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.”
Many years ago, as lightning flashed and storm clouds swirled overhead, a young unwed mother—driven mad by the pain of abandonment, regret, and the fear of being ostracized—hurled her week-old baby boy over the trestles of this rural bridge into the swirling water below. Ever since, passersby have heard the spine-tingling cries of a baby struggling to breathe. Or so the story goes.
This one-lane, steel bridge spanning Cedar Creek three miles northwest of Monmouth, Illinois in Warren County is one of many christened a “cry baby bridge” because of its alleged connection to an incident like the one just described. Another popular story told is that an elementary school bus plunged off the side of the bridge during a flood. All the children drowned, but should your car break down while crossing the bridge, their ghosts will push it safely to the other side.
Because of these stories, otherwise mundane rural bridges have become the focus of intense local curiosity. Ohio alone has at least 24 nearly identical legends. Few residents of Monmouth have never heard of their cry baby bridge.
Charisma, 27, had her own interesting encounter as a friend and she tested the legend. “I grew up in Monmouth, living there most of my life, and of course had heard all of the stories about crybaby bridge,” she said. “A few years ago, I met someone who had just moved to town and we got to talking about the bridge and all of the ‘happenings’ out there. Both being quite skeptical because it sounds a lot like an urban legend, we decided to check it out one day.
Archer Woods Cemetery in Justice, Illinois sits near Chicagoland’s infamous Archer Avenue and shares many similarities with the more infamous Resurrection Cemetery. Both feature a tavern across the street, and both host the ghost of a woman in white. Some researchers believe this is no accident―that the two locations are inexorably linked in the beyond.
Ursula Bielski is one of the few credible folklorists to have examined this site in detail. As she pointed out in Chicago Haunts (1998), Archer Woods is easily passed over in favor of the more famous haunts that dot the area.
In the past, she assured her readers, Archer Woods Cemetery was one of the most notorious of the local cemeteries as a result of its resident specter, a lonely, sobbing woman. Like the sobbing woman of Bachelor’s Grove, it is likely that this spirit is in search of a lost child or lover. These apparitions are so common that they warranted their own category in Trent Brandon’s Book of Ghosts (2003).
According to Brandon, the sobbing woman of Archer Woods Cemetery is known as a “Broken Heart” because “the feelings of guilt have become so overwhelming that this ghost believes that it must suffer forever to make up for her child’s fate.”
Chanute Air Force Base opened in Rantoul, Illinois in July 1917 and was a vital part of the local economy for nearly 76 years. After its closure in 1993, the base was divided into residential and commercial properties, but many buildings remain abandoned. The Chanute Air Museum (closed in 2015) moved into one of the old hangers, and its website offered an illustrated retrospective of the base’s history. Inevitably, local kids exploring the abandoned parts of the base in the past few years have begun to bring home unusual stories.
Chanute Field, as the facility was originally known, opened as a result of the First World War. When the United States entered the war in 1917, our fleet of military aircraft was woefully inadequate. The War Department quickly allocated funds to open the Field and begin training an air corps. After the war, Congress bought the land around Chanute Field and authorized construction of nine steel hangers. Fires plagued the original base, since many of the buildings were made of wood.
Between 1938 and 1941, as the United States began modernizing its military, a “renaissance” occurred at Chanute. Buildings such as a headquarters, hospital, fire station, water tower, gymnasium, and even a theater were installed. The Works Progress Administration provided everything necessary for a permanent air corps to be stationed there.
At the outbreak of World War 2, thousands of new recruits flooded the base. According to the Chanute Air Museum website, the number of trainees at Chanute Field reached a peak of 25,000 in January 1943. After the war, however, the facilities deteriorated and the base gained a negative reputation. It became a joke in the Air Force that if someone needed to be punished, “Don’t shoot ‘em, Chanute ‘em.”
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.