Recently I had the pleasure of appearing on Episode 114 of Erick Szilagyi’s podcast uNcomfortable. Erick and I had a great conversation about how I got started writing about folklore and ghost stories and my experience appearing on an episode of Ghost Adventures. We discuss Ashmore Estates, Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery, and my work on Secret Virginia. Check it out on Spotify and iTunes, or where ever you get your podcasts!
Emma Jones Home
Emma Pauline Jones was a Norwegian immigrant who lived at this home (built in 1856) in Rockford, Illinois from the 1920s into the 1950s. Her husband Frank was often away on business, and she spent much of her time with her two beloved Dalmatians, Moxie and Channing. After her husband died in 1941, Emma—who was 66 years old—continued to live with her faithful dogs, but after they passed on, she began to descend into loneliness and dementia. She spent her twilight years sitting in a rocking chair, waiting for loved ones who would never return.
Emma finally sold her home and moved in with a relative, where she died in 1964. According to local legend, she returned to her house on North First Street in her afterlife. Owners of the home have reported strange noises, moving furniture, and even seeing the ghost of an elderly woman in the attic windows. One newlywed couple reported that an old woman appeared in their living room and asked what they were doing in her home, then vanished.
Fort Fisher’s Sentinel
Fort Fisher was built by Confederate forces during the American Civil War to protect Wilmington, North Carolina. It fell on January 15, 1865 after hours of brutal fighting. Since then, visitors to the fort’s ruins have reported numerous strange encounters, including sightings of a mysterious sentinel, as well as its commander, Col. William Lamb. Others report hearing disembodied footsteps, phantom screams, and gunshots. In 1961, the site was declared a National Historic Landmark and added to the National Register of Historic Places five years later.
Sometimes Mary manifests herself as a prankster. Other times, she appears as a benevolent matriarch who makes sure doors are locked at night and warns “her girls” of trouble. But at all times, Mary Hawkins commands the respect and admiration of students at Eastern Illinois University, even 103 years after her death.
Jessica and Ashley sat in their dorm room, a cool autumn breeze blowing in from the window. A single lamp illuminated the room in a soft yellow glow, casting shadows of stuffed animals on the walls. Ashley sat on the floor with a tablet in her lap playing Angry Birds, her back resting against the bed. Jessica, her roommate, sat on her mattress curled in a pink Snuggie.
Without warning, a door down the hallway slammed shut, followed by the sound of something scraping across the old wooden floor. Jessica and Ashley jumped.
Ashley put down her tablet. “Oh my God, what was that?” she asked.
“Maybe it was Mary,” Jessica (or Jess for short) replied. Seeing her roommate’s puzzled expression, she continued. “You know this place is haunted, right?”
The Powers-Jarvis Mansion, 357 W. Decatur Street in Decatur, Illinois, is among the most unique in Decatur, from its red tiled roof, to its copper trim, leaded glass windows, and blond brick. Businessman Charles Powers, owner of the Hotel Orlando, built this 9,400 square feet Greek Revival home in 1909. The Bachrach family owned it from 1988 to 2005, when they sold it at auction. It was auctioned again in 2017. According to local author Troy Taylor, rumors of it being haunted began in the 1960s when it was abandoned. Passersby witnessed lights floating around inside or translucent figures in the windows. Later, some men staying in the house reported personal items went missing or their bed shook without explanation.
Illinois’ Haunted Colleges
Every college has its traditions, and perhaps even a ghost story or two, but the following Illinois colleges rank high on the list when it comes to eerie campus legends and tales.
The first college in Illinois, McKendree University, was established in Lebanon in 1828. Since then, over 70 private and public four-year institutions dedicated to higher education have opened throughout the state. Each has its own history and traditions, traditions that often include a ghost story or two. Some colleges seem to have more than their fair share. Millikin University, Illinois College, Southern Illinois, Illinois State, and of course, the University of Illinois are just a few of the many with eerie campus legends and tales.
Illinois Wesleyan University
Illinois Wesleyan University was founded in Bloomington in 1850, but no buildings were constructed until six years later. Primarily focused on the liberal arts, it is partially supported by the United Methodist Church, but its administration is independent.
Several buildings on campus are believed to be haunted. International House (I-House) was built by A.E. DeMange and his wife in 1907. A few years later, following his wife’s death, DeMange sold the classical revival building to the university. Ever since, students say the house is haunted by a “lady in red”: Mrs. DeMange herself. On certain nights, she is said to appear in a large mirror.
Suburban sprawl may have destroyed this historic schoolhouse along Shoe Factory Road in northwestern Cook County, Illinois, but not even bulldozers can erase its strange legacy.
For many years, a unique stone building sat nestled between woods and farm fields along a quiet rural road in the far northwest corner of Cook County, Illinois. One day, the family who rented the building—an old schoolhouse that had been converted into a residence—moved out. Then the bulldozers came. Pavement, manicured lawns, McMansions, and “water retention areas” slowly replaced fields and streams a few miles down from the building along Shoe Factory Road.
Suburban families moved into this new subdivision. Traffic increased along the road, which was the only access to the outside world for its residents. Occasionally, their children passed the strange looking house—the only one of its kind they had ever seen—on their way to and from errands or on trips to explore the area around their new home.
“What was that place?” they wondered. Why was it abandoned? Had a gruesome crime occurred there? Some of the kids began to break in and explore the building, unaware that local residents had already begun a campaign to save the old schoolhouse and one of the last remaining links to a fast-vanishing rural past.
This is the story of the Charles A. Lindbergh School—a story that begins in 1929 and ends with a decade long battle for its preservation, rumors of ghosts and murders, and its ultimate demolition to make way for yet another subdivision at the height of the nation’s housing bubble. It was a classic struggle between tradition and modernity, character and sameness, all swirling around youthful transgressions and an attempt by local teens to alleviate boredom through destructive storytelling.
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