Illinois’ Decade of Lost Legends

Over the past ten to fifteen years, Illinois has lost nearly a dozen historic (and allegedly haunted) places to development and disaster. Some, like Alonzi’s Villa in Brookfield, the Lindbergh School on Shoe Factory Road in Hoffman Estates, and Sacred Heart Chapel at Barat College in Lake Forest, were destroyed to make way for real estate development. Others, like Sunset Haven outside Carbondale, were destroyed to erase the building (and its notorious reputation) from public memory.

The Lindbergh School on Shoe Factory Road in Hoffman Estates was genuinely a historic landmark known for its unique architecture and its significance to local history, regardless of its ghost stories. For years, preservationists tried desperately to save the building from the chopping block. Unfortunately, in 2007, bulldozers knocked it down to make way for yet another subdivision, just before the housing bubble burst and real estate values plummeted.

Sunset Haven, located on the periphery of Carbondale, Illinois and owned by Southern Illinois University, was a longtime destination for legend tripping in southern Illinois. It was originally the Jackson County Poor Farm almshouse became known as Sunset Haven during the 1940s when it was converted into a nursing home. The nursing home closed in 1957 and Southern Illinois University purchased the property to expand its agricultural program. Around October 26, 2013, a crew from SIU demolished Sunset Haven, leaving nothing but a cement foundation.

White Hall at Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, Illinois was demolished in 2015. Chanute Air Force Base opened in July 1917. After its closure in 1993, much of the base was divided into residential and commercial properties, but most of the core buildings remain abandoned. Inevitably, local kids exploring the abandoned parts of the base began to bring home unusual stories, particularly regarding White Hall. The building was ruled an environmental hazard and too costly to renovate.

Human hands were not responsible for the destruction of at least one historic haunted building: the Coliseum Ballroom Antique Mall in Benld, Illinois. The large, red brick building was once the most famous ballroom and music venue in central Illinois. It was originally built in 1924 as a front for local bootleggers who ran liquor through the area. On July 30, 2011, the building was completely destroyed in a fire while the band Shadow of Doubt was performing on stage.

A similar fate befell the famous Willowbrook Ballroom on Archer Avenue in southwest suburban Chicago, which began in 1930 as the Oh Henry Ballroom. In addition to being the local spot for generations of ballroom dances and events, it also played home to Chicago’s most famous ghost: Resurrection Mary. Fire unfortunately consumed the dance hall shortly before Halloween in 2016.

Since 2007, Illinois has lost at least nine destinations popular with legend trippers. After years of preservation efforts, Peoria State Hospital’s Bowen Building joined this unfortunate list in the fall of 2017. Each of these locations was a historic building in Illinois, and each was home to popular legends and ghost stories. The loss of these irreplaceable landmarks is regrettable. Hopefully steps will be taken to preserve remaining locations for future generations to enjoy.

While legend trippers and people interested in folklore and ghost stories are sometimes blamed for causing these buildings to fall into disrepair, nothing could be further from the truth. Who better to want these buildings to remain so they can continue to appreciate their rich history and lore? In some cases, the history of these locations would have been forgotten had it not been for public interest in their legends and lore.

Fans of Ashmore Estates in Coles County, for example, have banded together and rescued the building from destruction after two different storms severely damaged it.

Here is a partial list of allegedly haunted locations demolished or destroyed in Illinois over the past decade. Know of any others? Please leave a comment.

  • Lindbergh School on Shoe Factory Road in Hoffman Estates (Demolished, 2007)
  • Sacred Heart Chapel at Barat College in Lake Forest (Demolished, 2008)
  • Coliseum Ballroom Antique Mall in Benld (Destroyed in fire, 2011)
  • Sunset Haven outside Carbondale (Demolished, 2013)
  • Manteno State Hospital’s Morgan Cottage in Manteno (Demolished, 2015)
  • Mennonite Hospital/Electrolux in Bloomington (Demolished, 2015)
  • White Hall at Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul (Demolished, 2015)
  • Willowbrook Ballroom in Willow Springs, Illinois (Destroyed in fire, 2016)
  • Peoria State Hospital’s Bowen Building in Bartonville (Demolished, 2017)

For a list of endangered Illinois’ endangered landmarks, please visit Landmarks Illinois.

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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.

5 thoughts on “Illinois’ Decade of Lost Legends”

  1. It is a shame that these Historic places are gone. I do believe that they were haunted by Spirits from the past. There are some places/homes around here that are very old and haunted from the past. I posted them on my Site. I am going to find out more about the Spirits of the Town of Oley.

    Liked by 1 person

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