Mysterious America

The Strange Death of Andy Lanman

The following is an excerpt from my book Tales of Coles County, a collection of history, folklore, and true crime from one of the most interesting counties in Illinois. Order it in paperback or Kindle today.

At around 12:30 a.m. on Wednesday, February 23, 1977, 29-year-old Andy Lee Lanman was last seen leaving the house of Dr. Andrew Griffiths, a local dentist, on 18th Street in Charleston and getting into a car with several unidentified people, saying he was going to a party. He was wearing a green, military-style coat. Lanman, a senior theater major at Eastern Illinois University and student art teacher at Mattoon High School, belonged to a local family and served as a parachute rigger in the U.S. Air Force in Vietnam. He lived in an apartment building at 1624 University Drive in Charleston, was 5-feet 5-inches tall, weighing 150 pounds, with brown eyes and curly brown hair.

Harold Lanman reported his son missing on March 2, over one week after Andy allegedly got into an unidentified car and disappeared into the night. On March 5, Les Easter and Mike Lanman, Andy’s cousin, and their fraternity brothers from Sigma Pi led a wide-ranging search coordinated with local law enforcement involving two airplanes and a boat. After several days, the volunteers came up empty handed.

Then, at approximately 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, March 20, 1977, two hunters stumbled upon Andy’s body 150 to 200 feet from the road in tall grass near a wooded party spot known as “The Cellar” five miles south of Charleston between the Embarras River and 18th Street (S. Fourth Street Road). His green jacket was missing, and the only things in his pocket were a set of keys and a nickel. The Cellar was an old concrete storm cellar north of the intersection of 18th Street and E. County Road 420 N. Today it is on private property, but in the 1970s it played host to numerous keggers and wild parties.

Mysterious America Photography

Emma Jones Home

Emma Pauline Jones was a Norwegian immigrant who lived at this home (built in 1856) in Rockford, Illinois from the 1920s into the 1950s. Her husband Frank was often away on business, and she spent much of her time with her two beloved Dalmatians, Moxie and Channing. After her husband died in 1941, Emma—who was 66 years old—continued to live with her faithful dogs, but after they passed on, she began to descend into loneliness and dementia. She spent her twilight years sitting in a rocking chair, waiting for loved ones who would never return.

Emma finally sold her home and moved in with a relative, where she died in 1964. According to local legend, she returned to her house on North First Street in her afterlife. Owners of the home have reported strange noises, moving furniture, and even seeing the ghost of an elderly woman in the attic windows. One newlywed couple reported that an old woman appeared in their living room and asked what they were doing in her home, then vanished.

Mysterious America

The Ghost of Mary Hawkins and the Legend of Pemberton Hall

Sometimes Mary manifests herself as a prankster. Other times, she appears as a benevolent matriarch who makes sure doors are locked at night and warns “her girls” of trouble. But at all times, Mary Hawkins commands the respect and admiration of students at Eastern Illinois University, even 103 years after her death.

Jessica and Ashley sat in their dorm room, a cool autumn breeze blowing in from the window. A single lamp illuminated the room in a soft yellow glow, casting shadows of stuffed animals on the walls. Ashley sat on the floor with a tablet in her lap playing Angry Birds, her back resting against the bed. Jessica, her roommate, sat on her mattress curled in a pink Snuggie.

Without warning, a door down the hallway slammed shut, followed by the sound of something scraping across the old wooden floor. Jessica and Ashley jumped.

Ashley put down her tablet. “Oh my God, what was that?” she asked.

“Maybe it was Mary,” Jessica (or Jess for short) replied. Seeing her roommate’s puzzled expression, she continued. “You know this place is haunted, right?”

“Shut up.”

Mysterious America Photography

Powers-Jarvis Mansion

The Powers-Jarvis Mansion, 357 W. Decatur Street in Decatur, Illinois, is among the most unique in Decatur, from its red tiled roof, to its copper trim, leaded glass windows, and blond brick. Businessman Charles Powers, owner of the Hotel Orlando, built this 9,400 square feet Greek Revival home in 1909. The Bachrach family owned it from 1988 to 2005, when they sold it at auction. It was auctioned again in 2017. According to local author Troy Taylor, rumors of it being haunted began in the 1960s when it was abandoned. Passersby witnessed lights floating around inside or translucent figures in the windows. Later, some men staying in the house reported personal items went missing or their bed shook without explanation.

Mysterious America

Illinois’ Haunted Colleges

Every college has its traditions, and perhaps even a ghost story or two, but the following Illinois colleges rank high on the list when it comes to eerie campus legends and tales.

The first college in Illinois, McKendree University, was established in Lebanon in 1828. Since then, over 70 private and public four-year institutions dedicated to higher education have opened throughout the state. Each has its own history and traditions, traditions that often include a ghost story or two. Some colleges seem to have more than their fair share. Millikin University, Illinois College, Southern Illinois, Illinois State, and of course, the University of Illinois are just a few of the many with eerie campus legends and tales.

Illinois Wesleyan University

Illinois Wesleyan University was founded in Bloomington in 1850, but no buildings were constructed until six years later. Primarily focused on the liberal arts, it is partially supported by the United Methodist Church, but its administration is independent.

Several buildings on campus are believed to be haunted. International House (I-House) 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.

Historic America

Coles County Ghost Towns: Bachelorsville, Dog Town, and String Town

The following is an excerpt from my book Tales of Coles County, a collection of history, folklore, and true crime from one of the most interesting counties in Illinois. Order it in paperback or Kindle today.

Dog Town/Diona

Dog Town, on Clear Creek in Hutton Township, straddled Coles and Cumberland counties (Cumberland County separated from Coles in 1843) and was among Coles County’s earliest settlements, getting its nickname from the large number of dogs kept there. Among the first white children born in the county was a son of James Nees, a resident of Dog Town, in March 1827.

When Abraham Lincoln’s family first entered Coles County in 1830, they came through this quiet hamlet before ultimately settling west of Decatur. Nicholas McMorris was appointed its first postmaster on October 12, 1869.

According to The History of Coles County (1879), Dog Town was “an accidental collection of houses” with a store, post office, shops, and a Presbyterian church. It was also known as Diona. The L.D. Rothrock General Store, a two-story brick building with a meeting hall on the second floor, was erected in 1880. The post office closed in 1904.


Stories in Stone: Figures Behind Glass

White marble statues preserved behind glass are a unique find in any cemetery excursion.

Funerary art and sculpture is some of the most difficult to preserve. Often outside and exposed to the elements, time takes a toll on even the highest quality pieces. Thieves and vandals are also an unfortunately reality, leading some to encase memorials to their loved ones behind thick glass, hoping to preserve their memory for eternity. There’s something eerie about these serene sculptures frozen in time. Here are just a few I have seen on my travels.

Emily A. Woodruff Keep-Schley (1827-1900)

Lovely white marble statue for Emily A. Woodruff Keep-Schley (1827-1900) in Brookside Cemetery, Watertown, Jefferson County, New York. Emily’s first husband was Henry Keep (1818–1869), one-time president of the New York Central Railroad and then the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. Her second husband, William Schley (1823–1882), was a judge and lawyer.