A forgotten graveyard squirreled away in the cornfields of central Illinois makes for good storytelling, and almost all have their ghostly tales. Old Union is no exception. This cemetery first received attention on Troy Taylor’s website, Prairieghosts.com, and he later included it in Weird Illinois (2005).
Though he failed to disclose its location, Old Union Cemetery is clearly marked on cemetery and plat maps available to the general public through the DeWitt County Genealogical Society.
A history of the cemetery is difficult to find, and several sources appear, at first glance, to be fractional or contradictory. Troy Taylor provided a general overview on his website, but Genealogytrails.com, in an excerpt from an article entitled, “The Disciples of Christ History,” filled in some of the details.
According to the article, Old Union Church was established 10 miles west of Clinton on October 13, 1831 near a large, white oak tree. The stump of the tree, and “the gravestones of the cemetery which grew around the house of worship” are “silent sentinels of faded joys and departed glories,” the article opined.
The preacher at the church was a man named Hugh Bowles, a Kentuckian by birth and a friend of Abraham Lincoln while the future president ran a law office in nearby Clinton. Mr. Bowles died in 1846, and the article related that Old Union Church only remained open for fifty years because its attendees moved to Clinton when the railroad was built. According to Troy Taylor, however, a fire destroyed “Union Christian Church” in 1931.
The 1882 History of DeWitt County, Illinois cleared up why a name discrepancy existed between the two accounts. In Chapter 14, the book explained that “old Union Church” was organized in 1833, but had no formal house of worship until 1838. It was then known as “Union Christian Church” because its congregation recognized no particular denomination.
A second church, which had a seating capacity of 600 people, was erected in 1864 in front of the cemetery. “Springs of never failing water” flowed from the foot of the hill on which the new building sat. That second building must have been the fire-ravaged church that Troy Taylor described in his article.
As for the ghosts, Taylor maintained that he had obtained testimony from two cemetery workers and a sheriff’s deputy that visitors had seen “glowing balls of light” in the cemetery at night. A private plot near the back of the cemetery, which is surrounded by an ornate fence and contains a single monument that is, contrary to Taylor’s claims, clearly legible, was also accused of giving visitors “bad vibes.”
Troy Taylor himself claimed to have seen a ball of light in Old Union during an investigation in daylight hours. He also described temperature drops of 40 degrees! So far, no one has stepped forward to offer any similar accounts.
- Taylor, Troy. Weird Illinois: Your Travel Guide to Illinois’ Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets. New York: Sterling Publishing, 2005.
- History of DeWitt County, Illinois. Philadelphia: W.W. Brink and Co., 1882.