Mysterious America

The Legend of Pemberton Hall Presentation at Eastern Illinois University

The Legend of Pemberton Hall is among one of the most well-known ghost stories in Illinois. Set at Eastern Illinois University, generations of young women who reside in this residence hall have been telling tales of Mary Hawkins and the ghost of an (allegedly) murdered coed. On October 24, 2013, I explored the facts and the fiction behind the tale at a presentation at MLK Student Union. So many people showed up we actually had to move to a larger room. After many years writing about this EIU legend, giving this presentation on campus was a wonderful opportunity.

Prince George Hotel and Tir Nan Og Pub

The Prince George Hotel, a downtown Kingston, Ontario landmark, began its life as an elegant residence. Since then, it has anchored Kingston’s historic Market Square and been part of the city’s rich history and folklore. It was originally a family home owned by Lawrence Herchmer, built between 1817 and 1820 adjacent to Kingston’s City Hall on Ontario Street.

Lawrence’s widow, Elizabeth, moved into the home upon its completion in 1820. In 1840, their son, Charles Herchmer, took over as owner and rented it to his son-in-law, John Macpherson. In 1846, merchant William Henry Alexander leased the building and converted it into commercial shops and warehouses. Two saloons, one owned by James Elder and the other by William Alexander, opened on the ground floor.

A fire damaged the businesses in 1848. Shortly after, William Alexander began constructing a new building on the property, designed by William Coverdale. According to the Ontario Heritage Foundation, in 1892 the two buildings were unified with the addition of a full width verandah and balcony and a Second Empire style mansard roof, creating the distinct facade we see today. The Prince George Hotel opened in 1918.

Ghostly activity in the hotel centered on the third floor, particularly Room 304. According to Glen Shackleton, proprietor of Canada’s original haunted tours, staff reported electrical disturbances and doors opening or closing on their own. Guests spotted the shadowy specter of a woman and an adolescent girl. In Room 304, one elderly couple complained that the second bed in the room was floating three feet in the air!

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Elmwood Cemetery and Violin Annie

Elmwood Cemetery is located in the Southern Illinois’ town of Centralia off Gragg and Sycamore Streets directly west of the Raccoon Creek Reservoir. Originally called Centralia Cemetery (and sometimes referred to as such today), the graveyard was in use in the 1860s but not officially established until 1877. Its name was changed to Elmwood Cemetery in 1921. According to Centralia’s own website, the cemetery is a resting place for around 17,000 former residents.

Deep inside Elmwood sits a large monument shaped like a tabernacle or an ancient Greek temple with only four columns. At the top of the monument stands a nearly life sized statue of a young girl with flowing locks of hair. In her hands she holds a violin. The statue depicts Harriet Annie, the daughter of Dr. Winfield and Eoline Marshall. Annie died in 1890, a few weeks after her eleventh birthday.

A popular local legend maintains that the sweet strains of a violin can be heard emanating from the cemetery at night. The origin of the ethereal notes is said to be none other than the statue of H. Annie Winfield, or “Violin Annie,” as she has come to be known.

According to a testimonial on the Shadowlands Index of Haunted Places for Illinois, Annie died of diphtheria, an upper respiratory tract illness that mainly affects children. The most gruesome version of the story claims that her own father (or mother) killed her with her violin.

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Summer of 84: A Suburb Can be a Dangerous Place

A gang of bicycle-riding teen boys try to track down a neighborhood serial killer in this suburban Gothic send up to 1980s horror. Written by Matt Leslie and Stephen J. Smith and directed by a trio known for their 1980s-style films, casual viewers will undoubtedly accuse Summer of 84 (2018) of ripping off the Netflix series Stranger Things, but it is far more subtle in its nostalgia and grounded in reality. There are no supernatural elements here, only the real-life horror inflicted by unassuming suburban dwellers like John Wayne Gacy and William Bonin.

