Tragedy and Lore of Death Curve

Less than a mile outside of Cambridge, Illinois sits Timber Ridge Road. As motorists travel west along Timber Ridge, they encounter a sharp curve marked by a Mulberry tree and an old, rustic fence that divides two cornfields. This bucolic scene hides a dark history, a history that few would remember if it were not for the ghost stories.

In 1896, Julia Johnson married a man named Clarence B. Markham, and the young couple settled on a farm in Andover Township outside of Cambridge. In nine years of marriage, Julia Markham gave birth to seven children, an average of one every 15 months. There were four girls and three boys, aged from between five months to eight and a half years.

On the morning of Saturday September 30, 1905, while her husband labored in a neighboring field, Mrs. Markham, to quote the Cambridge Chronicle, “committed one of the most dastardly deeds that has ever occurred in Henry County.”

At around 11 o’clock, Julia sent her two eldest children to a nearby spring to retrieve water. While they were gone, she took an ax and swung it at the heads of her five youngest, killing them instantly. When her eldest returned, she dealt with them the same way.

Julia had carefully planned the massacre and tried to commit suicide afterward, but the knife that she used to cut her throat was too dull. Wounded, she laid her children out on a bed and doused them with coal oil. She lit the oil on fire and the entire house went up in flames.

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Ridge Cemetery and Mysterious Williamsburg Hill

Williamsburg Hill is the highest point in Shelby County, Illinois and is accessible by 1100 E, a road that horseshoes around the tiny community of Cold Spring. Visitors can pick up 1100 E just west of Tower Hill on Route 16, and it will lead them straight to the hill and its cemetery. Due to its unsavory reputation, this is a place many locals avoid.

As far as I can tell, Troy Taylor was the first person to write extensively on the strange legends of Ridge Cemetery and Williamsburg Hill. He included them in a number of books, including Haunted Illinois (2001), Haunted Decatur Revisited (2000), and Beyond the Grave (2001).

As Taylor explained, the hill that Ridge Cemetery occupies once also sheltered a town, one of the many that sprung up and disappeared in nineteenth-century Illinois. Williamsburg, as it was known, was platted in 1839 by two men, Thomas Williams and William Horsman. Many Horsmans can be found buried in Ridge Cemetery to this very day. The village disappeared in the 1880s as the railroad bypassed its inconvenient location.

The legends surrounding Ridge Cemetery involve occult rituals, spook lights, and the ghost of an old man who disappears upon approach. “There is little evidence to suggest these stories are true,” Taylor wrote, “but once such rumors get started, they are hard to stop.”

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Ramsey Cemetery’s Harrowing Casbah

Southern Illinois has a far more diverse topography than the rest of the state. Situated at the gateway to Little Egypt, Ramsey Cemetery in Effingham County is no exception. Its claim to fame is the nearby “caves” or rock shelters. Formed by thousands of years of erosion, generations of local residents have carved their names and proclamations of love into the sandstone walls.

Back in 2002, the Shadowlands Index of Haunted Places labeled it “Kazbar Cemetery.” The entry described it as an “old cemetery that has haunted caves.” Eschewing details, it added, “a were wolf and a man in a black coat with red eyes is said to be seen there. Many weird things have happened there.” Kazbar, or Casbah, seems to be a local place name.

Chad Lewis and Terry Fisk uncovered more information for The Illinois Road Guide to Haunted Locations (2007).

One story they uncovered was the tale of a young man who allegedly committed suicide in Ramsey Cemetery. According to Lewis and Fisk, a small chapel existed on the cemetery grounds for the benefit of mourners from the 1920s until the 1960s when it was torn down due to vandalism.

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A Quick and Dirty Guide to Cuba Road

Cuba Road has received some attention from writers of ghost lore. Two of the original and most authoritative writers on Chicagoland ghosts, Richard T. Crowe in Chicago’s Street Guide to the Supernatural (2001), and Ursula Bielski in More Chicago Haunts (2000), have selections of work on it. Scott Marcus devoted an entire chapter to the road in his book Voices from the Chicago Grave (2008).

Cuba Road sits nestled between the towns of Lake Zurich and Barrington, both upper and upper-middle class retreats. The main portion of the road runs between Route 12 and Route 14. Its legends are numerous. White Cemetery, located on the eastern half of the road, has its spook lights.

