Category Archives: My Books

Shades of Gray: Strange Tales from the Old Dominion

Spirits lurk among the faded monuments and deserted battlefields of Virginia, from the fabled streets of Fredericksburg to the shipyards of Hampton Roads. From beyond the grave, they beg us to remember. In Shades of Gray: Strange Tales from the Old Dominion, their stories are told. Twelve spine-tingling tales take you to where this world meets the next. History has never felt so unreal.

Shades of Gray: Strange Tales from the Old Dominion is a collection of short ghost stories from the Civil War battlefields of Virginia. It was originally published in print by Quixote Press in 2011, but not available digitally until now.

Some stories are campy and fun, some are classic Gothic romance, and others are modern horror. In one tale, the ghost of a Union prisoner of war helps a boy named Humpy Andrews get revenge on his teasing cousins. In another, a grieving widow returns from the grave to reach out to her reincarnated love.

In some sense, this book was years in the making. It had its origins in a family vacation to Virginia when I was thirteen years old. Already a Civil War buff and amateur historian, I could not wait to explore all the towns and battlefields I read so much about.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say I was more familiar with the geography of northern Virginia than I was with my own hometown, Des Plaines, Illinois. From the heights overlooking Fredericksburg to the old diner in Richmond where the waitress took our order on a pink ticket right out of the 1960s, being in Virginia felt like I was living in history. It was an enthralling experience.

Shades of Gray: Strange Tales from the Old Dominion is now available exclusively on Amazon Kindle. Order it today for only $2.99.

A Friend Reviews Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities

Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and UniversitiesAn old friend from high school, Nick, writes videogame reviews. Recently, however, he wrote an unsolicited review of my latest book, Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities. I was surprised and delighted that he chose to read my latest offering, since he (by his own admission) rarely reads nonfiction.

The review is fair and generally positive. In response to one of his criticisms, the book is not just a collection of stories–it is meant to be a combination of stories and the theory behind them. That is why I spend so much time discussing folklore and ghost stories in their relation to university culture.

Check out an excerpt of the review below or read it in its entirety.

He doesn’t want to convince me that genuine ghosts haunt the various Illinois universities. Instead, this book would rather discuss the stories that are being told and examine the history that inspired them.

It’s the combination of history and legend that makes the stories that are told interesting. This book focuses on Illinois campuses specifically, so everything begins with the location. The surface level is the story itself. The legend. What people say happened there. Beneath that is the truth, but much like the story itself the truth is fragmented. Partially documented history only tells so much.

The strongest part of the book is the history that it manages to document. It’s interesting to learn about the history of the universities themselves, unrelated to the ghost story that emerged from it. It’s even more fascinating tracking a story from its roots to the glorious legend it is today.

Check it out!

Best Week Ever for Haunting Illinois

Last week was Haunting Illinois: A Tourist’s Guide‘s best week on Amazon.com, with nearly 60 sales in one week!

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Devil’s Night at Southern Illinois University

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 & UniversitiesOctober 30th, the night before Halloween, has been variously referred to as Mischief Night, Cabbage Night, or Hell Night. In most places, teens celebrate this unofficial holiday with pranks, mild vandalism, petty crime, parties, and fireworks. In Detroit, Michigan, it became known as “Devil’s Night.” From the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, arsonists started hundreds of fires throughout the city. In Carbondale, Illinois, students from Southern Illinois University celebrated the weekend before Halloween with riotous parties along the downtown strip.

According to author H.B. Koplowitz, this tradition began in 1974, after political demonstrations on the strip gave way to fun and revelry. “Nobody realized it at the time, but Thursday, Oct. 31, 1974, the bizarre Halloween street party tradition was born,” he wrote. “At about 9:30 [pm] that night, about 1,000 young people, many of them in outrageous home-made costumes that ranged from the abstract to the obscene, took over the street between Merlin’s and P.K.’s.”

The crowd soon swelled to over 5,000, and Carbondale’s mayor ordered the bars to close. Rather than diffuse the situation, this action inflamed the crowd and led to confrontations with the police. By 1977, word of the carnival-like Halloween party had spread and attracted partygoers from elsewhere in the state. “The weekend before Halloween, about 6,000 people, many of them in costumes and from out of town, closed South Illinois Avenue from College to Walnut,” Koplowitz explained. “The city had not granted an extension of the 2a.m. drinking hour, but Saturday night the bars stayed open an hour later because of a time change from Daylight Saving Time. When the bars emptied, a bonfire was lit in the street, rocks and bottles were thrown, and a few people took off their clothes.”

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The Geography of Campus Ghostlore

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 2: Hallowed Halls: The Geography of Campus Ghostlore

Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges & UniversitiesUniversities are centers of learning where young adults devote two to four years (or more) of their lives to academic study. In addition to attending class, students must also have places to eat, sleep, study, socialize, and find entertainment. To facilitate this activity, a university needs professors, administrators, secretaries, custodians and maintenance, security personnel, and a whole support network operating largely behind the scenes.

All this activity takes place in a physical environment that includes classroom buildings, towering residence halls, libraries, theaters, gymnasiums, open spaces, gardens, and walking paths. Off campus, fraternity and sorority houses, apartments, and other rental properties provide additional student housing. On weekends, students looking for a scare might venture into the wilderness away from the perceived safety of campus to seek out the scene of a local legend. These places are often decorated with curious messages, remnants, and monuments left behind by previous students. Together, these places set the stage for campus lore.

Because every university contains these essential features, it is their architecture and arrangement that makes each one unique. More than physical features, however, it is the invisible landscape of tradition, reputation, history, stories, and other human associations that gives each university its identity. Campus folklore and ghost stories are an important part of this invisible landscape, connecting the present generation to the past.

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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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