Compared to Chicagoland’s more notorious haunts, Evanston’s Calvary Cemetery is barely a footnote, yet it is not so obscure as to escape the pages of most books on Chicago and Illinois ghost lore. This picturesque resting ground along the shore of Lake Michigan is home to a tale too strange to resist even brief mention. It is the tale of “the Aviator,” or as he is sometimes affectionately known, “Seaweed Charlie.”
The Aviator’s ghost story appears in Ursula Bielski’s Chicago Haunts (1998), Jo-Anne Christensen’s Ghost Stories of Illinois (2000), Richard T. Crowe’s Chicago’s Street Guide to the Supernatural (2000, 2001), and Troy Taylor’s Haunted Illinois (2004).
Richard T. Crowe, as always, has done impeccable research on the tale and found its likely origin in a real event. Unlike most hauntings, that would make the story of Evanston’s “Aviator” grounded in historical fact as well as geography and folklore.
The story begins along Sheridan Road between Lake Michigan and the eastern gate of Calvary Cemetery. During the day, there is hardly ever a break in traffic and bicyclists and joggers navigate the winding path along the boulders overlooking the lake. It is a charming scene.
Willow Creek is an unassuming farm in rural Carroll County, Illinois, just outside the town of Shannon. In recent years, it has been the subject of at least a dozen different paranormal investigations, all of which have uncovered a treasure trove of mysterious phenomenon both of the visual and auditory variety.
The farmhouse itself is said to be haunted by at least seven ghosts or spirits. Since Albert Kelchner, its current owner, moved there in 2006 to get away from the big city, he has kept a careful record of all the unusual events that have happened in the past several years.
The farm has a long history, dating back to the 1830s when the Boardmans settled on the property. William and Mary Boardman came from England in 1835 and made their way to Rockford when the future city was merely a trading post along the wagon trail from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River.
In 1838, William staked out a claim in Section 10, Cherry Grove Township in Carroll County and built a log cabin. This log cabin was still standing in the 1920s. William then left to retrieve his family, who had stayed in Rockford. Unfortunately, a claim jumper got wind of William’s activities and rode ahead on horseback. He arrived in Dixon before William and stole part of the claim.
Nearly a half-century ago, the smoldering embers of a rural church gave birth to a legend—a legend that has since been passed down among the residents of Mason County, Illinois. The church’s former preacher, it is said, was buried in the nearby cemetery under a tree, where he could forever tend his flock. Anyone brave enough to walk to the back of the cemetery and knock on the tree would be treated to the sound of the preacher’s voice calling out from the grave.
Mason County was carved out of Tazewell County and established on January 20, 1841. According to Pioneers of Menard and Mason County (1902) by T.G. Onstott, the land around Bishop-Zion Cemetery was not settled until 1840, when a man named A. Winthrow built a cabin there. Peter Himmel, A. File, Henry Bishop, and Stephen Hedge followed.
There are at least two dozen descendants of Peter Himmel buried in Bishop-Zion Cemetery. Ultimately, however, the cemetery and nearby village came to be named after the Bishop family.
Henry Bishop, we are told by the Portrait & Biographical Record of Tazewell & Mason Counties, Illinois (1894), was brought by his parents from Hanover, Germany to St. Louis, before ultimately settling on pristine land in the heart of Mason County. According to the Portrait & Biographical Record, “He was a member of the Evangelical Association… and aided in building Zion Church.”
At the westernmost edge of Hickory Hills, Illinois along 95th Street lies an inconspicuous intersection allegedly haunted by some unusual phantoms. According to a variety of eyewitnesses, ghostly apparitions of equestrians on horseback have been spotted at the intersection of 95th and Kean Avenue near Hidden Pond Woods.
The Palos Trail winds its way through these woods between Rout 20 and Kean Avenue, and popular opinion holds that a number of horses and their riders have been killed trying to cross 95th Street. Today, the area is not as secluded as it was in the 1970s when motorists began to see the phantoms.
Subdivisions are now tightly bunched along the east side of Kean, marking the boundary of the park district, but on one particular night in 1979, a couple named Dennis and Sandy told Richard Crowe, the intersection was dark, remote, and shrouded in fog.
It would have been easy enough to fail to notice a living equestrian, but in a few dramatic moments the two narrowly avoided striking a ghostly procession of horses and riders that were illuminated by an eerie glow. Sandy described the figures as “glistening,” and told Crowe that she didn’t remember seeing their hooves touch the ground.
Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois began its career with great fanfare. Named after the man who bankrolled the school, James Millikin, it opened in 1903 and was dedicated by Teddy Roosevelt. Classes begin on September 15 of that year. Its numerous ghost stories have their origins early in its history.
One story, involving the light of a long-deceased railroad crossing watchman named Tommy, has been told on campus since the 1930s. The old gymnasium, now used primarily as a storage area, is the scene of echoes from days gone by. According to Troy Taylor, students have heard the sounds of sports being played while alone in the abandoned gym.
Many students believe the ghost of a woman named Bernice Richardson haunts Ashton Hall, Millikin University’s oldest all-female dorm. Richardson killed herself by drinking carbonic acid in her bedroom on February 1, 1927.
According to author Tom Ogden, “Her ghost appears only from the waist up. The apparition moves slowly from one end of the third floor to the other, going from room to room by passing through the walls. She also moves objects, makes belongings disappear and reappear, raps on the walls, and messes with the lights and doors.”
Paranormal tourism, or tourism driven by allegedly haunted places and high profile crimes, is a growing cottage industry, with places like the Villisca Ax Murder House raking in the dough for tours, overnight stays, and paranormal investigations. The Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum in Fall River, Massachusetts is another prominent example.
At 11:10 a.m. on August 4, 1892, Lizzy Borden, 32, yelled for the family maid, Bridget Sullivan, to quickly come downstairs. She discovered her father, Andrew, slumped over the sofa. His head had been bashed in. Abby, Lizzy’s stepmother, was found on the floor of an upstairs bedroom, her head and face smashed. Lizzy gave police strange and often conflicting information, and she quickly became the chief suspect.
Her New Bedford trial, beginning in June 1893, was a national sensation, widely reported in the newspapers. It took the jury 90 minutes to acquit her, and with her inheritance, she purchased a new home and lived there with her sister Emma.
Twin Sister’s Woods is located in Rockford, Illinois and is part of Twin Sister Hills Park—22.44 acres of recreational land complete with two baseball fields and three sled hills. It is a popular winter destination, when the snow is thick and area youths come out to careen down the hill slopes, but some locals claim this park is home to more sinister guests.
The woods, they say, has been the scene of several murders, hangings, and even a drowning. Add feelings of dread, disembodied voices, and mysterious figures and you have one of Rockford’s closely guarded secrets.
Twin Sister Hills Park is wedged between Keith Creek, 27th Street, and a shopping center called Rockford Plaza. To the south runs Charles Street. East High School—with its own resident phantoms—stands on the opposite side of that street.
Many of its students grew up sledding on Twin Sister Hills, and as they grew older, appropriated the nearby woods for less than family friendly activities. Twin Sister Woods is 8-acres enclosed on three sides by a fence on the west side of the park. An imposing willow tree, which is the focal point of several legends, sits at the entrance.