The avenue itself hosts a phantom car (or cars), a pair of spectral lovers, and a vanishing house. Rainbow Road, a side street, formerly had the distinction of being home to an abandoned mansion or farmhouse that some believed was an old asylum.

White Cemetery is usually the focal point of this lore. The small, rectangular graveyard is said to date from the 1820s, undoubtedly a local family plot at the time of its establishment. Mysterious, hovering balls of light are most often associated with White Cemetery, but other unusual occurrences have been described as well.

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Queen’s University’s Haunted Halls

Queen’s University at Kingston, Ontario was founded by the Church of Scotland as Queen’s College in October 1841. Queen’s is one of Canada’s oldest degree-granting institutions, predating the country itself by 26 years. With such a long history, rich traditions, and fabled architecture, the university was bound to pick up a ghost or two. Nearly every building on campus has its stories.

It was originally a theological seminary, with a mission toward “the education of youth in the principles of Christian religion and instruction in the various branches in science and literature,” but secularized in 1912. In 1853, it settled in a limestone manor called Summerhill, which remains at the heart of campus.

The institution was not financially stable in its early years and almost disbanded, however, it survived and thrived and today is home to over 24,000 students with an endowment of over $1 billion. During the mid-twentieth century, money from the National Research Council and Ontario Research Fund sparked a growth of research laboratories, including the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory.

During the First World War, Grant Hall served as a military hospital and many of its students left to serve in the war. After the war, Queen’s experienced a growth spurt, when a library, residence hall, and stadium were constructed. In 1969, the university purchased a 61-acre parcel of land, then a prison farm and quarry, less than two miles west of campus. The Kingston Penitentiary water tower still stands next to John Orr Tower apartment building, and a popular (but false) legend maintains it was used for hangings.

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Resurrection Mary: Chicagoland’s Most Famous Ghost

Resurrection Mary is undoubtedly Chicagoland’s most famous ghost, hitching rides from unsuspecting commuters in the southwest suburbs for decades. Folklorists and ghost enthusiasts alike claim that Mary’s story dates back to the 1930s, when the ghost of a burgeoning Polish girl was first seen along Archer Avenue near Resurrection Cemetery. According to Kenan Heise, who would later go on to write a novel about the ghost, “she is a minor cult, a shared belief and an initiation rite for teenagers. When you learn to drive… you test the myth’s reality.”

Richard Crowe originally popularized the story in the 1970s, when he began collecting firsthand accounts and theorized that the real- life Mary had perished in a car accident in the early 1930s. “Mary supposedly was killed in a car wreck 40 years ago, and she’s been coming back and going dancing ever since,” he remarked in a May 13, 1974 article in the Chicago Tribune. Later, he elaborated that the sightings usually occurred around 1:30am.

In July 1979, the Tribune published a letter that claimed the last time the ghost of Mary had been seen was in August 1976 or ‘77, by two policemen near the gate of Resurrection Cemetery. That anonymous writer was probably referring to the most intriguing event of all related to this saga: the night that Mary left physical evidence behind.

Although most accounts of the incident vaguely refer to a “man” or “someone” at “sometime” having seen a woman in white clasping the bars of the cemetery gate, Richard Crowe revealed that the man in question was none other than Pat Homa, a Justice police officer who had responded to a trespassing call the night of August 10, 1976 and discovered two of the bars burnt and bent irregularly, with what looked like finger impressions melted into the bronze.

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Shanley Hotel in Napanoch, New York

Built in 1895 and rumored to have been a brothel and speakeasy during Prohibition, the Shanley Hotel on Main Street in Napanoch, New York has gained a reputation for the unusual. Napanoch is a hamlet in Ulster County along Rondout Creek, which straddles the Catskill Mountains and the Hudson River Valley. James and Beatrice Shanley bought the hotel in 1906 and welcomed many prominent guests, including Thomas Edison and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Tragedy followed, however. All three Shanley children died as infants, as well as the hotel barber’s daughter and Beatrice’s sister, who died of influenza. James Shanley died in 1937. Sal Nicosia owned the hotel from 2005 to 2016, and his son Sal, Jr., has picked up the mantel. Since appearing on shows like Ghost Lab and Ghost Hunters, the Shanley Hotel has capitalized on the paranormal tourism market, offering special rates for paranormal investigations and marketing itself as a “haunted hotel.”

The hotel doesn’t have a website and appeared to be closed when I visited.

Further reading: