universities (2003).

Taylor claims that principal haunted localities on campus include the English Building, the Psychology Building, and the YMCA. If the other, scattered sightings are true, that would make the U of I one of the most haunted universities in the United States.

The English Building is purportedly haunted by the ghost of a student who committed suicide there during the time when the building served as a dormitory. Thuma and Lower tell us that the architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White designed the structure in 1905 in a New Colonial style. I have been unable to determine when the dormitory was converted for its present use.

The ghost is that of a young woman whose bedroom, Taylor claims, was located in what became the rhetoric room, which is now an office for graduate assistants. She manifests herself in typical fashion; flickering lights, doors that close on their own, etc.

The third floor of Lincoln Hall has its own ghost, but so does the ultra-modern Psychology Building. According to Taylor, “several years ago” a student threatened to kill himself by jumping from one of the upper floors overlooking the foyer. He survived the incident unscathed, but died a few years later. Some students claim that his ghost has returned to torment his analytical former classmates.

Even the YMCA cannot claim to be ghost-free. In an unlikely haunting, the spectral manifestation of Chief Illiniwek is said to roam the basement of this venerable building, which formerly hosted a painting of the university’s mascot. Perhaps all the controversy over his name has contributed to his unrest!

Despite these stories, many are skeptical. “An excursion through college records shows the tales of suicidal students and other campus violence are without merit,” Thuma and Lower concluded. We may never know.

Stranger still, the Merten J. Mandeville Collection in the Occult Sciences at the University of Illinois in Champaign Urbana adds to the mystique of that particular library. Merten J. Mandeville was a Professor of Management at U of I who in 1984 established an endowment for a collection of “works of a serious nature, and those which emphasize the positive aspects of the occult.” The collection has grown to over 16,000 items, which are scattered throughout the stacks.

Further Reading

  • “Ghost Stories Thrive on Campus,” Daily Illini (Champaign) 28 October 2008.
  • “Legends Bring Us Together,” Daily Illini (Champaign) 30 October 2014.
  • Taylor, Troy. Haunted Illinois: The Travel Guide to the History & Hauntings of the Prairie State. Alton: Whitechapel Productions Press, 2004.

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