The Importance of Legend Tripping in College Lore

Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities by Michael Kleen is now available on Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com! Just in time for the fall, you can own a copy of the first book exclusively devoted to Illinois college folklore and ghost stories. Published by Crossroad Press, Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities is 166 pages and retails for $12.99. Please enjoy this excerpt from Chapter 1: Folklore, Legends, and Ghost Stories.

Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges & UniversitiesOne often-overlooked aspect of campus lore is the popularity of mysterious places outside the immediate boundaries of the college or university. These allegedly haunted locations are destinations for an activity known as legend-tripping. Author Lisa Hefner Heitz defines legend-tripping as “Visits by young people to a locally famous site that is known to be haunted or a hangout for monsters and other supernatural creatures.”

Others have described it as “a usually furtive [secret] nocturnal pilgrimage to a site which is alleged to have been the scene of some tragic, horrific, and possibly supernatural event or haunting.” These destinations, though not located on campus, should be included in any discussion of university folklore because students often make no meaningful distinction between these places and reportedly haunted locations on campus.

In my research on the legends and lore of Illinois colleges and universities, I discovered that in most cases, there was a remote destination (usually a cemetery, bridge, or abandoned building) that students sought out for its purported supernatural occurrences, often spurred on by articles in their college newspaper around Halloween. These locations—Vishnu Springs in McDonough County and Sunset Haven in Jackson County, for example—were occasionally owned by the university, even though they were located more than a mile away from campus. It struck me that these destinations are an important, but often overlooked addition to college and university lore. Although other authors have written plenty about them, their relationship to campus folklore has yet to be explored.

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Folklore, Legends, and Ghost Stories

Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities by Michael Kleen is now available on Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com! Just in time for the fall, you can own a copy of the first book exclusively devoted to Illinois college folklore and ghost stories. Published by Crossroad Press, Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities is 166 pages and retails for $12.99. Please enjoy this excerpt from Chapter 1: Folklore, Legends, and Ghost Stories.

“A folklorist is a relief mapper, a cartographer of the invisible landscape, exploring and recording the local memory and ways of life, preserving them from erasure and decay, demonstrating how individual features on the map coalesce and form a unified whole rooted to a particular geographical location.” – Kent C. Ryden

Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges & UniversitiesGhost stories (or ghostlore) are a type of folklore that includes supernatural legends, local legends, and urban legends. Legends, generally, are also known as folk history or quasi-history. According to folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand, “Rumors, anecdotes, and legends alike are concerned with remarkable, even bizarre, events that allegedly happened to ordinary people in everyday situations.” They are retold as a way of explaining strange occurrences and “are passed on in order to warn or inform others about these unprovable events.” While many legends conform to certain general themes and motifs, they acquire their credibility from localized details inserted by individual storytellers. The more details there are, the more truthful the legend appears to its audience. As a type of folklore, legends retain a fixed central core even while new variants acquire different lengths, detail, style, and techniques of performance. The process by which people in a community absorb new legends into their oral traditions and remake them through repetition and creative storytelling is called communal recreation.

Continue reading “Folklore, Legends, and Ghost Stories”

Excerpt from the Foreword to Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities

Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities by Michael Kleen is now available on Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com! Just in time for the fall, you can own a copy of the first book exclusively devoted to Illinois college folklore and ghost stories. Published by Crossroad Press, Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities is 166 pages and retails for $12.99. Please enjoy this excerpt from the Foreword by Elizabeth Tucker, author of Haunted Halls: Ghostlore of American College Campuses; Professor of English, Binghamton University; Editor, Children’s Folklore Review; and Past President, International Society for Contemporary Legend Research.

Elizabeth Tucker, author of Haunted Halls: Ghostlore of American College Campuses
Elizabeth Tucker, author of Haunted Halls: Ghostlore of American College Campuses

It is a real pleasure to contribute a foreword to Michael Kleen’s excellent book about the ghostlore of colleges and universities in the prairie state of Illinois. An expert in the folklore of Illinois, Kleen not only understands the state’s ghostlore extremely well but also loves to collect it. I can see how much he enjoys his subject matter, because I also have a long-standing passion for collecting ghost stories on college and university campuses. It is exciting to hear college students tell stories about supernatural encounters and to dig up intriguing material from campus archives. I wrote my book Haunted Halls: Ghostlore of American College Campuses at the turn of the millennium and have been teaching courses and giving talks about folklore of the supernatural ever since…

One of the many things I like about this book is its foundation in personal experience. Michael Kleen attended Eastern Illinois University from 2000 to 2008 and then received his Master’s degree from Western Illinois University in 2011. His sister went to Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, and many of his friends went to Rockford University, then known as Rockford College. While listening to ghost stories told by friends and relatives, he realized that although each campus has its own unique identity, campus folklore has many consistent patterns. Migratory campus legends such as “The Roommate’s Death” and “The Vanishing Hitchhiker” have been told throughout the United States, but they can seem just as frightening and believable as more localized legends. One of the main reasons for these stories’ chilling impact is the fact that members of a close-knit college community share the stories, weaving them into a very important, formative period of their lives.