The year is 1984, and a serial killer stalks the fictional county of Cape May, Oregon. Fifteen-year-old Davey Armstrong (Graham Verchere), an avid follower of conspiracy theories and reader of the Weekly World News, becomes convinced his neighbor, police officer Wayne Mackey (Rich Sommer), is the “Cape May Slayer” after seeing a photo on the back of a milk carton of a missing boy he previously noticed inside Mackey’s house.

He enlists the help of his skeptical friends, Dale “Woody” Woodworth (Caleb Emery), Curtis Farraday (Cory Gruter-Andrew), and Tommy “Eats” Eaton (Judah Lewis) to spy on Mackey. They follow him on his nightly jog to a storage unit, where they find several suspicious items, including the missing boy’s bloodstained shirt. Davey presents their evidence to his parents (played by Jason Gray-Stanford and Shauna Johannesen), but his plan backfires when they become angry and force him to apologize to Mackey.

Davey’s friend and former babysitter, Nikki Kaszuba (Tiera Skovbye), also tries to convince Davey to abandon his pursuit, but after several strange interactions with Mackey, Davey convinces his friends to give him one last chance to prove Mackey is the killer. I won’t spoil the ending, but it is sickeningly real and terrifying. Summer of 84 pulls no punches when it comes to delivering an emotionally impactful climax.

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Photo by Michael Kleen

Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio

Built between 1896 and 1910, the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield served as a detention center for young, petty criminals. The first inmates were admitted in 1896, and they helped construct the Romanesque Revival building. The reformatory closed in 1990 and was used most famously in the filming of The Shawshank Redemption (1994). Today it is open for tours, and has attracted a reputation for being haunted.

Photo by Michael Kleen

The old superintendent’s office, where disembodied voices are heard, is widely believed to be haunted by the ghosts of Helen and Warden Glattke. In the basement, the ghost of a 14-year-old boy who was allegedly beaten to death has been reported. Visitors often experience strong feelings of dread, anger, and fear throughout the former reformatory. One form of punishment was to send prisoners to solitary confinement in “the hole”—a dark and claustrophobic room—for an indeterminate amount of time.

Photo by Michael Kleen

Several violent episodes occurred at the prison, and there have been around 200 documented deaths. On February 6, 1960, in Cell #13, East Cell Block, a prisoner named James Lockhart stole lighter fluid and set himself on fire. He burned to death at the age of 22.

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Behind the Scenes Photos from Tinker’s Shadow

Click to enlarge photos

We filmed my 60-minute documentary on Tinker’s Swiss Cottage in Rockford, Illinois, Tinker’s Shadow: The Hidden History of Tinker Swiss Cottage, over about a period of a week last December. Tinker Cottage is a wonderful Victorian house museum with a long history of unusual occurrences many attribute to the ghosts of Robert H. Tinker and his family.

The former director, Steve Litteral, is a good friend of mine, as are many of the cast and crew. I was so lucky to know and work with such a talented and knowledgeable group of people, including Chicago-based photographer Greg Inda, who served a dual role as cameraman and directory of photography. Amelia Cotter of the R.I.P. Files agreed to host.

I released the documentary on Amazon Video Direct in March 2018 and we had a public showing at the museum in July. It’s now available on DVD, but the digital version is the highest quality. Please check it out if you haven’t already; it’s perfect for the Halloween season.

Tinker’s Shadow Available on DVD

Unexplained events at a Midwestern museum shed light on its city’s past in Tinker’s Shadow: The Hidden History of Tinker Swiss Cottage! Perfect for the Halloween season, check it out on DVD or Video Direct on Amazon.com. We filmed this 60-minute documentary last Christmas and released it in April. I think it turned out very well and we’ve had a lot of positive feedback.

Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum & Gardens in Rockford, Illinois has long been rumored to be haunted, but what do its ghosts teach us about the past? Join host Amelia Cotter as she takes you inside and reveals the hidden history of this beautiful museum. Featuring interviews with museum staff, visitors, volunteers, and researchers.

The DVD is $15.00 plus shipping, or you can watch the digital version in HD for $2.99. Check it out on Amazon.com