Do Past Shadows Lurk at Historic Illinois College?

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.

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Pros and Cons of Paranormal Tourism

Despite positive news about allegedly haunted locations opening their doors for paranormal tours and events, the value of such tourism is still a hotly debated topic.

Over the years, there have been many stories of so-called “ghost hunters” trespassing and committing a variety of other crimes including vandalism, theft, arson, underage drinking, and even grave robbery. Because of the sensational nature of these incidents, local media loves to hype them up. It is undeniable that certain individuals have gone to allegedly haunted locations to commit mischief, and others use this fact to paint everyone interested in legend tripping with a wide brush. They argue the simple act of writing about an allegedly haunted location invites harm to it.

I believe that legends and lore can be a great way to create interest in Local history. Critics assume stories on the Internet draw negative attention to these places, when in fact, they are already well known in the local community. Many have already suffered vandalism long before the internet or personal computers became widely available. Many of these stories developed during the 1960s and ’70s when these locations were used as party spots for teenagers who went there to drink, take drugs, or hook up.

None of that, however, has anything to do with people who are interested in folklore and ghost stories. The individuals involved in these crimes use ghost stories as an excuse for delinquent behavior. Many allegedly haunted locations are remote and unsupervised, perfect locations for mischief, but they do not have to have anything to do with ghost stories to attract petty crime.

In 2009, three teenagers were arrested in South Side Cemetery in Pontiac, Illinois as they were seen trying to tip over a headstone. Days earlier, as many as 60 headstones had been damaged at the same location. This cemetery was not associated with any legends or ghost stories.

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Haunted Colleges and Universities a Good Primer on Campus Haunts

Haunted Colleges and Universities: Creepy Campuses, Scary Scholars, and Deadly Dorms by Tom Ogden is a good place to start if you are interested in learning about campus ghost stories. This comprehensive guide contains information on over two hundred colleges and universities around the United States, but you will have to look in the reference section if you want to find a more in-depth examination of each location.

Published in 2014 by Globe Piquot Press, Haunted Colleges and Universities is 318 pages and retails for $18.95. It is divided into four parts based on regions of the US as defined by the US Census Bureau. Each section is further subdivided into individual states.

When I think of what I look for in a book of ghostlore, well organized content is a plus, and Haunted Colleges and Universities is nothing if not organized. With a clear table of contents listing every college and university in the book by state, it is easy to find any location. Each entry is proceeded by the college’s address, phone number and website. The names of haunted buildings are highlighted in bold, so it is a breeze for your eyes to jump to any location in the body text. All of these features make this book very helpful to its readers.

If Haunted Colleges and Universities has a flaw, it is that it overreaches and cannot devote enough space to any one college (although there are certain colleges in the book that have a lot more space devoted to them than others). The author himself acknowledges this problem.

In his introduction, he wrote: “Readers of Globe Piquot Press haunted books will immediately notice that the format of this one is completely different from others I’ve written for the series. During my research, I wasn’t finding just two or three dozen stories I was finding hundreds. So instead of highlighting just a few hauntings, in this work I’ve tried to include as many legends as space would permit.” He certainly succeeded at that.

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Secret Passages Invite Mystery at Dark Island’s Singer Castle

This fog-shrouded estate on the St. Lawrence River has long excited visitors’ imaginations.

Orange peaks of a medieval manor rise above the trees on a distant island. A secret panel in the library leads to hidden passages through the walls. Eyes spy from behind a painting. Singer Castle is literally torn from the pages of a children’s storybook, and you can tour it and even spend the night! But don’t expect to encounter any ghosts.

Frederick G. Bourne (1851-1919) was a wealthy industrialist and one-time president of the Singer Manufacturing Company. He owned many properties throughout his life, but his most famous was the hunting lodge he built in the Thousand Islands region in 1905. He called it “The Towers”, but today we call it Singer Castle.

The castle was designed by architect Ernest Flagg and inspired by the historical novel Woodstock (1826) by Sir Walter Scott. The novel revolves around Woodstock Manor House, set just after the English Civil War. Woodstock was allegedly beset by poltergeist activity. Frederick Bourne’s version cost approximately $500,000, rose four stories, and contained 28 rooms and four towers.

