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Mysterious America

America’s Haunted Roads

An isolated stretch of pavement where not even high beams penetrate the darkness is ready-made for ghost stories.

Sharp curves, a canopy of trees, isolated homes set far back from the road: it’s enough to rattle the spine of the most sober driver. Ghostly children, phantom automobiles, vanishing hitchhikers, bloody brides, and even a headless horse are just some of the denizens alleged to wander these highways. Travel them …if you dare.

Knock-Knock Road

Ghostly children are almost always creepy, but they are especially so when they appear in unexpected places. This is the case along Strasburg Road in economically ravaged Detroit, Michigan. For years, travelers along this road have reported the unusual sound of a young child rapping on their car doors and windows as they pass. According to legend, an adolescent girl was riding her bicycle in the neighborhood when she lost control and rolled into the busy street. She was struck and killed.

Today, her ghost knocks on the windows and doors of passing motorists, trying to get their attention. Another version of the legend, however, tells of a car full of teenagers who crashed their car into a pole and slowly burned to death. Trapped inside the burning vehicle, they pounded on the windows, desperately trying to alert people to their plight.

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Mysterious America

Does ‘Will’ Put the ‘Woooo’ in Will Rogers Theatre?

The following is an excerpt from my book Tales of Coles County, a collection of history, folklore, and true crime from one of the most interesting counties in Illinois. Order it in paperback or Kindle today.

Built in 1938 at a cost of $90,000 in Art Deco style, the Will Rogers Theatre has been a fixture of downtown Charleston for generations. It was named after William ‘Will’ Rogers, a world-famous actor, humorist, and columnist of the Progressive Era who died in a plane crash in 1935. During the 1980s, Kerasotes Theaters divided the 1,100-seat auditorium and began showing movies on two separate screens. The Will Rogers was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, and designated a Landmark Property by the City of Charleston in 2011.

Like many theaters, there are rumors it is haunted. Since at least the 1990s, employees have encountered strange sounds and surreal events they attributed to a ghost aptly named “Will.” Will, however, is just a convenient moniker.

There are several stories behind the identity of this ghost, but no one knows for certain. According to Will Sailor, a former theater employee, the ghost is that of a man who died in the Charleston Riot. Lucas Thomas, who worked at the theater from 1996 to 2000, told the JG-TC that he heard it was the ghost of a projectionist who died of a heart attack in the projector room.

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Mysterious America

Western Illinois University and the Ghosts of Simpkins Hall

For years, students and faculty in Western Illinois University’s Simpkins Hall have told similar stories, but the ghost of an adolescent girl is only one of the apparitions rumored to haunt the 80-year-old building.

Imagine you are a student going off to college for the first time. At home, you gave a sigh of relief as you opened your acceptance letter. Now, you are ready to put childhood behind you as you tuck your English lit textbook under your arm and enter one of the three arched doorways to Simpkins Hall, a stark, neoclassical building rising four stories with rows of windows cut along its face. Your footsteps echo in the foyer as you climb the stairwell to the first floor. Where are the other students? Florescent lights flicker on and off. Without warning, the laughter of a young child echoes down the dark corridor.

For years, students and faculty in Western Illinois University’s Simpkins Hall have told similar stories, but the ghost of an adolescent girl—so seemingly out of place—is only one of the apparitions rumored to haunt the 80-year-old building. Many other odd occurrences at the hall are attributed to “Harold,” a former janitor or graduate assistant who lurks among the classrooms on the third floor.

After classes finish for the day, the disembodied sound of keys jingling, doors opening and closing, or a typewriter clicking, rattle the nerves of even the most seasoned educator. Never-the-less, tales of encounters with the ghost of Harold and the phantom child have made believers of some, but many in this ivory tower remain skeptical.

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Mysterious America

North America’s Haunted Hotels

From the smallest bed & breakfast to luxurious five-star resorts, nearly every hotel is believed to have an uninvited guest or two.

With their storied history, famous guests, and romantic atmosphere, hotels attract quite a number of legends and ghostly tales. From the smallest bed & breakfast to luxurious five-star resorts, nearly all of them are believed to have an uninvited guest or two. The following are just a few of the more interesting I have stayed at over the years. Have you ever spent the night in a haunted hotel? Leave your story in the comments below!

