Millikin University’s Rail Girl and Other Tales

Like many colleges, Decatur’s Millikin University is home to a bevvy of campus legends, some of which are based on historic tragedies.

Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois began its career with great fanfare. Named after the man who bankrolled the school, James Millikin, it opened in 1903 and was dedicated by Teddy Roosevelt. Classes begin on September 15 of that year. Its numerous ghost stories have their origins early in its history.

One story, involving the light of a long-deceased railroad crossing watchman named Tommy, has been told on campus since the 1930s. The old gymnasium, now used primarily as a storage area, is the scene of echoes from days gone by. According to Troy Taylor, students have heard the sounds of sports being played while alone in the abandoned gym.

Many students believe the ghost of a woman named Bernice Richardson haunts Ashton Hall, Millikin University’s oldest all-female dorm. Richardson killed herself by drinking carbonic acid in her bedroom on February 1, 1927.

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University of Illinois’ Suicidal Specters

As one of the oldest public universities in the state of Illinois, this college campus hosts a number of folktales and oddities.

The University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois was established as an industrial university in 1867 and first opened on March 2, 1868. It became the University of Illinois in 1885 and was renamed the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1982. As one of the oldest public universities in the state of Illinois, the campus hosts a number of folktales and oddities.

John Milton Gregory, the first president of the university, is buried on campus. His grave rests between Altgeld Hall and the Henry Administration Building, marked by an unsculpted stone and a plaque that reads, “if you seek his monument, look about you.”

The university is home to a number of ghost stories as well. To my knowledge, Troy Taylor is the first person to have written about these stories in a book. His accounts can be found in several editions of Haunted Illinois (2001, 2004) and were reprinted briefly in Field Guide to Illinois Hauntings (2001) by Jim Graczyk and Donna Boonstra. Cynthia Thuma and Catherine Lower filled in some of the blanks in their book Creepy Colleges and Haunted Universities (2003).

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Western Illinois University’s Haunted Halls

Tales of ghostly activity in several dorms and lecture halls make Western Illinois University in Macomb one of this state’s most haunted colleges.

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For years, students and faculty in Western Illinois University’s Simpkins Hall have told stories about phantom children. Many other odd occurrences are attributed to “Harold,” a former janitor or graduate assistant who lurks among the classrooms on the third floor.

After classes finish for the day, the disembodied sound of keys jingling, doors opening and closing, or a typewriter clicking, rattle the nerves of even the most seasoned educator. In addition to Simpkins Hall, several of the campus dorms—Bayliss just to name one—are also rumored to be haunted.

Nestled in the small town of Macomb, Western Illinois University began as a teacher’s college. Originally called Western Illinois State Normal School, its classes were confined to one building, now known as Sherman Hall. Sherman Hall was originally known as “Main Building.”

In 1937, the university built a new training school adjacent to Main Building. Local children enrolled in the Training School and were taught by the students at the college.

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Mount St. Mary’s University and Father Brute’s Ghost

The ghosts of a Catholic priest, and a Confederate soldier mortally wounded at Gettysburg, are among the most famous phantoms said to roam here.

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Mount St. Mary’s is a private Catholic university outside Emmitsburg, Maryland in the Catoctin Mountains. It is a small school on a 1,400 acre campus, with a little more than 1,700 undergraduates. It has a storied history, with a legendary foundation.

In 1805, a French priest named Father John DuBois saw a light in the hills as he passed between Frederick and Emmitsburg. It was growing dark, so he traveled toward the light, thinking it was a farmhouse. Exhausted, he laid down for the night beneath a large oak tree. When he woke up, he saw he was in a beautiful spot in the Catoctin Mountains. Local Catholics called it “St. Mary’s Mountain,” so it seemed an ideal place for a church.

DuBois also established a school, which grew into a seminary. Father Simon Bruté became a teacher there in 1812. The university was officially founded in 1830, and it doubled as a boarding school until the early 1900s. Bradley Hall is a remnant of those boarding school days. Not far from where Father DuBois erected his church, he also created a small shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is now known as the National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, with extensive gardens and statuary.

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Rockford University’s Whispers of the Past

While rich in history, Rockford University is also rich in ghostlore and the origin of a wide variety of alleged haunts.

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Rockford, Illinois’ first college, established before the city was even chartered, was Rockford Female Seminary. Jane Addams, who would go on to fame as a social reformer and co-founder of Chicago’s Hull House, was a graduate of the seminary in 1881. In 1892 RFS became known as Rockford College, which remained a predominately female academy until 1958.

In 1964 the campus was moved from its home along the river to its present location along State Street. It changed its name to Rockford University in 2014.

While rich in history, Rockford University is also rich in ghostlore and the origin of a wide variety of alleged haunts. No less than three buildings are said to be home to restless spirits, along with one memorial arch, which was built using materials from the original Rock River campus.

Blanche Walker Burpee Center, Adams Arch, and the Clark Arts Center run the gambit of ghostly phenomenon, from disembodied voices, to moving objects, to phantom reflections, and a whole host of other unexplained things.

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Illinois State University’s Loyal Librarian

Some say the ghost of “Aunt Ange” lingers among the books she carefully cataloged when she was alive.

Founded in 1857 and originally a teacher’s college, Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois is currently home to around 23,000 students and faculty, as well as one tenacious ghost. This ghost is said to be that of Angeline V. Milner, or Ange for short, a librarian who remained with her books long after she passed from this world. As head librarian for 37 years, she was so beloved by the school that Illinois State University named its library after her.

Angeline Vernon Milner was born on April 9, 1856 in Bloomington. By all accounts, she seemed to be destined for the work which would become her legacy. According to Charles W. Perry, who assisted the famed librarian for several years and wrote her biography, she learned how to read before she was four-years-old.

Ange began her fated job at the university library on February 1, 1890, and the Normal School Board was so impressed with her skill and dedication that they appointed her as the sole and head librarian in the fall of that same year.

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Southern Illinois University’s Spectral Alumni

Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois has had a long and colorful history. Its mascot, the Saluki, is an ancient Egyptian dog breed and a salute to the region of southern Illinois called “Little Egypt.” Nearly every campus building is said to be haunted, from the lost girl of Faner Hall to the ghost of “Henry” in Shryock Auditorium. The campus even boasts a labyrinth of underground tunnels.

Southern Illinois University was founded in 1869 as Southern Illinois Normal College, and its cornerstone was laid on May 17, 1870. Originally a small teacher’s college, the university grew to over 23,000 students by 1980. Enrollment has remained relatively consistent ever since.

While noted as a research institution, SIU has also been popularly known as a “party school.” During the late 1990s, Halloween celebrations broke out into riots, forcing the University to close its campus on Halloween weekend.

A 15-year-long city ordinance that prevented three popular bars on Carbondale’s main strip from doing business on Halloween and the following weekend was finally lifted for a one year trial period in 2013.

Wheeler Hall, Faner Hall, Anthony Hall, Shryock Auditorium, and Mae Smith Residence Hall are all home to macabre tales.

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