Do Past Shadows Lurk at Historic Illinois College?

Photo by Michael Kleen

Nearly every building on campus is thought to have a ghost or two.

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Founded by Presbyterians in 1829, Illinois College in Jacksonville is one of the oldest colleges in Illinois. Its first president was Edward Beecher, brother of Henry Ward Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe. With such a rich history, it comes as no surprise that Illinois College is rich in ghostlore too. The female dorm at Illinois College, Ellis Hall, is allegedly haunted by a young woman who committed suicide. A “gray ghost”—and a faceless phantom at that—hangs out on the stairwell of Whipple Hall.

Another gray ghost, this one dressed in a Confederate uniform from the Civil War, has been seen in Sturtevant Hall. Phantom footsteps have been heard in Beecher Hall, the oldest building on campus. It is rumored that early in the college’s history, medical students stole cadavers from nearby hospitals in order to learn about anatomy. After a while, the hall where the bodies were stored began to smell, and the student’s grisly enterprise was uncovered.

Designed to accommodate 113 students, administrators at Illinois College named Ellis Hall after Rev. John M. Ellis. Ellis founded Illinois College in 1829. The residence hall was built in 1957, and the ghost of a young woman who committed suicide by hanging herself in the closet is rumored to haunt a room on the third floor. In truth, a young woman named Gail died in Room 303, but of a terminal illness. Still, residents believe her ghost opens and closes doors, hides personal items, and knocks on the walls.

According to storytellers, the ghost of a young woman who hung herself in the closet haunts Fayerweather House, a local home converted into a residence for female students. Residents have heard her walking around the house, opening doors in the middle of the night, and scratching on walls. Fayerweather House has space for 18 female students, and since 2005 has been home to what Illinois College calls a service and leadership living-learning community.

The legend of the girl who hung herself in the closet may have begun at Fayerweather House and migrated to Ellis Hall after students became aware that a real death took place there. Campus ghostlore is often fluid, with similar stories being ascribed to more than one location.

Built in 1854, the David A. Smith House is home to the Gamma Delta, Chi Beta, and Sigma Phi Epsilon sororities. It is also home to the legend of Effie Smith. According to the popular tale, Effie Smith was the daughter of David A. Smith, the house’s namesake and original owner. Effie fell in love with a young man, who gave her a diamond engagement ring. To test the authenticity of the ring, she used it to scratch her name in the attic windowpane. The window has since been replaced.

According to one version of the tale, when her fiancé came calling, her father and he got into a violent argument and he hid in the attic. Fearing for his life, he nailed himself in the tiny room where, ironically, he suffocated and died. When Effie discovered what happened, she tried to remove the nails with her hands, but left only deep scratches in the wood. In another version, Effie nailed herself in the attic and waited by the window for her fiancé to return from serving in the Civil War.

In both versions, she threw herself from the window in a fit of grief when she realized her fiancé was dead. Her rocking chair, it is said, cannot be moved from in front of the attic window. Recently, a student decided to test the legend. “Hearing this tragic story, junior Hunter Bryant went up to the attic with a group of friends to see for themselves,” The Rambler reported.

“Seeing the claw marks and the chair Effie sat in, they decided to test her. One night, they turned her famous chair away from the window, towards the hallway instead. Falling asleep and forgetting to check on it later in the night, the next day they discovered it had been turned back to the window. Ever since then, Bryant and her friends have been wary of the attic.”

Confederate ghosts? Ghosts in gray uniforms? These tales seem out of place at a staunchly pro-Union college founded by abolitionists in Abraham Lincoln’s home state, but ghostly encounters lay outside the realm of logic. More typical are the ghost stories students tell about their dormitories and residence halls, which serve as a subconscious reminder to avoid a similar fate.


Further Reading

  • “Haunted Illinois College,” The Rambler (Jacksonville) 28 October 2014.
  • Brooks-Posadas, Rachel. Ghosts of Springfield and Southern Illinois. Atglen: Schiffer Publishing, 2009.
  • Taylor, Troy and Lisa Taylor Horton. Haunted Jacksonville. Alton: Whitechapel Productions, 2014.

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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