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 and 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”


The Weird and Wild Side of Coles County, Part 1

SmilingMikeAs and 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. Most of you are familiar with Coles County either through my book, or because Ashmore Estates has been featured on TV shows like Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures. Less well known is the story of how places like Ashmore Estates rose from obscurity to capture the imagination of people all over the United States. Join me for this three part article and take a journey through the recent past.

I have always thought Coles County was a unique and fascinating place, but even I was surprised when in June 2010 CNN rebroadcast a WTHI Channel 10 News in Terre Haute report on Lerna’s “world’s fastest pop machine.” Purchased in the late 1970s by Ivan Thompson for his welding business, the faded, clattering soda machine has become something of a tourist attraction in this village of 300 in Pleasant Grove Township.

Friends enjoy a visit to Lerna's
Friends enjoy a visit to Lerna’s “fastest pop machine.” Photo by Michael Kleen.

As a student at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, I often brought my friends to it while I showed them various sites around Coles County. They never failed to be amazed by how quickly the cans fell into the delivery tray. Like the independently-owned Burger King in Mattoon, the “world’s fastest pop machine” adds to the charm of life in the county, a charm that has not been lost on the outside world.

Continue reading “The Weird and Wild Side of Coles County, Part 1”

There’s Something About Mary

The Ghost of Mary Hawkins by Katie Conrad
The Ghost of Mary Hawkins by Katie Conrad

Creaking wooden floors, stone walls, a forbidden fourth floor–if Eastern Illinois University’s Pemberton Hall didn’t come with its own legend, the students that live there would probably invent one. Pemberton Hall is home to one of the most famous ghost stories in Illinois: the legend of Mary Hawkins. A lot has been written about this story over the years, but only one article has ever told the complete story from beginning to end: my own “The Legend of Pemberton Hall.” First published as a free PDF in 2008, “The Legend of Pemberton Hall” has been downloaded over 2,200 times. This year, I am releasing a revised and updated version of that article with three more pages of additional information and rare pictures of Mary Hawkins herself.

In anticipation of the article’s release this Friday, October 10th, Mysterious Heartland and I will feature the story of how and why Charleston, Illinois and Coles County (where EIU is located) is such a  fascinating place everyday this week. Then, on Friday, “The Legend of Pemberton Hall” will be posted for free to download. Who was Mary Hawkins? What did she really look like? How did she die? How long has this story been told? 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 will be just a click away!

But first, enjoy this video of me telling the story of Pemberton Hall last year at Eastern Illinois University.

Great Turnout for EIU Presentation

Thank you everyone who came out to my “legends and lore of Coles County” presentation at Eastern Illinois University last night! The event was a huge success – we actually had to move to another room to accommodate the crowd. Thanks to Becky and Lesley for helping out, and again to Morgan and Diane and the rest of the EIU Creative Writing Club exec board, As a bonus, my presentation made the front page of the Daily Eastern News today. Here’s a snippet:

Coles County Full of Hauntings
By Ashley Holstrom/Staff Reporter

The legend of the ghost of Pemberton Hall is the most well known in the area, but Michael Kleen, author of “The Tales of Coles County,” has many more to share. And he did, to an audience of about 50 students and community members at an event hosted by the Eastern’s Creative Writing Club Thursday.

Most people in the audience raised their hands when asked if they believe in ghosts, and Kleen said he was surprised that the few who did not would come to such an event. “Maybe we’ll make believers out of you,” he said.

He grew up reading ghost stories, went to Eastern, and realized not much had been written about the legends percolating around the area. So he did it himself.

This is the best quote:

The story of the ghost of Pemberton Hall hits closest to home — literally, for a few members of the audience. “Have a good night tonight,” he said, laughing, to the few women who said they live there.

My next presentation in Coles County will be at Lakeland Community College in February.

