Isabella’s Spectral Form Chills Guests at Geneva’s Belhurst Castle

The ghost of an elegant opera singer is said to wander the grounds of this 19th-Century mansion in New York’s Finger Lakes.

Designed by architectural firm Fuller & Wheeler and built between 1885 and 1889 for Mrs. Carrie M. Young Harron Collins, Belhurst Castle is a Romanesque Revival-style mansion on Seneca Lake in Geneva, New York. The property has a long and colorful history, and is rumored to be haunted by several ghosts, including an opera singer named Isabella.

In 1824, an English lawyer named Joseph Fellows acquired rights to the property and built a home called the Hermitage, which he leased to a mysterious man named Henry Hall. “Henry Hall” was actually the assumed name of William Henry Bucke, who fled to the United States from London, where he had been treasurer of Covent Garden Theater. Bucke had embezzled theater funds and married his stepmother, who according to legend was an actress or opera singer named Isabella. Bucke died in 1852 of an untreated injury.

Harrison G. Otis purchased the property and named it ‘Bellehurst,’ or “beautiful forest”. The Otis family lived there until 1878, when it was taken over by the United States Trust Company. Local residents picnicked in “Otis Grove” in the shadow of the abandoned Hermitage, and spun yarns about escape tunnels William Henry Bucke/Henry Hall had built leading to Seneca Lake. The old house, they said, was haunted.

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Ghosts of Chicago Raised the Bar for Books of Chicago Ghostlore

Books about Illinois ghostlore have become a “copy and paste” industry, and literally dozens of paperbacks devoid of original content line the shelves. That cannot be said for The Ghosts of Chicago: The Windy City’s Most Famous Haunts by Adam Selzer. Published by Llewellyn Publications in 2013, The Ghosts of Chicago is a necessary addition to any collection of books on Chicago ghostlore. It retails for $18.50 and is 340 pages in length.

“Professional ghost hunter and historian Adam Selzer pieces together the truth behind Chicago’s ghosts, and brings to light dozens of never-before-told firsthand accounts,” the cover promises. Selzer delivers on this promise, not necessarily by adding new locations to our catalog of tales, but by greatly expanding our understanding of well-known stories. That is what makes The Ghosts of Chicago so great—it takes on a simple task and does it better than it has been done for nearly a decade.

Two examples of this are the chapters on Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery and Resurrection Mary. Both are obligatory inclusions in any book about Chicago ghostlore, and you would think not much more could be written about them. Selzer pushes the stories beyond their usual retelling, however.

In the chapter on Bachelor’s Grove, for example, he goes into detail about the famous “ghost photo” of the lady dressed in white sitting on a broken headstone. Unlike most other accounts, he explains the who, when, and how of the photograph—giving credit to the photographer and telling her story.

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Do Past Shadows Lurk at Historic Illinois College?

Nearly every building on campus is thought to have a ghost or two.

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Founded by Presbyterians in 1829, Illinois College in Jacksonville is one of the oldest colleges in Illinois. Its first president was Edward Beecher, brother of Henry Ward Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe. With such a rich history, it comes as no surprise that Illinois College is rich in ghostlore too. The female dorm at Illinois College, Ellis Hall, is allegedly haunted by a young woman who committed suicide. A “gray ghost”—and a faceless phantom at that—hangs out on the stairwell of Whipple Hall.

Another gray ghost, this one dressed in a Confederate uniform from the Civil War, has been seen in Sturtevant Hall. Phantom footsteps have been heard in Beecher Hall, the oldest building on campus. It is rumored that early in the college’s history, medical students stole cadavers from nearby hospitals in order to learn about anatomy. After a while, the hall where the bodies were stored began to smell, and the student’s grisly enterprise was uncovered.

Designed to accommodate 113 students, administrators at Illinois College named Ellis Hall after Rev. John M. Ellis. Ellis founded Illinois College in 1829. The residence hall was built in 1957, and the ghost of a young woman who committed suicide by hanging herself in the closet is rumored to haunt a room on the third floor. In truth, a young woman named Gail died in Room 303, but of a terminal illness. Still, residents believe her ghost opens and closes doors, hides personal items, and knocks on the walls.

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Pros and Cons of Paranormal Tourism

Despite positive news about allegedly haunted locations opening their doors for paranormal tours and events, the value of such tourism is still a hotly debated topic.

Over the years, there have been many stories of so-called “ghost hunters” trespassing and committing a variety of other crimes including vandalism, theft, arson, underage drinking, and even grave robbery. Because of the sensational nature of these incidents, local media loves to hype them up. It is undeniable that certain individuals have gone to allegedly haunted locations to commit mischief, and others use this fact to paint everyone interested in legend tripping with a wide brush. They argue the simple act of writing about an allegedly haunted location invites harm to it.

I believe that legends and lore can be a great way to create interest in Local history. Critics assume stories on the Internet draw negative attention to these places, when in fact, they are already well known in the local community. Many have already suffered vandalism long before the internet or personal computers became widely available. Many of these stories developed during the 1960s and ’70s when these locations were used as party spots for teenagers who went there to drink, take drugs, or hook up.

None of that, however, has anything to do with people who are interested in folklore and ghost stories. The individuals involved in these crimes use ghost stories as an excuse for delinquent behavior. Many allegedly haunted locations are remote and unsupervised, perfect locations for mischief, but they do not have to have anything to do with ghost stories to attract petty crime.

In 2009, three teenagers were arrested in South Side Cemetery in Pontiac, Illinois as they were seen trying to tip over a headstone. Days earlier, as many as 60 headstones had been damaged at the same location. This cemetery was not associated with any legends or ghost stories.

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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.

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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