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.
Dennis Friend Hanks (1799-1892), a distant cousin of Abraham Lincoln, once owned this property and a log cabin near the corner of Jackson Avenue and 2nd Street in Charleston. Hanks was a businessman who, among other things, was a cobbler and ran an inn and gristmill. He died at his daughter’s house in Paris, Illinois in 1892 after being hit by a wagon.
Col. Thomas Alexander Marshall, Jr. (1817-1873) was a lawyer, politician, and another Lincoln friend. He built a stately Italianate home on Hanks’ former property in 1853. During the 1960s and ‘70s, his house at 218 Jackson Avenue was widely reputed to be haunted by the ghost of Dennis Hanks.
In addition to playing host to Lincoln and his circle, it’s rumored the house was used to hide runaway slaves. Its basement contained a dungeon-like room with barred windows and what looked like 12 fasteners to hold shackles.
In 1965, Eastern Illinois University English professor Dr. Marie Neville Tycer (1920-1970) and her husband Forster purchased the home, renovated it, and opened it as the Tycer House Museum. They lived there for five years, furnished it with antiques, and allowed groups to tour the historic home.
The Tycers became convinced they shared the property with a lively ghost. Mr. Tycer told the Eastern News that he was doing some electrical work in the basement when he lost his balance and almost fell into the wiring. He claimed that unseen hands pushed him away and saved his life.
Mrs. Tycer saw the reflection of the ghost, a tall, dark man wearing a vest and unbuttoned jacket, in a mirror or window as she was painting the porch. She turned around only to find she was alone. She also heard footsteps and claimed the ghost unlocked doors. In one frightening incident, she told the Herald and Review she was reading in bed when she heard footsteps in the basement. She checked twice.
“I went to see if we had a prowler, but there was nothing,” she said. A “tremendous crash” followed, but again, she found nothing out of place when she searched the house. “After 15 or 20 minutes, I couldn’t find anything. I decided it was nothing human, so I went to sleep.”
The Tycers didn’t live in the house long before their lives were cut tragically short. Forster passed away in January 1969. On March 10, 1970, 19 days before her 50th birthday, Mrs. Tycer committed suicide with a .22 caliber pistol in an upstairs bedroom, leaving her 10-year-old daughter orphaned.
Their entire antique collection was auctioned off a year later. According to legend, the bloodstains on the floor from Mrs. Tycer’s suicide continued to reappear no matter how many times they were scrubbed away.
The next family to live in the home occupied it for quite some time and never experienced anything out of the ordinary, or so they told the Eastern News in 1977. It appeared as if the ghost of Dennis Hanks departed along with the Tycers, but no one knows whether Mr. Hanks or Mrs. Tycer still stalk the halls to this day.
- “Keepsakes on Loan to Tycer House.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 11 September 1967.
- “Haunted House in Charleston?” Eastern News (Charleston) 17 July 1968.
- “At Night Come Ghostly Sounds.” Herald and Review (Decatur) 05 February 1970.
- “Marie Tycer, EIU professor, found dead.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 11 March 1970.
- “Ghosts roam local haunts…” Eastern News (Charleston) 28 October 1977.