Hunting Demons a Harrowing Look at the Dark Side

Hunting Demons: A True Story of the Dark Side of the Supernatural by Sylvia Shults was released by Whitechapel Productions Press in August 2015 in both print and digital formats. This survey of demonology is surprisingly human, combining both cultural and religious history with a compelling personal experience. The combination is unique and takes a skilled writer to execute. It is clunky at times, but helps provide context for an incredible tale.

Hunting Demons is 158 pages and informally divided into two parts. The first part examines the history of demons and Satanism in Western and Middle Eastern culture, and the second is a personal tale of a woman from central Illinois who believed demons were tormenting her.

The personal experience is primarily grounded in Catholic theology, although it begins with a paranormal investigation. Because of this, it may have been more helpful for the author to focus on demonology from a Catholic perspective, rather than a more general overview.

In her historical and cultural survey, Sylvia Shults looks at demons and satanism from early human history to the present day. She transitions from the dark side in contemporary TV shows to the evolution of religion and evil spirits.

While interesting, this history is non-linear and has several noticeable gaps. For example, Shults jumps from the Salem Witch Trials to Vatican II in the 1960s. In her chapter on satanic panics, she goes from the heresies of the Middle Ages to the cult scare of the 1980s.

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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.

Click to expand photos

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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Witch Balls and Hoodoo Balls in Illinois Folklore

When pioneers discovered strange balls in the stomach of their livestock, they reached for an age-old explanation: witchcraft.

Although witches were believed to bewitch by a variety of nonphysical means, occasionally they required physical aids to commit their maleficium. These included hardened spheres of animal hair called hoodoo balls or witch balls, as well as wreaths, birds, and other objects made from pillow feathers. Believers offered these items as physical proof of the existence of witchcraft.

In the early 1800s, on a place called Davis’ Prairie (also known as David’s Prairie) in Williamson County, Illinois, there lived a woman named Eva Locker, who was widely reputed to be a witch. Eva was notorious for her ability to steal milk from cows by hanging a towel over a rack or door and then, magically, wringing out the milk from the towel. According to folklorist John W. Allen, Eva also had the ability to kill cattle by shooting them with balls of hair.

Superstitious farmers found their beliefs justified when they dissected their deceased livestock and discovered these balls in their stomachs and digestive tracts. By the 1850s, however, the medical community had generally discerned a more mundane explanation.

In On the Nature and Treatment of the Diseases of Cattle (1859), Boston veterinarian George Dadd explained that some animals had a habit of licking themselves, which caused a large quantity of indigestible hair to accumulate in their stomachs. “These balls sometimes accumulate material until they are bigger than ordinary sized goose eggs,” he explained.

“It is not surprising that death ensues from the irritation of such an indigestible mass in the stomach of an ox or cow, and it is also not surprising that many deaths of cattle cannot be accounted for by their owners.”[1] Dadd noted that “not a few people at this day” believe witchcraft was the origin of the hairballs.

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EIU Memories: Roc’s Blackfront

It’s fashionable for bars and restaurants to claim some connection to the days of Prohibition, but Roc’s Blackfront Tavern & Grill, at 410 Sixth Street in Charleston, Illinois, is the real deal. It even has the memorabilia to prove it. In my senior and graduate school years at nearby Eastern Illinois University, I frequented Roc’s to have a drink with friends in a classier atmosphere than the usual college bars.

Roc’s ad in the Daily Eastern News, August 18, 2000.

That brick building, absent its black tile facade and martini glass-shaped neon sign, was originally built for the Charleston Courier newspaper office in 1841. Willis W. McClelland opened the Red Front Saloon there in 1917. As fate would have it, the Eighteenth Amendment banning the sale of alcohol in the United States passed in 1919. What were establishments like the Red Front Saloon to do? The saloon changed its name to McClelland’s Cafe and continued to clandestinely sell alcohol a short walk from the county courthouse.

Racing enthusiast Hank O’Day bought the speakeasy in 1931 and renamed it Hank O’Day’s Tavern after Prohibition’s repeal in 1933. Illegal activities continued, however. O’Day ran an underground casino in the room above the bar, complete with buzzer system to alert patrons of police raids. When owner Mike Knoop renovated in 1996, he discovered hidden gambling devices and paraphernalia, including total boards for horse racing and a roulette wheel that now hangs on the wall.

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Sugar Bowl Vintage Sign

Sugar Bowl Vintage Sign
The Sugar Bowl Restaurant, at 1494 Miner Street (U.S. Route 14) in Des Plaines, Illinois, was opened by Mr. and Mrs. Files as a soda fountain and candy store in 1921. They added a glorious neon sign in 1957.

It still retained some of its old features as a candy store when I visited as a kid in the late 1980s (I remember browsing the knickknacks and candy they sold), but owner Ted Vlahopoulos renovated the interior to look more like a traditional restaurant in 1997. Thankfully, Steve Morakalis and George Prassas kept this wonderful sign when they reopened it in 2009.

A Confrontation in Paris

How an effort to shut down a newspaper in Edgar County, Illinois led to one of the Civil War’s most violent home front riots.

In February 1864, the raging gunfire of the American Civil War echoed far from Edgar County, Illinois, yet the conflict seemed fearfully close to home. In the small east-central Illinois town of Paris, elements of the 12th and 66th Illinois Volunteer Regiments were on leave, visiting friends and relatives. “In a social way everything had been done to make their visit a pleasant one,” wrote the local Daily Beacon News, but not everyone welcomed the presence of the soldiers.[1]

Democrats opposed to the war and to the policies of the Lincoln Administration, known as copperheads by their critics, were afraid furloughed volunteers would force them to take loyalty oaths or attempt to shut down the newspaper office of the Paris Times, a Democratic periodical.

Earlier that month, Union soldiers had paid a visit to Amos Green, editor of the Times (and a “Jeff Davis patriot” according to some), after locals in the nearby town of Kansas had reported that between 100 and 150 armed “butternuts” were converging on Paris on his orders.[2] Under the watchful eyes of the soldiers, Green swore an oath and pledged a sum of money to prove his loyalty.

In the middle of February, a soldier named Milton York, scion of a local family known for its abolitionism and its support for the Republican Party, shot and seriously wounded an outspoken copperhead named Cooper. According to one account, the sheriff of Edgar County, William S. O’Hair, attempted to arrest the soldier, but one of York’s compatriots prevented him at the barrel of a rifle from doing so. According to the Mattoon Independent Gazette, York was eventually arrested, but the court released him on a technicality and he rejoined his regiment.[3]

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