EIU Memories: The Blair Hall Fire of ’04

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On Wednesday, April 28, 2004 at a little after 3pm, the temperature was 72 degrees and rising, the sky was fair, and wind gusted south-southwest up to 32 mph. Humidity was low. By all accounts, it was a beautiful spring day, and Eastern Illinois University’s Spring Semester was quickly coming to a close. Students crammed for final exams, which would begin the following Monday.

I don’t remember what I was doing on campus (probably hanging out in the food court), but as I walked toward the north quad, I noticed a crowd gathering. At 3:14 pm, someone had called 911 from inside Blair Hall, an ivy-covered Gothic Revival building directly southeast of Old Main. Smoke billowed from the third floor windows.

Blair Hall is the third oldest building on campus. It was constructed in 1913 and originally called the Model School, then renamed after football coach Francis G. Blair in 1958. It completed the triad of buildings that made up the old campus, including Old Main and the fabled Pemberton Hall. Blair Hall was home to the anthropology and sociology departments, so I only ever took a handful of elective classes there.

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EIU Memories: Carman Hall

Welcome to the second part in a series reminiscing about my time at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois. I spent eight years there, from 2000 to 2008, graduating with a Master’s in History. I got accepted to EIU out of high school and moved into a room on the 7th floor of Ruth Carman Hall on August 17, 2000. Although I love EIU and my college years, living in Carman Hall is not something I’d want to repeat. It’s a blessing the building has been closed for several years.

When I first came to EIU, freshman couldn’t park on campus and had to live in a dorm. Carman Hall, at the southeast end of campus, was considered the “freshman dorm.” It was built in 1971 to accommodate the glut of Baby Boomers entering college.

It looked like a Soviet tenement, with twin featureless beige towers, segregated for male and female, connected by a corridor with a shared dining hall. There was a computer lab and laundry room in the basement. Males had to be escorted to the female wing, and every floor had a resident assistant to look after things and make sure everyone was following the rules. That worked much better on the female side than on the male.

Our tower was disgusting. The vomit-encrusted elevator was rarely functional, trash littered the hallways, wires were pulled down from the ceiling, and fire extinguishers went missing. Someone even stole the drinking fountain on our floor! It got so bad the spring semester of my freshman year the college newspaper, Daily Eastern News, ran an article about the vandalism.

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EIU Memories: Friends & Co.

This is the first in a new series reminiscing about my college years at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois. I spent eight years there, from 2000 to 2008, graduating with a Master’s in History. Both my dad and my great-uncle John Kleen graduated from EIU, so you could say it was a family tradition.

When I attended, there were around 11,000 students at any given time. Attendance has since fallen to 7,500 (a 7.1% increase from the previous year). Carman Hall, where I lived my freshman year, was closed due to budget cuts and falling enrollment. This has been devastating to the local community, which was already struggling when I was there. On return trips to Charleston, I’m saddened to see all the abandoned buildings and empty storefronts.

So this series is meant to not only share some of my own history, but preserve these memories of a rapidly vanishing past. Hopefully there are readers out there who have their own memories of these places and events. Feel free to leave a comment with your own stories. Why start with Friends & Co.? It seems as good a place as any.

Friends & Co. used to be located at 509 Van Buren Avenue, a few blocks south of the Charleston town square. It was attached to a music venue called The Cellar. It opened in the early 1980s (I think), and the owner was a schoolteacher named David Gherardini. My impression was Friends & Co. attracted an intellectual crowd. It was a bar for English and Philosophy majors, and this review on Yelp from Sean R. confirms my impressions:

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Mad Gasser of Mattoon Presentation at Eastern Illinois University

The “Mad Gasser of Mattoon” was a series of strange events in Mattoon, Illinois during World War 2 involving “gas attacks” on unassuming homeowners in this small Midwestern town. It’s generally written off as a case of mass hysteria, but physical symptoms exhibited by the victims seem to suggest otherwise. To this day, no one really knows who or what caused the attacks.

On October 24, 2013, I explored the facts and the fiction behind this tale at a presentation Coles County legends and lore at MLK Student Union. So many people showed up we actually had to move to a larger room. After many years writing about these stories, giving this presentation at my alma mater was a wonderful opportunity.

The Legend of Pemberton Hall Presentation at Eastern Illinois University

The Legend of Pemberton Hall is among one of the most well-known ghost stories in Illinois. Set at Eastern Illinois University, generations of young women who reside in this residence hall have been telling tales of Mary Hawkins and the ghost of an (allegedly) murdered coed. On October 24, 2013, I explored the facts and the fiction behind the tale at a presentation at MLK Student Union. So many people showed up we actually had to move to a larger room. After many years writing about this EIU legend, giving this presentation on campus was a wonderful opportunity.

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”