Presentation at EIU Tonight

I’m heading back to my alma mater Eastern Illinois University to give a presentation about Tales of Coles County, as well as “the legend of Pemberton Hall” and other local ghost stories. It will be from 7-8:30 p.m. in the Paris Room of the MLK, Jr. Student Union at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. The event is free but I will have books for sale. If you’re in the area, come on out!

The Daily Eastern News ran a preview article of the event in today’s paper, but I’m told they will be there tonight and do a more extensive article tomorrow. I’m really looking forward to this, and I have to give a big thank you to Morgan and Diane from the EIU Creative Writing Club for setting this up.

Haunted Charleston to be examined

Posted: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 11:07 pm

The legend of the Pemberton Hall ghost, as well as hauntings across Coles County, will be explored at a presentation Thursday.

Michael Kleen, author of “Tales of Coles County, Illinois,” will examine the historical and cultural contexts of haunting folklore in the Charleston area through his presentation, called “The Legend of Pemberton Hall.”

Kleen said the original talk of the Pemberton Hall ghost has multiple origins, including that a student was murdered in the residence hall during the 1920s and that the spirit of the hall’s first dorm mother still looks after the girls in-house.

He said there have been many reports over the years of odd or paranormal occurrences, including rearranged furniture and doors strangely opening and closing.

Kleen said while there are no records of murder in the hall, he nonetheless feels compelled to examine the history of such urban folklore, regardless of its truth.

Read the entire article at this link!

Daily Eastern News Spotlights Tales of Coles County

Thank you to Bob Galuski and the Daily Eastern News, newspaper of Eastern Illinois University, for his article on my book Tales of Coles County and my book signings in Charleston and Mattoon this weekend. So far, my book signings have been a huge success. People were lined up when I arrived at Bidwell’s Chocolate Cafe yesterday evening, and the Lincoln Bookstore is already nearly sold out.

Author to sign book on local folklore
By Bob Galuski / News Editor

Michael Kleen, an alumnus of Eastern, first published “Tales of Coles County, Illinois” in 2004.

He will be jump starting excitement for his 10th anniversary edition of “Tales of Coles County, Illinois” by signing his book at Bidwell’s Chocolate Café at 1610 Broadway Ave in Mattoon and Jackson Avenue Coffee at 708 Jackson Ave in Charleston.

Kleen will be at Bidwell’s Chocolate Café from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. Friday, and he will then be at Jackson Avenue Coffee from 5 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

“Tales of Coles County, Illinois” details different supernatural occurrences throughout the county – all of which Kleen has researched, and what he calls the “unusual history” of Coles County.

Kleen said his book mixes in fact and historical fiction.

“The general plot is EIU students driving south to go camping when they get caught in a storm,” Kleen said. “They seek shelter in a cabin with this elderly couple who tell them stories about the area.”

Among those stories are the tales of the Pemberton Hall ghost on Eastern’s campus, the haunting of Ashmore Estates and the murder on the Airtight Bridge.

Read the entire article at

Tales of Coles County Goes Viral on Facebook

Since announcing the upcoming release of a new edition on Friday, the Facebook page for the book Tales of Coles County, Illinois has gone viral, garnering over 900 new likes in five days. That is an average of 180 new likes per day. The first in a series of antique ‘postcards’ promoting the book, uploaded on Monday, has been shared 175 times and viewed by nearly 9,000 people.

First released in 2004, Tales of Coles County, Illinois follows the journey of four students from Eastern Illinois University who are stranded in an old cabin during a storm. The elderly couple who live there tell the students four stories, each related to Coles County history: a battle with Indians near Blakeman’s Mill, the Charleston Riot, the Coles County Poor Farm, and the body found at Airtight Bridge. After one night, these students will never look at Coles County the same way.

The 10th Anniversary Edition of Tales of Coles County will also feature a section on the legends and lore of Coles County. With everything from haunted houses, to the Mad Gasser of Mattoon, ghost towns, and buried treasure, this book will leave no stone unturned. The new edition will include four new places not appearing in any previous edition, as well as nearly a dozen photos.