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Aux Sable Cemetery’s Controversial Haunt

Aux Sable is a quaint, garden-like cemetery tucked in the woods near Aux Sable Creek in Grundy County. Despite an otherwise mundane existence, it continues to be a point of contention between local youth and law enforcement, with paranormal tourists caught in the middle.

The legends associated with the cemetery are of the usual stock: strange car trouble, the ghost of a young child, and rumors of a gate to Hell. Aux Sable has yet to appear in any books on Illinois ghostlore, but it has been discussed and debated at length on numerous websites.

According to History of Aux Sable Township and Villages by D.A. Henneberry, Aux Sable Township was a hunting ground for Pottawatomie Indians before Europeans arrived. The first white settler in the area was Salmon Rutherford, a notable figure in pioneer Illinois. He arrived in 1833 and established the settlement of Dresden.

The land around Aux Sable Creek provided fertile soil for farming, a bountiful harvest of timber, and a large population of wild bees, which supplied honey for the settlers. The honey was made into an alcoholic beverage called Metheglin (otherwise known as mead).

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A Visit to Haunted Milton Schoolhouse in Alton, Illinois

The Milton Schoolhouse in Alton, Illinois was constructed in 1904 and expanded in several stages until a gym and stage were finally added in 1937. The elementary school closed in the 1980s and became a glass factory. That too was abandoned and rumors of ghosts began to circulate about the old school, especially when it hosted a haunted attraction. Syfy Channel’s Ghost Hunters visited in 2010. Today, it is a business incubator home to a popular coffee shop. This winter, I toured the building with psychic-medium Chanda Crosby and interviewed her about her experience.

Rockford-Area Legends and Lore, Part 2

Nothing like some good ghost stories on these long winter nights. Here is part two of an old presentation on the legends and lore of Rockford, Illinois and surrounding areas at Tinker Swiss Cottage. Blood’s Point Road, Charles Guiteau, and the phantom lady of Kennedy Hill Road. I honestly don’t remember when this was recorded but it might have been in 2011.

Rockford-Area Legends and Lore, Part 1

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas! Nothing like some good ghost stories on these long winter nights. Here is part one of an old presentation on the legends and lore of Rockford, Illinois and surrounding areas at Tinker Swiss Cottage. The Emma Jones Home, Rockford College, the legend of Big Thunder, Nellie Dunton, and more. I honestly don’t remember when this was recorded but it might have been in 2011.

The Dreaded Witch Wreath

The following is an excerpt from my new book Witchcraft in Illinois: A Cultural History. Part Two explores beliefs about witchcraft, including a witch’s powers and abilities, which were surprisingly specific. Order it today on Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com

Witches also allegedly used wreaths, birds, and other figures made from pillow feathers to torment their victims. Night after night, believers imagined, the witch snuck into the victim’s bedroom, pulled a partially completed feather wreath from his or her pillow, carefully completed another section, and placed it back in the pillowcase.

As long as the figure remained embedded there, the victim suffered. Folklorist Harry Middleton Hyatt recorded over a dozen accounts of these feather fetishes among the German population of Adams County. In nearly every tale, the victim suffers from an illness for which doctors have no cure.

Only the timely intervention of a concerned individual, having knowledge of the existence of witchcraft, can save them. If the witch was allowed to complete this bizarre creation, the victim died.

“I think that if you find a wreath of feathers in your pillow, you have been hexed and will die if your wreath is finished; and if it is not, you won’t die until it is,” a 12-year-old German girl explained to Hyatt.

“My reasons are that I know a lady who had been hexed, and they opened her pillow and found a wreath that was not quite finished, and they left it there awhile; and in a week she died, and they opened her pillow and found that the wreath was finished.”

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Dug Hill Road and the Ghost of Marshal Welch

It was dark, and Rusty had been hauling cargo from Missouri to Illinois all day. He decided to take a shortcut up Route 146 from Cape Girardeau to Interstate 57, passing through Jonesboro and Anna along the way. The terrain became rough and hilly as he turned east and began to pass through a narrow strip of the Shawnee National Forest near Hamburg Hill. As his blurry eyes scanned the horizon for any sign of the nearing town, he almost missed the black shape laying on the asphalt. He slammed on his brakes.

Someone must be playing a prank, Rusty thought as he got out of his truck. He noticed through the glare of his headlights that the shape in the road was the body of a man, who wore an outfit that looked like it had come out of a spaghetti western. It was no joke, however. As he got closer, he saw blood oozing from several wounds in the crumpled body. Just then, a motorcycle screeched to a stop in the oncoming lane.

“Is everything all right?” the biker shouted.

By the time Rusty looked up at the newcomer and back at the road, the body was gone.