Copper Queen

Rising above the colorful tapestry of tightly clustered homes and businesses blanketing the Mule Mountains in southeastern Arizona, the Copper Queen Hotel stands as a gilded monument. For over 100 years, it has served as a social anchor for the former mining town of old Bisbee. I first stayed at the Copper Queen Hotel in 2009 while visiting friends from Phoenix. I heard rumors it was haunted, but it wasn’t until I returned a few years later that I discover just how much. In the interim, the hotel had published its logbook of ghostly encounters from 2000 to 2008, and the book contains many interesting gems.

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Mysterious America

Is the Marshall-Tycer House Haunted by a Cousin of Abraham Lincoln?

The following is an excerpt from my book Tales of Coles County, a collection of history, folklore, and true crime from one of the most interesting counties in Illinois. Order it in paperback or Kindle today.

Dennis Friend Hanks (1799-1892), a distant cousin of Abraham Lincoln, once owned this property and a log cabin near the corner of Jackson Avenue and 2nd Street in Charleston. Hanks was a businessman who, among other things, was a cobbler and ran an inn and gristmill. He died at his daughter’s house in Paris, Illinois in 1892 after being hit by a wagon.

Col. Thomas Alexander Marshall, Jr. (1817-1873) was a lawyer, politician, and another Lincoln friend. He built a stately Italianate home on Hanks’ former property in 1853. During the 1960s and ‘70s, his house at 218 Jackson Avenue was widely reputed to be haunted by the ghost of Dennis Hanks.

In addition to playing host to Lincoln and his circle, it’s rumored the house was used to hide runaway slaves. Its basement contained a dungeon-like room with barred windows and what looked like 12 fasteners to hold shackles.

In 1965, Eastern Illinois University English professor Dr. Marie Neville Tycer (1920-1970) and her husband Forster purchased the home, renovated it, and opened it as the Tycer House Museum. They lived there for five years, furnished it with antiques, and allowed groups to tour the historic home.

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Mysterious America

German Church Road and the Grimes Sisters Tragedy

When the frozen, nude bodies of teenagers Barbara and Patricia Grimes were discovered along a remote roadside in 1957, it ignited one of Chicagoland’s most famous mysteries. But was it murder?

German Church is a nondescript avenue running between Willow Springs Road and County Line Road, just a half-mile north of Healing Waters Park. The area is sparsely populated and two streams, Flag and Devil’s Creek, gently wind their way through the nearby woods. During the 1950s, not very many people had a reason to venture out to that particular edge of Cook County, but it was along an isolated stretch of German Church Road near Devil’s Creek on a cold day in January 1957 when a passing motorist discovered the remains of Barbara and Patricia Grimes.

The two sisters had been missing for three weeks before a Hinsdale man named Leonard Prescott noticed their nude bodies lying on the outside of the guard rail just before the culvert leading down to Devil’s Creek. Upon identifying the girl’s remains, their father, a truck driver named Joseph, exclaimed, “I tried to tell the police my daughters didn’t run away, but they wouldn’t listen to me.”

It was the end of a long and exhaustive search, but only the beginning of a case that would shock and fascinate Chicago for decades to come. Many writers have declared that moment to be the end of innocence, but it was, in fact, only one in a series of similar incidents stretching back a decade.

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Mysterious America

The Lafayette Avenue Ghost

The following is an excerpt from my book Tales of Coles County, a collection of history, folklore, and true crime from one of the most interesting counties in Illinois. Order it in paperback or Kindle today.

In the winter of 1907-1908, a black-shrouded ghost startled residents of Mattoon’s west side. It began in December 1907 (formerly a time of year when ghost stories were popular) when residents noticed a diminutive figure dressed head-to-toe in a woman’s dress or gown, face covered with a hood, appear on the south side of Lafayette Avenue near 23rd Street around 7:00 p.m.

At least three times a week for several weeks, the figure walked west to 24th Street and back before vanishing as mysteriously as it appeared. Then, as now, this was a sparsely-populated neighborhood north of the Peoria, Decatur, & Evansville Railroad.

In the Journal Gazette, one man described being followed by the ghost, which emerged from the shadows behind a tree late at night. “I walked about fifty feet past Twenty-third street on the south of side of Lafayette avenue, when the ghost, or whatever it is, stepped out from the shadow of a tree and followed close after me as far as Twenty-fourth street, where it turned around and went back again,” he said. Others who were followed claimed the ghost never came within 20 feet.