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Hunting Demons a Harrowing Look at the Dark Side

Hunting Demons: A True Story of the Dark Side of the Supernatural by Sylvia Shults was released by Whitechapel Productions Press in August 2015 in both print and digital formats. This survey of demonology is surprisingly human, combining both cultural and religious history with a compelling personal experience. The combination is unique and takes a skilled writer to execute. It is clunky at times, but helps provide context for an incredible tale.

Hunting Demons is 158 pages and informally divided into two parts. The first part examines the history of demons and Satanism in Western and Middle Eastern culture, and the second is a personal tale of a woman from central Illinois who believed demons were tormenting her.

The personal experience is primarily grounded in Catholic theology, although it begins with a paranormal investigation. Because of this, it may have been more helpful for the author to focus on demonology from a Catholic perspective, rather than a more general overview.

In her historical and cultural survey, Sylvia Shults looks at demons and satanism from early human history to the present day. She transitions from the dark side in contemporary TV shows to the evolution of religion and evil spirits.

While interesting, this history is non-linear and has several noticeable gaps. For example, Shults jumps from the Salem Witch Trials to Vatican II in the 1960s. In her chapter on satanic panics, she goes from the heresies of the Middle Ages to the cult scare of the 1980s.

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Der Rathskeller Neon Sign

Der Rathskeller Neon Sign
Neon sign for Der Rathskeller, 1132 Auburn Street in Rockford, Illinois. Fred Goetz opened Der Rathskeller, Rockford’s only German-American restaurant, in 1931. It offers an outdoor beer garden and romantic, candle-lit basement dining. Yes, it’s also supposed to be haunted. According to Haunted Rockford, Illinois by Kathi Kresol, many employees believe Fred still hangs around, making adjustments to place settings after hours and playing little pranks to make sure they know he’s still around.

Student Housing Comes with Ghosts at Illinois Wesleyan University

Several restless spirits are believed to play host at two residence halls and one fraternity house.

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A group of 30 civic and religious leaders founded Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington in 1850, and construction began six years later. The United Methodist Church partially supports it, but its administration is secular. Its students, primarily focused on the liberal arts, believe several buildings (both on and off campus) are haunted. Fitting, since the university’s namesake, theologian John Wesley, held a strong belief in ghosts after experiencing poltergeist activity in his childhood home.

Bucking traditional dorms, Illinois Wesleyan University has repurposed several local homes to use as student housing. When the lights are low and leaves turn shades of orange and yellow, students whisper that they may share International House and Adams Hall with specters of long-deceased residents.

Also known as Kemp Hall, International House (I-House), at 1207 N. Main Street, 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.

Adams Hall, at 1401 N. Main Street at the corner of Beecher and Main, is thought to be home to three ghosts, each named Frances. One is a middle-aged woman who died in a carriage accident, the other a young girl, and the third and old lady. The sound of footsteps and a rocking chair have been heard. On another occasion, residents heard incessant ringing throughout the hall, even after they disconnected all the phones.

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Haunted Hoosier Trails Sets a Standard for Folklore

First published by Guild Press Emmis Publishing in 2002, Haunted Hoosier Trails: A Guide to Indiana’s Famous Folklore Spooky Sites by Wanda Lou Willis has quickly become a genre classic. Everything, from the paper it’s printed on, to its layout, maps, and illustrations, is of the highest quality. It is (to put it bluntly) a beautiful book, but it is the stories within that are most important.

Willis does a wonderful job retelling ghost stories and legends from all over the Hoosier State. Like the rest of the book, the quality of writing is superb—clean, and polished. The only things this book lacks are proper citations and an index. Otherwise, it should be the standard that authors in this genre seek to emulate.

The tales in Haunted Hoosier Trails are organized by region and county. Willis divides Indiana into three regions: North, Central, and South. A short history introduces each county, and each location or story is given one or two pages—just enough to explain the background and strange happenings without losing the reader’s interest. In fact, an incredible 78 tales are featured in this 180 page book, but none of them feel rushed or incomplete.

A map pinpointing their exact location accompanies many of the tales. Unlike the poor quality maps featured in other books in this genre, the maps included in Haunted Hoosier Trails are clean and easy to read. They were created by the book’s illustrator, Steven D. Armour. Armour’s ink sketches are a wonderful addition to the book and come at the beginning of each section. They illustrate a handful of that region’s most notable stories.

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