For more than a century, a ghost has haunted this lonely stretch of Route 146, formerly known as “Dug Hill Road,” in rustic Union County. Although sightings have become less frequent in recent years, the ghost of Provost Marshal Welch has earned an iconic place in the folklore of Southern Illinois. Like many of its kind, this ghost story preserves the memory of a real event, an event that took place at a traumatic time in the history of our state and our country. But the details of this event have become murky and distorted.

While Provost Marshal Welch was actually killed in 1863, every recent retelling of the tale places his murder in 1865. Also, at some point during the reprinting of the story, authors changed Route 146 to “Highway 126,” which has created a very confusing state of affairs for anyone wanting to visit the location. There is no Highway 126 anywhere in Union County. Complicating matters further, a quaint country lane off Route 146 is now the only feature in the area named “Dug Hill.”

The truth is that Marshal Welch was killed in the early spring of 1863 along what we now know as Illinois Route 146, a few miles west of Jonesboro past the tiny village of Berryville. The legend, however, is a different matter entirely. Storytellers generally agree that Welch died in an ambush during the waning days of the Civil War, but the details vary depending on who is doing the telling.

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The Melrose Park Witch

The following is an excerpt from my new book Witchcraft in Illinois: A Cultural History. The case of the “Melrose Park Witch” shows not only that witch beliefs were common in urban areas, but that witch doctors, or white witches, sometimes ran afoul of the law, despite good intentions. Order it today on Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com

The line between witch and witch doctor sometimes blurred. As the First World War raged overseas and Chicagoans prepared to celebrate Thanksgiving, a modern-day witch hunt threatened to erupt in the near-western suburb of Melrose Park. Incorporated along the Des Plaines River in 1882, the Village of Melrose Park was predominantly settled by Italian immigrants.

In 1915 and 1916, an elderly woman named Carmella Vosella became known as the “Melrose Park Witch,” though she insisted she was Christian and only used her powers for good. Carmella’s practice of selling old Italian charms and folk remedies came to light in a series of legal proceedings that had Melrose Park Police Chief Henry Pein vowing, “We are going to rid Melrose Park of witchcraft.”

On Saturday November 20, 1915, a man named Tony LaRocca appeared in a courtroom in the neighboring suburb of Oak Park to answer charges that he threatened Mrs. Carmella Vosella with a revolver. At the trial, LaRocca caused a sensation by claiming Carmella was a witch and “chaser of devils” who beat the devils out of their human hosts.

“All of which may be efficacious for devils, but inconvenient anatomically,” quipped the Chicago Daily Tribune. Following the trial, Dr. P.B. Klonks, Melrose Park board of health president, called the charges “bunk,” despite the insistence of LaRocca’s attorney, Clarence Baseler, to the contrary.

Not everyone in Melrose Park considered the accusations of witchcraft bunk. On the night of Tuesday, November 23rd, police arrested Carmella at her home on North 21st Avenue following interviews with her alleged victims conducted by Village Board President Charles J. Wolf and Chief Pein.

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Witches in Illinois Folklore

The following is an excerpt from my new book Witchcraft in Illinois: A Cultural History. In this chapter, I discuss popular legends involving witches and “witch graves” that sprang up in the later half of the nineteenth century. Order it today on Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com

No exploration of witchcraft in Illinois would be complete without discussing various witch legends in local folklore. A legend is a nonhistorical or unverifiable story handed down by tradition and popularly accepted as historical. This can include popular stories about certain individuals with purported magical powers. Many witch legends are centered on “witch graves,” which have became objects of legend tripping.

Legend tripping is the act of traveling to a site that is alleged to have been the scene of some tragic, horrific, and possibly supernatural event or haunting. Often performed at night, visitors go to test the validity of the legend—as well as their courage. Witch graves can also be places of veneration. Visitors take pictures and leave coins and other tokens of their sympathy.

According to local legend, witches are buried in at least four Illinois cemeteries, including Baker Cemetery in Crawford County, St. Omer Cemetery in Coles County, Chesterville Cemetery in Douglas County, and Whitaker/Methodist Church Cemetery in St. Clair County.

As legends, the backstories behind these burials are pseudohistorical, meaning it is likely the subjects were never suspected of being witches or may never have existed. In some cases, legends may have developed around certain graves simply because they were unusual or appeared “strange” or “creepy.”

An unusual family monument in St. Omer Cemetery, outside the small town of Ashmore in Coles County, for example, has spawned a legend that Caroline Barnes, one of four people buried under the large stone, was put to death in the 1800s for practicing witchcraft. It is said that no pictures can be taken of her monument, and that it glows on moonless nights. Made of granite, the Barnes family monument is shaped like a large orb resting atop a base of crisscrossed logs. Some visitors describe it as a crystal ball atop a pyre.

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