Mysterious America

Abandoned America: Prisons and Asylums

Visiting a former prison or asylum is an eerie experience, knowing you are free to explore where hundreds were once trapped. Has so much suffering and loneliness left something intangible behind?

Most people avoid ending up in a prison or asylum, opting instead to experience it vicariously through television, movies, or books. When these institutions close, there’s not much that can be done with them. Some local communities, however, have figured out how they can profit from public curiosity by offering tours and events. It’s a unique experience, and thousands flock to see the empty corridors. Here are just a few of the former prisons and asylums I’ve visited over the years. Not all are open to the public, but most are.

Joliet Correctional Center

The former Joliet Correctional Center at 1125 Collins Street in Joliet, Illinois opened in 1858 and was originally called the Illinois State Penitentiary, Joliet. It was built using distinctive, locally quarried yellow limestone. It closed in 2002, but not before being used as a backdrop in several films, most notably The Blues Brothers (1980). It sat abandoned for many years, until being purchased by the city in 2017 and opened for tours. Ursula Bielski recently wrote a book about the institution called The Haunting of Joliet Prison.


Stories in Stone: Before Their Time

Loving parents with means have often left behind lifelike statues dedicated to children taken before their time.

Death is always painful, but the death of a child is particularly tragic. While memories of their brief time on this earth are cherished, it is often the unfulfilled future we mourn the most. Whenever possible, their devoted parents have gone to great lengths to memorialize and preserve the memory of their dearly departed. The following are just seven of the most touching funerary sculptures I’ve seen on my travels.

Louis Ernest Mieusset (1881-1886)

Memorial to Louis Ernest Mieusset (1881-1886), son of Louise Helluin Mieusset, who designed fashionable hats for Boston’s elites, in Forest Hills Cemetery, at 95 Forest Hills Avenue in Boston, Massachusetts. She paid for this hauntingly lifelike white marble statue of her son sitting in a boat with all his favorite toys with money she saved for his schooling, leaving her grief stricken and penniless in her old age. According to popular lore, Louis drowned in Jamaica Pond, but some researchers maintain he actually died of scarlet fever.

Mysterious America

America’s Haunted Roads

An isolated stretch of pavement where not even high beams penetrate the darkness is ready-made for ghost stories.

Sharp curves, a canopy of trees, isolated homes set far back from the road: it’s enough to rattle the spine of the most sober driver. Ghostly children, phantom automobiles, vanishing hitchhikers, bloody brides, and even a headless horse are just some of the denizens alleged to wander these highways. Travel them …if you dare.

Knock-Knock Road

Ghostly children are almost always creepy, but they are especially so when they appear in unexpected places. This is the case along Strasburg Road in economically ravaged Detroit, Michigan. For years, travelers along this road have reported the unusual sound of a young child rapping on their car doors and windows as they pass. According to legend, an adolescent girl was riding her bicycle in the neighborhood when she lost control and rolled into the busy street. She was struck and killed.

Today, her ghost knocks on the windows and doors of passing motorists, trying to get their attention. Another version of the legend, however, tells of a car full of teenagers who crashed their car into a pole and slowly burned to death. Trapped inside the burning vehicle, they pounded on the windows, desperately trying to alert people to their plight.

Historic America Photography

Stories in Stone: Men of Valor

Cemetery visitors often pass by the graves of Civil War veterans without a second thought. Here are just a few of their stories.

Fought from 1861 to 1865, the American Civil War was the bloodiest war in U.S. history. It ended with Northern victory and restoration of the Union. Nearly 850,000 people died in the conflict, with millions more veterans carrying the scars of war for the remainder of their lives. Today, their graves are nestled among the rows of tombstones in cemeteries across the United States. Their stories of valor cry out to be told.

Brig. Gen. Elisha Gaylord Marshall (1829-1883)

Monument to Brig. Gen. Elisha Gaylord Marshall (1829-1883) in Mount Hope Cemetery, 1133 Mount Hope Avenue, Rochester, Monroe County, New York. E.G. Marshall graduated from West Point in 1850 and was colonel of the 13th New York Volunteer Infantry during the Battle of Fredericksburg and was captured at the Battle of the Crater, June 30, 1864.

Historic America Photography

Stories in Stone: John D. Rockefeller

John Davison Rockefeller, Sr. (1839–1937) was an industrialist considered to be the richest American and richest person in modern history. He founded the Standard Oil Company and once controlled 90 percent of all oil in the United States, with a peak net worth of $900 million (around $420 billion today). In retrospect, his obelisk in Cleveland, Ohio’s Lake View Cemetery seems like a humble monument. In his personal life, he was a devout Baptist and teetotaler who married Laura Celestia “Cettie” Spelman, an abolitionist, in 1864. He also founded the University of Chicago and Rockefeller University.

Historic America Photography

Historic Cemeteries in the Midwest

These majestic rural cemeteries are a who’s-who of the Midwest’s historic and influential personalities.

From captains of industry, to former presidents, storied military figures, inventors, and artists, Midwestern cemeteries are filled with former residents who made outsized contributions to American history. Many of these cemeteries are considered historic in their own right, owing to their art and architecture.

Bohemian National Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois

Bohemian National Cemetery, at 5255 N. Pulaski Road in Chicago, Illinois, was created in 1877 by Chicago’s ethnic Czech community, and has since expanded to 126 acres. Approximately 120,000 of the city’s former residents are buried here, including victims of the SS Eastland shipwreck. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.

Mysterious America

America’s Haunted Houses

These storied homes are valued for their architecture or their role in historical events, but many visitors and residents report that something otherworldly lingers…

Lizzie Borden House

The Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum in Fall River, Massachusetts was the scene of a gruesome unsolved double murder, perhaps among the most infamous in the U.S. Thirty-two-year-old Lizzy Borden became the chief suspect, but she was acquitted at trial. Today it’s open for tours and overnight stays.

The Franklin Castle

Built between 1881-1883, Franklin Castle (or the Tiedemann House as it is more properly known) is located in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood. It is rumored to be home to more than a few tortured souls left over from a series of gruesome murders – but are any of those stories true? Only a few people have been allowed inside its wrought iron gates to know for sure.