The following is an excerpt from my book Tales of Coles County, a collection of history, folklore, and true crime from one of the most interesting counties in Illinois. Order it in paperback or Kindle today.
In the winter of 1907-1908, a black-shrouded ghost startled residents of Mattoon’s west side. It began in December 1907 (formerly a time of year when ghost stories were popular) when residents noticed a diminutive figure dressed head-to-toe in a woman’s dress or gown, face covered with a hood, appear on the south side of Lafayette Avenue near 23rd Street around 7:00 p.m.
At least three times a week for several weeks, the figure walked west to 24th Street and back before vanishing as mysteriously as it appeared. Then, as now, this was a sparsely-populated neighborhood north of the Peoria, Decatur, & Evansville Railroad.
In the Journal Gazette, one man described being followed by the ghost, which emerged from the shadows behind a tree late at night. “I walked about fifty feet past Twenty-third street on the south of side of Lafayette avenue, when the ghost, or whatever it is, stepped out from the shadow of a tree and followed close after me as far as Twenty-fourth street, where it turned around and went back again,” he said. Others who were followed claimed the ghost never came within 20 feet.
Residents were so disturbed they formed a “vigilant committee” to watch for the ghost, and if possible, capture it under the assumption it was a man dressed in women’s clothing out to scare some unsuspecting victim.
By early February, the specter had become so bold it entered one house uninvited and knocked on the door of several others. Mattie Reynolds, who lived at 2213 Lafayette Avenue (today a vacant lot), told the newspaper it knocked on her door one evening. When asked what it wanted, the ghost replied: “It would be past your understanding if I told you what I wanted” before walking away.
Just as sightings of the Lafayette Avenue ghost peaked, residents of Mattoon’s north side reported their own specter, this one dressed in a flowing white robe. It appeared in the North Park neighborhood late at night and early morning, chasing unsuspecting passersby. As before, local men took to the streets to capture the mysterious prowler.
“Should the spook be found,” the newspaper editorialized, “it will likely experience the sensations of being ridden down to town on a rail and locked in the city Bastille until the desire to haunt people will be forever lost.”
That spelled the end of the ghostly activity.
- “Ghost Appears on the West Side.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 13 January 1908.
- “Spook Hunt Ceases.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 15 January 1908.
- “That Ghost Again Walks.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 04 February 1908.
- “Another Ghost in North Part of Town.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 16 February 1908.