Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is an iconic American short story. First published in 1820, the story has been retold and re-imagined for 200 years. It was set in the Hudson River Valley in North Tarrytown, New York. North Tarrytown changed its name to Sleepy Hollow to capitalize on the story’s notoriety in 1996. The original bridge over the Pocantico River where the Headless Horseman pursued Ichabod Crane has been replaced with a modern concrete and steel bridge, but visitors flock to this community every Halloween to retrace the steps of this famous American tale.
Fort Fisher was built by Confederate forces during the American Civil War to protect Wilmington, North Carolina. It fell on January 15, 1865 after hours of brutal fighting. Since then, visitors to the fort’s ruins have reported numerous strange encounters, including sightings of a mysterious sentinel, as well as its commander, Col. William Lamb. Others report hearing disembodied footsteps, phantom screams, and gunshots. In 1961, the site was declared a National Historic Landmark and added to the National Register of Historic Places five years later.
Sometimes Mary manifests herself as a prankster. Other times, she appears as a benevolent matriarch who makes sure doors are locked at night and warns “her girls” of trouble. But at all times, Mary Hawkins commands the respect and admiration of students at Eastern Illinois University, even 103 years after her death.
Jessica and Ashley sat in their dorm room, a cool autumn breeze blowing in from the window. A single lamp illuminated the room in a soft yellow glow, casting shadows of stuffed animals on the walls. Ashley sat on the floor with a tablet in her lap playing Angry Birds, her back resting against the bed. Jessica, her roommate, sat on her mattress curled in a pink Snuggie.
Without warning, a door down the hallway slammed shut, followed by the sound of something scraping across the old wooden floor. Jessica and Ashley jumped.
Ashley put down her tablet. “Oh my God, what was that?” she asked.
“Maybe it was Mary,” Jessica (or Jess for short) replied. Seeing her roommate’s puzzled expression, she continued. “You know this place is haunted, right?”
The Powers-Jarvis Mansion, 357 W. Decatur Street in Decatur, Illinois, is among the most unique in Decatur, from its red tiled roof, to its copper trim, leaded glass windows, and blond brick. Businessman Charles Powers, owner of the Hotel Orlando, built this 9,400 square feet Greek Revival home in 1909. The Bachrach family owned it from 1988 to 2005, when they sold it at auction. It was auctioned again in 2017. According to local author Troy Taylor, rumors of it being haunted began in the 1960s when it was abandoned. Passersby witnessed lights floating around inside or translucent figures in the windows. Later, some men staying in the house reported personal items went missing or their bed shook without explanation.
Every college has its traditions, and perhaps even a ghost story or two, but the following Illinois colleges rank high on the list when it comes to eerie campus legends and tales.
The first college in Illinois, McKendree University, was established in Lebanon in 1828. Since then, over 70 private and public four-year institutions dedicated to higher education have opened throughout the state. Each has its own history and traditions, traditions that often include a ghost story or two. Some colleges seem to have more than their fair share. Millikin University, Illinois College, Southern Illinois, Illinois State, and of course, the University of Illinois are just a few of the many with eerie campus legends and tales.
Illinois Wesleyan University
Illinois Wesleyan University was founded in Bloomington in 1850, but no buildings were constructed until six years later. Primarily focused on the liberal arts, it is partially supported by the United Methodist Church, but its administration is independent.
Several buildings on campus are believed to be haunted. International House (I-House) was built by A.E. DeMange and his wife in 1907. A few years later, following his wife’s death, DeMange sold the classical revival building to the university. Ever since, students say the house is haunted by a “lady in red”: Mrs. DeMange herself. On certain nights, she is said to appear in a large mirror.
Suburban sprawl may have destroyed this historic schoolhouse along Shoe Factory Road in northwestern Cook County, Illinois, but not even bulldozers can erase its strange legacy.
For many years, a unique stone building sat nestled between woods and farm fields along a quiet rural road in the far northwest corner of Cook County, Illinois. One day, the family who rented the building—an old schoolhouse that had been converted into a residence—moved out. Then the bulldozers came. Pavement, manicured lawns, McMansions, and “water retention areas” slowly replaced fields and streams a few miles down from the building along Shoe Factory Road.
Suburban families moved into this new subdivision. Traffic increased along the road, which was the only access to the outside world for its residents. Occasionally, their children passed the strange looking house—the only one of its kind they had ever seen—on their way to and from errands or on trips to explore the area around their new home.
“What was that place?” they wondered. Why was it abandoned? Had a gruesome crime occurred there? Some of the kids began to break in and explore the building, unaware that local residents had already begun a campaign to save the old schoolhouse and one of the last remaining links to a fast-vanishing rural past.
This is the story of the Charles A. Lindbergh School—a story that begins in 1929 and ends with a decade long battle for its preservation, rumors of ghosts and murders, and its ultimate demolition to make way for yet another subdivision at the height of the nation’s housing bubble. It was a classic struggle between tradition and modernity, character and sameness, all swirling around youthful transgressions and an attempt by local teens to alleviate boredom through destructive storytelling.
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.
As the summer of ‘73 dragged on, Coles County suffered the loss of another daughter at the hands of an unknown assailant. At around 10:00 a.m. on Friday, August 3, 1973, 11-year-old Barbara Sue Beasley of Mattoon disappeared while riding her white Stingray bicycle near the Cross County Mall.
She was approximately 5 feet tall, 95 pounds, with blonde hair and green eyes, wearing slacks and a blue blouse. She lived on E. DeWitt Street, and her father, Warren Beasley, worked at the nearby General Steel and Metals plant. Her parents reported her missing on Saturday.
On the evening of Tuesday, August 7th, exactly one month after Shirley Ann Rardin’s body was found, two teenage boys left the Cross County Mall and headed to hunt turtles in a drainage ditch one-quarter mile north of the railroad tracks.
At around 6:00 p.m., they stumbled upon the badly swollen nude body of a girl lying on her back in two inches of water under a pipe that ran across the ditch west of Columbia Machine Company. The girl’s blouse was beneath her body, pants wrapped around her left arm, and her other clothes, alongside her bicycle, were strewn along the drainage ditch approximately 35 feet south. The boys ran back to the mall and called the police.