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Mysterious America

Avon Theater

One of Decatur, Illinois’ many historic theaters, the Avon Theater opened in 1916 and predominantly catered to the new motion picture craze. Its interior was the largest and most elaborately decorated in Decatur. Renovations and a brief closure in the 1950s removed most of its glamour, however, and by 1986 it was abandoned. Luckily, in the mid-1990s, a group of entrepreneurs purchased the theater and again opened it for business.

After its re-opening, the staff began to experience strange events that included hearing laughter, footsteps, and applause after hours. Items would also appear and disappear. Staff members have also seen the apparition of Gus Constan, who owned the Avon during the 1960s. Theater patrons have also described feeling as though they were pushed or had bumped into something unseen.

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Mysterious America Photography

Culver House

Culver House, 412 W. Prairie Avenue in Decatur, Illinois, a beautiful redbrick Queen Ann style home, took 20 years to be built. John and Florence Culver began construction in 1881 and it wasn’t finished until 1901. John H. Culver was a prominent local businessman who owned an electric and telephone company. Shortly after his family moved in, it experienced an frightening event when a dark figure emerged from the fireplace. This unsettling apparition appeared during a spate of sightings of a “black ghost” in the area. Ever since, the house has a reputation for being haunted. The Historic Decatur Foundation has worked hard to restore it to its former glory.

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Mysterious America

Peck Cemetery’s Restless Residents

Peck Cemetery in rural Macon County, Illinois is yet another of those cemeteries that developed a bad reputation in the 1970s and has since been rehabilitated. The cemetery itself is of the typical rural stock, formerly hidden in a wood at the end of a gravel road in the middle of nowhere. Things have changed a little in recent years.

People I have talked to who remember when the cemetery was at the height of its reputation tell me that the area has been dramatically transformed. Houses dot the pothole-filled road. The gravel path to the cemetery is now a driveway. “Beware of dogs” and “no trespassing” signs are prominently displayed. Passersby would never guess that Peck Cemetery is only about fifty yards away.

Troy Taylor has done much to publicize this place, but stories have circulated the Internet for years. One photo purportedly shows a dark figure standing among the headstones.

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Mysterious America

Millikin University’s Rail Girl and Other Tales

Like many colleges, Decatur’s Millikin University is home to a bevvy of campus legends, some of which are based on historic tragedies.

Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois began its career with great fanfare. Named after the man who bankrolled the school, James Millikin, it opened in 1903 and was dedicated by Teddy Roosevelt. Classes begin on September 15 of that year. Its numerous ghost stories have their origins early in its history.

One story, involving the light of a long-deceased railroad crossing watchman named Tommy, has been told on campus since the 1930s. The old gymnasium, now used primarily as a storage area, is the scene of echoes from days gone by. According to Troy Taylor, students have heard the sounds of sports being played while alone in the abandoned gym.

Many students believe the ghost of a woman named Bernice Richardson haunts Ashton Hall, Millikin University’s oldest all-female dorm. Richardson killed herself by drinking carbonic acid in her bedroom on February 1, 1927.

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Mysterious America

Lost Souls of Decatur’s Greenwood Cemetery

The undulating hills in this direful urban oasis conceal a number of strange tales.

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.

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Appearances

The Conclusion of the “Heartland is Haunted” Book Tour!

I am finally back home from the “Heartland is Haunted” book tour, and what a success it was! On the final day of the tour, I stopped over at the Book Warehouse in Tuscola before heading over to the main event, a retelling of folklore and ghost stories of central Illinois at Peck Cemetery outside of Oakley, just northeast of Decatur. Peck has long attracted negative attention in the area and this event was held to raise money to help restore the cemetery and prevent further vandalism and desecration. About 70 people attended and showed their support. Moreover, I sold out of every single copy of my book Haunting Illinois that I brought on the tour!

I would like to thank everyone who made my first book tour such a success, including Carl Jones of Lincolnland College, Becky Guymon for putting together the Coles County events last weekend, Sharilyn Kibler-Russell, Gretchen & Lisa from Barnes and Noble in Champaign, Jim Heater of CHIPS, the staff at the Camargo Township Library, Catherine Novak of Beads N Botanicals, Cameron Crosby for his photography, and especially Angie Johnson for putting together the headline event! I could not have done this without any of you, and I am eternally grateful – but I also cannot forget to thank everyone who attended the events as well. I met a lot of great people along the way and I hope I made a few more fans!