Illinois

St. James of the Sag Church and Cemetery’s Phantom Monks

St. James of the Sag Church and Cemetery, abbreviated as St. James-Sag, sits on a bluff overlooking the juncture of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and the Calumet Sag Channel in southwest suburban Chicago, Illinois. Two roads, Archer Avenue (Route 171) and 107th Street also converge at this point. It is the tip of a heavily forested triangle in between Palos Hills to the east and Lemont to the southwest.

The area has a long history. According to Richard T. Crowe, there is evidence that French explorers used the bluff as an observation post as early as the 1690s, and before that, Amerindians camped there and may have lived nearby.

The church and cemetery also have distant origins. One burial can be traced to 1818, but the graveyard began to be heavily used in the 1830s when Father St. Cyr built a log chapel to accommodate the spiritual needs of the Irish canal workers. St. James-Sag was in fact the second Catholic house of worship founded in the Chicagoland area. The limestone building that exists today was built in 1850.

As the geographic focal point of the area, St. James-Sag also happens to be the supernatural focal point, if you believe the stories. In her book Chicago Haunts (1998), Ursula Bielski claims that phantom monks have been seen at the location since at least 1847.

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Twin Sister’s Woods’ Unlikely Phantoms

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.

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Jacob Henry Mansion in Joliet, Illinois

The Jacob Henry Mansion’s striking red exterior, ornate white trim, and slate roof is a stunning example of Renaissance Revival architecture, the finest in Illinois by some estimations.

Built in 1873 by Jacob A. Henry, the mansion interior is 16,800 square feet, with over 40 rooms constructed of black walnut and oak. The foyer features a hand-carved, walnut staircase.

In 1976, the mansion won the Architecture Award at the American Centennial Celebration in Philadelphia.

Jacob A. Henry was born in New Jersey in 1825 and became employed with the Hartford & New Haven Railroad at the age of 17. Just four years later, he moved to the Midwest to secure railroad construction contracts there.

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Mysterious Munger Road

Like Barrington’s Cuba Road, Munger Road in Wayne, Illinois sits at the periphery of the Chicago suburbs and has attracted many strange legends. The road itself penetrates deep into Pratts Wayne Woods and until recently was remote and not very well traveled. Rumors of abandoned houses and occult practices abound. Motorists have also reported being chased by a wolf with glowing red eyes as well as a vanishing Oldsmobile.

Perhaps the most famous legend centers on the now-defunct railroad tracks that intersect with Munger. The legend is a familiar one: three children pushed a baby carriage across the tracks just in time to save it from a passing train. Unfortunately, the children were killed. Today, if your car happens to stall on the tracks, phantom hands will push it to safety. While that is a common rural legend, a train did in fact derail nearby.

According to a former forest preserve employee interviewed by author Ursula Bielski for her book Chicago Haunts 3, an old abandoned house also sat north of the railroad tracks. Its owners left after a fire, and vandals and curious teens moved in. Naturally, they claimed the house was inhabited by Satan worshippers. The house was demolished in 2000.

“There was a hole in the floor where a fire had ruined the house for its inhabitants…” the forest preserve employee said. “There were numerous signs of vandalism and the discarded packages of masks and things which someone had used in a lame attempt to scare someone else.” He described the house as being two stories, white, and surrounded by large oak trees.

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Cahokia Mounds Tell an Ancient Tale

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is located near Collinsville, Illinois, around eight miles east of St. Louis. The site consists of over a dozen prehistoric mounds constructed by a vanished culture around the time Leif Ericson’s longships landed in Vinland. The mounds were built by a group of people identified by anthropologists as belonging to the Mississippian Culture. Not much is known about them, other than the artifacts and earthen structures they left behind.

The most prominent is Monk’s Mound. Monk’s Mound was the largest earthen structure north of central Mexico at the time of its construction. “Begun around A.D. 900 and completed 300 years later,” Gene S. Stuart wrote in his book America’s Ancient Cities (1988). “It has 4 terraces; rises 100 feet; covers some 16 acres with a base measuring approximately 700 by 1,080 feet, and contains about 22 million cubic feet of earth.” A large building sat at the summit of the mound.

The mounds were a part of a large city, which reached the height of its power between 1000 and 1200 A.D. A stockade surrounded the central structures at the site, which the residents rebuilt several times. There is no evidence of a battle at the location and it’s unknown whether the city had any enemies.

Cahokia stood at the hub of a network of “mound communities,” which would have reinforced its role as a trade center along with its place at the juncture of the Mississippi, Illinois, and Missouri Rivers. It maintained that position for several hundred years before the site was mysteriously abandoned around 1400 A.D. In comparison, the city of St. Louis has been in existence for a little over 200 years.

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Lost Souls of Decatur’s Greenwood Cemetery

Greenwood Cemetery is rumored to be one of the most haunted locations in central Illinois. According to Troy Taylor, a popular author on haunted locations in the Midwest, the land that would become Greenwood was originally an American Indian burial ground, and was later used by the first white settlers to bury their dead until the late 1830s.

These graves have since disappeared. The oldest visible marker on the grounds dates to 1840, and Greenwood Cemetery was officially established in 1857. Between 1900 and 1926, the cemetery was the premier location to be buried in Decatur, but by the end of the ‘30s the cemetery association ran out of money and the grounds were barely maintained.

In 1957, the city of Decatur took over ownership of the cemetery to save it, but they estimated that repairs would cost around $100,000. Volunteers gathered, and after much effort, the cemetery was restored. Vandals plagued the grounds, however, and rumors circulated regarding ghost lights and eerie sounds that emanated from the old public mausoleum.

To control who went in and out of the cemetery, the city sealed two of the three entrances and closed a road that ran through the woods west of the cemetery.

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