Der Rathskeller Neon Sign

Der Rathskeller Neon Sign
Neon sign for Der Rathskeller, 1132 Auburn Street in Rockford, Illinois. Fred Goetz opened Der Rathskeller, Rockford’s only German-American restaurant, in 1931. It offers an outdoor beer garden and romantic, candle-lit basement dining. Yes, it’s also supposed to be haunted. According to Haunted Rockford, Illinois by Kathi Kresol, many employees believe Fred still hangs around, making adjustments to place settings after hours and playing little pranks to make sure they know he’s still around.
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Student Housing Comes with Ghosts at Illinois Wesleyan University

Several restless spirits are believed to play host at two residence halls and one fraternity house.

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A group of 30 civic and religious leaders founded Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington in 1850, and construction began six years later. The United Methodist Church partially supports it, but its administration is secular. Its students, primarily focused on the liberal arts, believe several buildings (both on and off campus) are haunted. Fitting, since the university’s namesake, theologian John Wesley, held a strong belief in ghosts after experiencing poltergeist activity in his childhood home.

Bucking traditional dorms, Illinois Wesleyan University has repurposed several local homes to use as student housing. When the lights are low and leaves turn shades of orange and yellow, students whisper that they may share International House and Adams Hall with specters of long-deceased residents.

Also known as Kemp Hall, International House (I-House), at 1207 N. Main Street, 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.

Adams Hall, at 1401 N. Main Street at the corner of Beecher and Main, is thought to be home to three ghosts, each named Frances. One is a middle-aged woman who died in a carriage accident, the other a young girl, and the third and old lady. The sound of footsteps and a rocking chair have been heard. On another occasion, residents heard incessant ringing throughout the hall, even after they disconnected all the phones.

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Haunted Hoosier Trails Sets a Standard for Folklore

First published by Guild Press Emmis Publishing in 2002, Haunted Hoosier Trails: A Guide to Indiana’s Famous Folklore Spooky Sites by Wanda Lou Willis has quickly become a genre classic. Everything, from the paper it’s printed on, to its layout, maps, and illustrations, is of the highest quality. It is (to put it bluntly) a beautiful book, but it is the stories within that are most important.

Willis does a wonderful job retelling ghost stories and legends from all over the Hoosier State. Like the rest of the book, the quality of writing is superb—clean, and polished. The only things this book lacks are proper citations and an index. Otherwise, it should be the standard that authors in this genre seek to emulate.

The tales in Haunted Hoosier Trails are organized by region and county. Willis divides Indiana into three regions: North, Central, and South. A short history introduces each county, and each location or story is given one or two pages—just enough to explain the background and strange happenings without losing the reader’s interest. In fact, an incredible 78 tales are featured in this 180 page book, but none of them feel rushed or incomplete.

A map pinpointing their exact location accompanies many of the tales. Unlike the poor quality maps featured in other books in this genre, the maps included in Haunted Hoosier Trails are clean and easy to read. They were created by the book’s illustrator, Steven D. Armour. Armour’s ink sketches are a wonderful addition to the book and come at the beginning of each section. They illustrate a handful of that region’s most notable stories.

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Springer Opera House’s Restless Spirits

The Springer Opera House, at 103 E 10th Street in downtown Columbus, a few blocks from the Chattahoochee River, is Georgia’s oldest and most famous theater. It’s unassuming exterior conceals the elegance within. Patrons love attending its world-class plays and musicals, but some see more than they bargained for, as Springer is also believed to be home to several ghosts.

Francis Joseph Springer, a German immigrant and prosperous grocer from the Alsace region of France, opened the Springer Opera House on February 21, 1871. During construction, a worker named John Prince died when a scaffold fell and struck his head. A second balcony, hotel rooms, restaurants, and office space were added in 1900. It was a jewel of the Georgia stage for decades, until the growing popularity of motion pictures compelled it to transition to a movie theater.

Hard times hit downtown Columbus in the 1950s, and Springer closed in 1958. It stood vacant for five years until a determined group of citizens saved it from the wrecking ball. The Springer Opera House once again opened its doors for live performances in 1965 and has continued to operate ever since. Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter named it State Theatre of Georgia in 1971.

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Positive Interests Stem from Folklore and Ghost Stories

An interest in folklore and ghost stories encourages reading, travel, interest in history and historical preservation, and tourism.

We often hear of negativity surrounding places associated with legends and lore: vandalism, trespassing, breaking and entering, drug use and underage drinking. The media loves to associate criminal activity with amateur ghost hunting, such as the break in at Ness Church in Litchfield, Minnesota.

Interest in folklore, ghost stories, and legend tripping, however, can have many positive effects. Those subjects can be (and usually are) a gateway to developing interests in other areas. These areas include, but are not limited to:

  • Reading
  • Travel
  • History
  • Preservation
  • Tourism

Reading: Reading was my first introduction to ghost stories. When I was a kid, I devoured every book I could find on the subject and spent countless hours at the library as a result. While there are plenty of reality TV shows devoted to the paranormal these days, literature is still the primary means of preserving and transmitting ghost stories. A child should be encouraged to pursue his or her interest in legends and lore through reading.

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Haunted Williamsburg Ghost Tour

Experience Colonial Williamsburg by lantern light in this eerie tour offering something for the whole family.

As fall approaches, my wife and I are eager to get out, enjoy the nice weather, and kick off the Halloween season. The Haunted Williamsburg tour in Williamsburg, Virginia came highly recommended. I’ve been on dozens of haunted tours all over North America, so I was keen on seeing if this one lived up to the hype.

Haunted Williamsburg is the “official” ghost tour offered by Colonial Williamsburg, and the only haunted tour to allow access to the town’s historic buildings and museums. We went on the 75-minute tour at 7pm. Our guide dressed in 18th Century colonial attire and carried a lantern as he took us to about a half dozen locations around the Palace Green.

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Illinois’ Decade of Lost Legends

Over the past ten to fifteen years, Illinois has lost nearly a dozen historic (and allegedly haunted) places to development and disaster. Some, like Alonzi’s Villa in Brookfield, the Lindbergh School on Shoe Factory Road in Hoffman Estates, and Sacred Heart Chapel at Barat College in Lake Forest, were destroyed to make way for real estate development. Others, like Sunset Haven outside Carbondale, were destroyed to erase the building (and its notorious reputation) from public memory.

The Lindbergh School on Shoe Factory Road in Hoffman Estates was genuinely a historic landmark known for its unique architecture and its significance to local history, regardless of its ghost stories. For years, preservationists tried desperately to save the building from the chopping block. Unfortunately, in 2007, bulldozers knocked it down to make way for yet another subdivision, just before the housing bubble burst and real estate values plummeted.

Sunset Haven, located on the periphery of Carbondale, Illinois and owned by Southern Illinois University, was a longtime destination for legend tripping in southern Illinois. It was originally the Jackson County Poor Farm almshouse became known as Sunset Haven during the 1940s when it was converted into a nursing home. The nursing home closed in 1957 and Southern Illinois University purchased the property to expand its agricultural program. Around October 26, 2013, a crew from SIU demolished Sunset Haven, leaving nothing but a cement foundation.

White Hall at Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, Illinois was demolished in 2015. Chanute Air Force Base opened in July 1917. After its closure in 1993, much of the base was divided into residential and commercial properties, but most of the core buildings remain abandoned. Inevitably, local kids exploring the abandoned parts of the base began to bring home unusual stories, particularly regarding White Hall. The building was ruled an environmental hazard and too costly to renovate.

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