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Q&A with the Author of Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities

Michael Kleen earned a M.A. in History from Eastern Illinois University in 2008 and a M.S. in Education from Western Illinois University in 2011. He is the author of several books, including Haunting Illinois, Tales of Coles County, Six Tales of Terror, and Paranormal Illinois. Michael has spoken about local history and folklore at conventions, libraries, cafes, schools, and colleges; and he has presented research papers at the 2007, 2010, and 2011 Conference on Illinois History in Springfield. His latest book, Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities, was released last month.

How did you come up with the concept for Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities? What makes this book different from other books about haunted places in Illinois?

Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges & UniversitiesI have always enjoyed college lore. Both of my alma maters, Eastern Illinois University and Western Illinois University, had their own ghostlore. WIU was remarkable for the sheer number of alleged hauntings, but EIU is the setting for one of the most well-known ghost stories in Illinois: the legend of Mary Hawkins at Pemberton Hall. I had personal experience with a number of the schools in the book, whether through friends or relatives. So last year, when I was thinking about what to write next, it occurred to me that no one had ever attempted to write a book exclusively devoted to Illinois college lore. I decided to dive into my love of collegiate life and make that a reality.

There are a lot of books of ghost stories out there that simply tell the tales without going into much detail. For the main chapters in the book, I did in-depth research and really fleshed out the legends and lore, citing all of my sources in the process. In some cases, I attempted to uncover the origin of the legends. In other cases, I showed how the ghost stories were similar to stories told at other colleges and universities. In the first chapter, I discuss how and why these types of tales flourish at colleges and universities, and why students are so attracted to them. In the second chapter, I focus on types of buildings common to college campuses and give examples of ghost stories set at those locations throughout Illinois. To my knowledge, there are no other books on Illinois ghostlore organized this way.

What are some of the colleges and universities discussed in the book?

To begin with, the book includes chapters on Illinois State University, Eastern Illinois University, Western Illinois University, Rockford University, and Southern Illinois University, and stories from nine other colleges throughout Illinois and the Chicagoland area, including the University of Illinois, Millikin University, Illinois College, and Loyola University Chicago. Nearly every college and university has a ghost story or two, but I tried to include substantive stories that would keep readers interested. Strangely, I’ve never been able to find any ghost stories at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, so maybe that is the exception.

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The Legend of Pemberton Hall – Expanded, Revised, and Updated!

Pemberton Hall is the oldest all-female dormitory in the state of Illinois, and its ivy covered walls are home to one of the most famous ghost stories in Illinois—the legend of Mary Hawkins. Her ghost is said to roam the hundred-year-old building, protecting the young women who reside within. This popular campus legend greets many a college bound girl as she finds herself away from home for the first time, and has become an enduring part of campus life at Eastern Illinois University.

Join author and folklorist Michael Kleen as he brings you an in-depth look at this legend, its history, and meaning, with rare photos of Mary Hawkins herself. Learn:

  • Who was Mary Hawkins?
  • What did she really look like?
  • How did she die?
  • How long has this story been told?

Now peer behind the locked doors and find out what really happened on that dark and stormy night at Eastern Illinois University. The answers to all your questions about this famous story are just a click away! Feel free to download, print, or email this .PDF to your friends. It is 100% secure. If you cannot view the file because you do not have Adobe Acrobat Reader, or you do not have the latest version, download it here for free.

Click on this image to download and read "The Legend of Pemberton Hall" in .PDF
Click on this image to download and read “The Legend of Pemberton Hall” in .PDF

If you have trouble downloading the file by clicking on the photo above, right click on this link and select “save as”: The Legend of Pemberton Hall by Michael Kleen

Citations: if you wish to use any of this in a paper or presentation, cite it in the following way (Chicago style): Michael Kleen, The Legend of Pemberton Hall (Rockford: By the author, 2014), page#.

The Weird and Wild Side of Coles County, Part 3

SmilingMikeWelcome to the exciting conclusion of “The Weird and Wild Side of Coles County.” As MysteriousHeartland.com and MichaelKleen.com prepare for the upcoming release of the new edition of The Legend of Pemberton Hall, I thought it would be of interest to my readers to share with them the story of how I became fascinated with Coles County, Illinois. Join me for this three part article and take a journey through the recent past. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Ashmore Estates

Not long after I predicted a dismal end to Ashmore Estates in the June 2006 issue of the Legends and Lore of Coles County, a man named Scott Kelley, who owned a local computer company, contacted me and informed me that he had plans to rent or even purchase the property. Scott first became interested in Ashmore Estates around ten years earlier. Scott, a longtime operator of haunted attractions including the local haunts at Elsinore Farm and Rockome Gardens, believed the institution would make an excellent haunted house. The Kelleys purchased the property from Arthur Colclasure in early August and immediately began renovating. To finance the project, they offered flashlight tours of the interior for five dollars a person, and volunteers helped clean up the property and the interior of the old almshouse.

The EIU publication Pulse apologizing for plagiarizing my Legends and Lore of Coles County website.
The EIU publication Pulse apologizing for plagiarizing my Legends and Lore of Coles County website.

That October, for the first time in its history, the doors of Ashmore Estates were opened to the general public, and people who had swapped stories about the building for over a decade lined up to get a look inside. On June 8, 2007, the Kelleys asked me to come and speak about the history and folklore of Ashmore Estates at an overnight event. That was my first real speaking engagement. I stayed for pizza and the movie White Noise, but I left before midnight. Thanks to Ashmore Estates and the Legends and Lore of Coles County, my reputation in the county grew. On October 22, 2007, I gave a presentation on local ghost stories at the Charleston Middle School and my picture made the front page of the Times-Courier the next day. When I first began to explore Coles County, I never thought the interest would take me that far, but there was even more to come.

Continue reading “The Weird and Wild Side of Coles County, Part 3”

The Weird and Wild Side of Coles County, Part 2

SmilingMikeWelcome to Part 2 of “The Weird and Wild Side of Coles County.” As MysteriousHeartland.com and MichaelKleen.com prepare for the upcoming release of the new edition of The Legend of Pemberton Hall, I thought it would be of interest to my readers to share with them the story of how I became fascinated with Coles County, Illinois. Join me for this three part article and take a journey through the recent past. Read Part 1 here.

Tales of Coles County

Fascinated by the county’s history, I browsed through archives of the Daily Eastern News and the nearly 700-pages of William Henry Perrin’s The History of Coles County, Illinois (1879). It was the summer of 2003, and I was back home in Prospect Heights working at the River Trails Park District. Picking up garbage at six o’clock in the morning gives a person a lot of time to think, and as I sweat, mowed lawns, and pruned my way through the hottest months of the year, I got an idea for a book of historical fiction stories based on past events in Coles County. I distinctly (if not fondly) recall picking empty bottles of Corona and cigarette butts out of the playground of Willow Trails Park, while conceptualizing the stories I would tell in Tales of Coles County, Illinois to pass the time.

The cover of Tales of Coles County, 3rd edition chapbook.
The cover of Tales of Coles County, 3rd edition chapbook.

I had just come off a terrible experience with print-on-demand publishing. Impatient as always, I sent my first two novellas and a collection of short stories to a company called Xlibris, and I did not have money for their editing services or any of the dozens of other extras that traditional publishers offer as part of their regular business. Consequently, my books went unsold to all but a few loyal friends, and as 2004 rolled around, I decided that I would go into the publishing business for myself. I learned how to make chapbooks by dissecting The Vehicle—the EIU English Department’s publication for student poetry, fiction, and photography.

Chapbooks, traditionally, are four to forty-eight pages in length and consist of a regular 8.5 x 11 inch piece of paper folded over and bound together by stitching or staples. They were very popular during the 16th and 17th centuries when printing was expensive and time consuming. Today, pamphlets and chapbooks can be printed for pennies on the dollar. At 5 or 10 cents a page (at an average print shop), you can make dozens of pamphlets for very little cost.

The cover of Autumn and Winter, one of my first novellas.
The cover of Autumn and Winter, one of my first novellas.

I sold my first chapbook, The Distance of Sorrow, for five dollars. The Distance of Sorrow was a sixteen page story that I expanded into a “special edition” and hawked to my dad’s friends and coworkers. In that form, and with all the “special features” included, the booklet ran exactly 42 pages. Its special features included author commentary, deleted scenes, and alternate endings. The response was positive.

Continue reading “The Weird and Wild Side of Coles County, Part 2”