Mysterious America

The Melrose Park Witch

The following is an excerpt from my new book Witchcraft in Illinois: A Cultural History. The case of the “Melrose Park Witch” shows not only that witch beliefs were common in urban areas, but that witch doctors, or white witches, sometimes ran afoul of the law, despite good intentions. Order it today on or

The line between witch and witch doctor sometimes blurred. As the First World War raged overseas and Chicagoans prepared to celebrate Thanksgiving, a modern-day witch hunt threatened to erupt in the near-western suburb of Melrose Park. Incorporated along the Des Plaines River in 1882, the Village of Melrose Park was predominantly settled by Italian immigrants.

In 1915 and 1916, an elderly woman named Carmella Vosella became known as the “Melrose Park Witch,” though she insisted she was Christian and only used her powers for good. Carmella’s practice of selling old Italian charms and folk remedies came to light in a series of legal proceedings that had Melrose Park Police Chief Henry Pein vowing, “We are going to rid Melrose Park of witchcraft.”

Mysterious America

Correllianism and the Witch School

The following is an excerpt from my new book Witchcraft in Illinois: A Cultural History. Part of the chapter on contemporary Illinois, the Witch School in Vermillion County had very interesting origins. Order it today on or

In 1990, a group of Wiccans created the Church of Gaia in Chicago, Illinois, which for many years was home to an Internet-based school called the “Witch School.” Over the next two decades, the Witch School would be influential in the Illinois Wiccan and neo-Pagan community, even after it moved to rural Vermillion County.

Donald Lewis, a cofounder, considers himself to be the inheritor and spiritual leader of the Correllian Nativist Tradition, a neo-pagan sect allegedly founded in the Danville, Illinois area in 1879 by his great grandmother, Caroline High Correll.

“Caroline was a woman of mixed racial heritage who practiced various forms of magic, herbalism, and spiritualism,” he explained. “With her husband John Correll, Caroline ran a circus during summer months and focused on exhibitions during the winter—described as ‘art lectures’ these exhibitions actually showcased many of the new visual and audio technologies that were emerging at the time.”

Mysterious America

Windy City Witches

The following is an excerpt from my new book Witchcraft in Illinois: A Cultural History. Folklorists and historians claimed witch beliefs were a rural phenomenon, but in this chapter I discuss several cases involving witchcraft from Chicago. Order it today on or

Over the next two decades, Chicago’s population more than tripled in size, with an influx of immigrants from Southern, Central and Eastern Europe, including Italians, Jews, Poles, Bosnians and Czechs.

Many of these immigrants retained long held beliefs regarding maleficium, and a flurry of witchcraft cases appeared at the turn of the century. 1901 saw three such cases, which were reported in newspapers as far away as Des Moines, Iowa; Newark, Ohio; Dubuque, Iowa; and Fort Worth, Texas.

These accounts appeared to confirm prejudices held by many Anglo-Americans that this new wave of immigrants was backwards and superstitious, just as witchcraft beliefs among African Americans and Scotch-Irish reinforced prejudices in the previous century.

In October 1901, the Chicago Daily Herald reported the arrest of Thomas Kelly for throwing stones through the window of an unnamed neighbor, who he suspected of being a witch. According to Kelly, this woman tormented and then attempted to extort another neighbor, Mrs. Cohen. After coming out on the losing end of an argument, the alleged witch put a curse on Cohen.


Boomer’s Tap in Des Plaines, Illinois

Boomer’s Tap in Des Plaines, Illinois served as a neighborhood bar at 1000 E. Prairie Avenue for nearly a century, except during Prohibition. According to the Chicago Tribune, efforts to shut it down began after a customer was arrested in November 1999 for trying to sell cocaine to an undercover cop. The Baumhart family of Arlington Heights ran Boomer’s Tap for 50 years. I think it was torn down in early 2002. I passed it plenty of times when I was in high school, but it closed before I turned 21. Does anyone remember this place?


Chicagoist Spotlights My ‘Most Haunted’ City In Illinois List

ChicagoistJoining the list of media outlets crowing about my recent top 10 list at Mysterious Heartland, “Top 10 Most Haunted Cities in Illinois,” Kate Shepherd at the Chicagoist added her own observations about some of Chicago’s most well known haunts. Thanks, Kate!

Chicago’s history is full of gruesome stories from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre to H.H. Holmes’ murder castle to Lincoln Park Zoo being built on top of City Cemetery. So it’s no surprise that Chicago’s the most haunted city in Illinois, according to ghost site Mysterious Heartland’s ranking of Illinois’ most ghostly cities.

Chicago gets credit from the site for one of the world’s most famous ghost stories even though it technically takes place outside city limits. Resurrection Mary is a vanishing hitchhiker who many men claim to have picked up along Archer Avenue before she disappeared into Resurrection Cemetery in suburban Justice. The story has taken on a life of its own and inspired everything from tours to a 5k run to a terrible looking movie. The sightings started in the 1930s and continue to the present day.

Read the entire article here!


NBC Chicago Features My Latest Top 10 List


Isabel Morales from NBC Channel 5 News in Chicago recently posted this article about one of my recent top 10 lists at Mysterious Heartland, “Top 10 Most Haunted Cities in Illinois.” How cool is that? I remember watching NBC as a kid when I was growing up in the Chicago suburbs.

The Windy City is the most haunted city in Illinois, according to a list compiled by the website Mysterious Heartland.

Chicago won the title for its supposedly haunted hotels, including the Congress Plaza Hotel and the Drake Hotel. Guests of the Drake have reported seeing the ghostly figure of a “woman in red” roam the halls.

Mysterious Heartland also chose Chicago as the most haunted Illinois city because of its bars and pubs. More than a half dozen locations are haunted, according to the list. Ethyl’s Party in Chinatown is believed to sometimes contain guests from the afterlife. The building once served as a former funeral home.

Suburban St. Charles and Naperville also made the most haunted list. Although now closed, Al Capone’s Hideaway and Steak House in St. Charles was believed to be home to ghostly spirits. The west suburb came in seventh on the list.

Thanks, Isabel! Read the entire article here.