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 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.

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.


The Weird and Wild Side of Coles County, Part 2

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.


The Weird and Wild Side of Coles County, Part 1

I thought it would be of interest to my readers to share 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.

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.

I first laid my suitcase down on the bare mattress of my dorm room on the seventh floor of Carman Hall on August 17, 2000. I never thought I would spend the next eight years at Eastern Illinois University, but as a senior in high school, EIU had been my first and only choice. My parents had met there. My mother attended Eastern from 1965 to 1966, and my father attended from 1963 to 1967. My great-uncle John Kleen also attended EIU.