Exciting news this week as my website, Mysterious Heartland, surpassed 3 million total page views since it went online in January 2009. Of course, at that time it was home to the Legends and Lore of Illinois. Since then, we’ve greatly expanded the scope of our content, especially since I’ve had the opportunity to explore places as far away as Arizona and the Gulf Coast. Last year was our best year ever, with over 1,376,600 views. Thanks for sticking with me and exploring our wonderful American Heartland.
One of my new books focuses on the folklore and ghostlore of Illinois colleges and universities. The publisher, Crossroad Press, has released the digital edition before the hardcover, so you can get a preview of the book on Amazon Kindle. I say “preview” because I have no doubt the print edition will be the best way to experience this book. The pictures are beautiful and high-quality. Here is the book description:
On a dark and stormy night on a college campus near you, a young coed is about to make a grisly discovery… or so the legend goes. At colleges and universities across Illinois, students tell ghostly tales, from beloved librarians who refuse to go home, to sad specters suffering from a broken heart. Join Michael Kleen as he explores the history and mystery behind haunted college dorms, libraries, classrooms, theaters, and more. In this one-of-a-kind book, current and former students and faculty tell their tales of mysterious encounters at their beloved alma maters. Kleen scours every source to bring these stories to light in the first book exclusively devoted to Illinois college lore.
Why do ghost stories continue to have such an appeal on college campuses? What are the scariest stories from universities in Illinois? Is there any truth to the tales? These questions and more will be answered in Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities. With a foreword by Elizabeth Tucker, Professor of English at Binghamton University and author of Haunted Halls.
Well, I came out of “intense-writing-mode” to do an interview with Jamie Davis, author of Haunted Asylums, Prisons, and Sanatoriums. Jamie enjoyed the new edition of Haunting Illinois and wanted to send me a few questions about the book. I was happy to oblige!
February 8, 2015
I used Michael Kleen’s 2nd Edition of Haunting Illinois and Paranormal Illinois back in 2012 when I was researching Ashmore Estates in connection with Haunted Asylums, Prisons, and Sanatoriums. I was a little late in picking up the 3rd Edition, but when I realized it was on the market, I quickly ordered it! I love guidebooks for paranormal tourists, and this is a “best of the best” in my experience. For each entry listed, Kleen cites sources and gives directions to the locations. I love how the book is organized too, with “creep factor” symbol codings, and broken down by geographic sections of the state.
Kleen answers his fan mail, and was kind enough to answer my questions below:
Tell us about the process for revising this edition. I’m almost betting it is an easier process to create from scratch vs. revise!
The third edition of Haunting Illinois was three years in the making. The second edition came out in 2011 and listed 200 haunted and mysterious places in Illinois, and I always told myself that if I made another edition, it had to be worthwhile for people who owned the previous edition to buy the new one. Not only did I scour more books and articles for new places to include in the book, but I traveled all over the state getting pictures for some of the new places and some of the old. Then, of course, I had to update some of the previous listings to reflect recent events. Sunset Haven outside Carbondale, Illinois, for example, was torn down in 2013. It was a lot of work, but it was fun and I enjoyed revising everything. I’m a perfectionist. The new edition of Haunting Illinois contains a listing of 260 places and 120 photos and illustrations.
Do you consider yourself a paranormal enthusiast or a ghost hunter? (If paranormal enthusiast, have you done any ghost hunting? If so, what was your take on the experience?
I like the term “paranormal enthusiast” but I consider myself to be a folklorist or a folk historian. I take no position on the truth or falsehood of these stories. Ghost hunters or paranormal investigators are concerned with finding out the truth behind paranormal phenomenon. That just doesn’t interest me anymore. I don’t believe science has anything to say about ghost stories or the paranormal any more than it does about my subjective feelings towards a painting or a movie. I have been on plenty of paranormal investigations and consider many people who are interested in that to be my good friends. But frankly, it’s become so boring and obnoxious. Everyone tries to get their 10 seconds on TV and then they act like they are so much better than everyone else. Why can’t we just appreciate these experiences and stories on their own terms?
Earlier this month, I was asked to lend my expertise to a series of articles on legends in the Rockford, Illinois area for the Register Star, and the results were exciting, to say the least. The Register Star has not shied away from publishing articles about local legends and ghost stories in the past, but this is their first full, multi-article spread on the subject, and I’m pleased to have been a part of it! Here are some excerpts, with links back to the original articles:
You can’t discount the hundreds of strange encounters reported along Bloods Point Road, said Michael Kleen, a local folk historian. The road is one of Boone County’s most notorious midnight drives.
“Maybe there is something to the stories after all. … That’s what makes it exciting.”
With multiple books on local legends — including the ghostly go-to book “Haunting Illinois: A Tourist’s Guide to the Weird and Wild Places of the Prairie State,” Kleen is well-acquainted with the lore surrounding the 5-mile country thoroughfare, from phantom police cars and supernatural dogs to mystery lights and vanishing barns.
He feels the road’s sinister monicker, taken from the Blood family who settled there in the mid-1800s, has helped keep the lore alive for more than a century. Believe them or not, these spooky tales have become an integral part of the community’s social and historical fabric. Even traffic signs dare not use the road’s full name, opting instead for the abbreviated “Bl. Point Rd.” [More…]
What is known about the home is this: It was the home of Charles Guiteau’s uncle and aunt, A.B. and Emily Rehfield Guiteau. Charles was the son of Luther W. Guiteau, who served as a cashier at Second National Bank, was a merchant at the time, and served Stephenson County as recorder and clerk of the circuit court. Charles shot President Garfield in a railroad depot in July 1881. It would be weeks before Garfield would die. Charles never lived in the home of his uncle and aunt. He actually grew up in a house on Broadway Street in Freeport.
Michael Kleen, folk historian and author of several books, including “Haunting Illinois: A Tourists Guide to the Weird & Wild Places of the Prairie State,” has often passed the home while visiting family in Freeport. The home fascinated him, so he began his own research.
After Charles Guiteau was hanged for killing Garfield, rumors began swirling that his bones were buried in the home.
“This rumor about Guiteau’s bones is not true,” said Kleen. “According to widespread belief, after his execution, his body was boiled and his skeleton was bleached and put on display around the country. Other reports said his head had been preserved in a jar and kept by a physician in New York. Similar rumors were repeated for nearly a century, creating a lot of confusion. Guiteau’s bones are actually kept at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, Maryland.”
Kleen said Guiteau was a tragic figure and a political gadfly. For a short time, he joined a utopian religious sect known as the Oneida Community in New York, but its founder thought him to be insane and threw him out. He constantly sought appointments to political offices and felt slighted by President Garfield when he refused to appoint him as ambassador to France. He even failed at the assassination of Garfield, said Kleen. It was really Garfield’s doctors, who infected the bullet wound during sloppy surgery, who are ultimately blamed for killing the president. But, at Guiteau’s trial, Dr. Edward Spitzka called him a moral monstrosity. [More…]
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.
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#.
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.
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.Continue reading “The Weird and Wild Side of Coles County, Part 3”
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 recall picking empty bottles of Corona and cigarette butts out of the playground of Willow Trails Park, while imagining the stories I would tell in Tales of Coles County, Illinois to pass the time.
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.Continue reading “The Weird and Wild Side of Coles County, Part 2”