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Mysterious America

Avon Theater

One of Decatur, Illinois’ many historic theaters, the Avon Theater opened in 1916 and predominantly catered to the new motion picture craze. Its interior was the largest and most elaborately decorated in Decatur. Renovations and a brief closure in the 1950s removed most of its glamour, however, and by 1986 it was abandoned. Luckily, in the mid-1990s, a group of entrepreneurs purchased the theater and again opened it for business.

After its re-opening, the staff began to experience strange events that included hearing laughter, footsteps, and applause after hours. Items would also appear and disappear. Staff members have also seen the apparition of Gus Constan, who owned the Avon during the 1960s. Theater patrons have also described feeling as though they were pushed or had bumped into something unseen.

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Mysterious America

Archer Avenue’s Lesser-Known Haunts

While hoping to catch a glimpse of Resurrection Mary or some of the area’s other famous haunts, visitors to this southwest suburban Chicago road often overlook these lesser-known but no less spooky destinations.

Archer Avenue—the name sends shivers down the spines of locals well-versed in Chicago lore. Archer Avenue begins in Chicago and travels steadily west until merging with Route 171 in suburban Summit. There the road turns sharply southwest at an obtuse angle, then runs parallel with the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. It passes through Justice and Willow Springs before ultimately entering scenic Lemont.

It is near these three villages—Justice, Willow Springs, and Lemont—where the road has gained an unusual reputation. Starting with Resurrection Cemetery and ending at St. James-Sag Church, this section of Archer Avenue forms the northern border of a triangle of forest preserves, lakes, trails, and burial grounds encompassing most of the Cook County Forest Preserve District’s Palos Division.

At the hinterlands of civilization, this area has a well-deserved reputation built upon generations of strange encounters and creative storytelling. It is home to no less than ten mystery sites involving everything from hauntings, to unsolved murders, to healing springs, to the site of America’s second nuclear reactor. These locations dot the area on either side of Archer Avenue, with the majority falling inside the boundaries of the triangle.

The roads there are long and dark, the lakes and parks remote, and the landmarks emerge from the shadows to capture the imagination of visitors.

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Mysterious America Photography

James Eldred Home

The James J. Eldred home in Greene County, Illinois is a grand, Greek-Revival ranch house that has stood abandoned since the 1930s. During the 1860s and ‘70s, James and his wife Emeline had a reputation for hosting grand parties at their “Bluff Dale Farm.” But life was harsh living along the Illinois River. The three Eldred daughters, Alma, Alice, and Eva, all died of illness at home in their beds. Both Alice and Eva were 17. Alma was only four years old.

In 1999, the home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in recent years the Illinois Valley Cultural Heritage Association has made great strides in restoring it to its former glory. While there are no specific ghost stories about the property, its owners list “phantom footsteps,” “phantom knocking at the front door,” “giggles of a young lady,” and “small shadows moving in the nursery” as phenomenon experienced there.

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Mysterious America Photography

Culver House

Culver House, 412 W. Prairie Avenue in Decatur, Illinois, a beautiful redbrick Queen Ann style home, took 20 years to be built. John and Florence Culver began construction in 1881 and it wasn’t finished until 1901. John H. Culver was a prominent local businessman who owned an electric and telephone company. Shortly after his family moved in, it experienced an frightening event when a dark figure emerged from the fireplace. This unsettling apparition appeared during a spate of sightings of a “black ghost” in the area. Ever since, the house has a reputation for being haunted. The Historic Decatur Foundation has worked hard to restore it to its former glory.

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Mysterious America

Illinois State University and the Enduring Legacy of Ange Milner

Founded in 1857, Illinois State University is said to be haunted by the ghost of Angeline V. Milner, or Ange for short, a beloved librarian who remained with her books long after she passed from this world. Does she still haunt the university archives?

Jesse W. Fell, a Bloomington newspaper publisher, founded Illinois State Normal University in 1857 with the help of his friend, lawyer and legislator Abraham Lincoln, who would go on to become our sixteenth president. Originally a teacher’s college, ISNU became Illinois State University in 1968 to accommodate a broader curriculum. The university is currently home to around 23,000 students and faculty, as well as one tenacious ghost.

The ghost is said to be that of Angeline V. Milner, or Ange for short, a beloved librarian who remained with her books long after she passed from this world. Although now often spelled Angie, Angeline is commonly abbreviated in the original French as Ange. In Charles William Perry’s 1924 biography of Miss Milner, he omitted the ‘i’ from the diminutive form of her name. As head librarian for 37 years, she was so beloved by the school that Illinois State University named its library after her.

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Mysterious America

Haunted Mansions of Dixie

A decaying manor frozen in time, the trappings of opulence stubbornly refusing to fade. It’s the stuff made for Southern Gothic.

The American South has a long and tragic history, where wealth was obtained on the backs of slaves and the scars of war lasted for generations. Relics of the antebellum South are natural incubators for ghost stories, and nearly every mansion and plantation home is believed to have a ghost or two. The following are a few of the Southern mansions I’ve visited over the years. Who can say what lurks there after dark?

Beauvoir in Biloxi, Mississippi

Otherwise known as Beauvoir, the Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library has an interesting history. It was built in 1852 by a wealthy plantation owner named James Brown. Ex-Confederate President Jefferson Davis did not reside in the house until 1877, twelve years before he died. His daughter Winnie continued to live there until her death in 1898.

The Jefferson Davis Soldiers Home opened on the grounds in 1903 and operated until the 1950s. It was home to around 1,800 Civil War veterans and widows of Confederate soldiers. Roughly 780 of them are buried in the cemetery located on the property. Several visitors have reported encountering someone who they assume is an actor playing Jefferson Davis in the gardens.

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Mysterious America

Prince George Hotel

The former Prince George Hotel anchoring Kingston’s historic Market Square at 200 Ontario Street in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, is home to Haunted Walks Kingston, Canada’s original haunted tour. The former hotel has plenty of ghost stories of its own, but so does the Tir Nan Og Pub occupying a space on the ground floor, where furniture and doors are said to move on their own, silverware and glasses fall to the floor, and patrons are touched by unseen hands. No one seems to mind very much, as it continues to be a very popular watering hole.