Located between the town of Christopher and the village of Buckner in rural Franklin County, Illinois, Harrison Cemetery is home to two luminous phantoms, as well as haunting, ethereal tones. If you can get past the glowing ghosts of a man and a woman who are said to guard the cemetery, you will discover a small monument in the form of a piano. Although locked in stone, this unique headstone is said to be the source of the ghostly music.
Harrison Cemetery has served area residents for over 120 years and is named after one of the first families to settle Browning Township. The History of Gallatin, Saline, Hamilton, Franklin and Williamson Counties listed A. [Andrew] U. Harrison among the township’s early settlers, most of whom arrived in the same year Illinois became a state: 1818.
Both Andrew Harrison and his wife Elizabeth are interred in the cemetery. They died in 1845 and 1846, respectively, but Harrison Cemetery was not officially chartered until 1907.
The village of Buckner grew up along the Illinois Central rail during the 1910s and flourished due to its proximity to a large United Coal Mining Company plant that churned out 4,000 tons of coal per day.43 Workers at the plant and from the nearby mines converged on Buckner after their shifts.
Until the mid-1950s, people who could not take care of themselves; orphans, the elderly and infirm, epileptics, and alcoholics, often found themselves on a county farm known as a “poor farm.” A superintendent and his family looked after the residents while they earned their keep by farming the land or performing other useful tasks, if able.
These institutions closed when our modern welfare system came into maturity. The land was sold and the buildings were often turned into psychiatric hospitals or homes for the developmentally disabled. Sometimes poorly managed, and not very profitable, those institutions frequently closed their doors and were taken over by vandals and thrill seekers. Sunset Haven, or “Building 207” as it became known, was one such place.
The Jackson County Poor Farm (its original name) has a somewhat unique history. According to Troy Taylor’s Haunted Illinois (2004), it became known as Sunset Haven during the 1940s before it was converted into a nursing home. It was finally closed in 1957 when Southern Illinois University purchased the property to expand its agricultural program. It then became known as the Museum Research Corporation.
During the 1970s, the research corporation tried to locate all the unmarked graves of the dead that had been buried during Sunset Haven’s years as a poor farm. The graves are supposedly located in a grove of trees behind the building.
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.
The following is an excerpt from my new book Witchcraft in Illinois: A Cultural History. In this chapter I discuss folk magic, or popular charms and conjurations similar to witchcraft, intended to bring good fortune to oneself and suffering to an enemy. Order it today on Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com
The work of folklorist Harry Middleton Hyatt revealed that there were, quite possibly, three types of aspiring magic users on the Illinois frontier. While witches were people who purportedly sold their soul to the devil in exchange for occult powers, and witch masters used magic to combat witches, there also existed a third category: the common person, who attempted to use magic to gain advantage over his or her neighbors.
In the course of interviewing residents of Adams County about their beliefs regarding witchcraft, dozens of informants from all backgrounds told Hyatt how to influence people and events through magical means, without the aid of an emissary.
These accounts included simple superstitions like “If you have not seen anyone for a long time, take their picture and put it behind the looking-glass and they will come soon,” as well as more elaborate rituals and potions. For example, “If you want to put a spell on someone, take a bottle and put a penny in it and two live cockroaches, and put it on their doorstep so the party will have to pick it up. And you will have a spell over them as long as they have the bottle in their hand.”
Though closely resembling the magic allegedly used by witches and witch masters/doctors, users did not consider themselves to be either, much like a person who rotates his or her own car tires does not consider him or herself to be a mechanic.
If these informants are to be believed, a rich subculture of folk magic existed in Adams County. The lack of this folk magic in other folklore accounts could mean that Adams County was somehow unique among other counties in Illinois, or it could mean folklorists like John W. Allen and Charles Neely did not record them. Legends & Lore of Southern Illinois (1963) only hinted at these beliefs.
“I almost wept as the spectra placed
The head back into the sack;
Clop, clop… the headless rider
moved on.” –Neil Tracy “The Legend of Lakey”
LaKey Creek drains the farmland northwest of McLeansboro, Illinois and heads south, eventually joining the north fork of the Saline River in rural Hamilton County. From there, the Saline River grows more robust, until it ultimately empties into the Ohio River on the eastern side of the Shawnee National Forest. The creek would have been a strategic place for any early setter of McLeansboro Township. Unfortunately for Mr. Lakey, who would lend his name to the creek, the picturesque tract of land he picked for a homestead was also his place of death. For it was with his life that he purchased the immortality of having both a creek and a local legend associated with his name.
Not long after the death of Lakey, two travelers reportedly were chased by a fearsome black steed, upon which sat a headless rider. The horseman menaced them until they crossed the creek, at which point the phantom turned downstream and disappeared.
The headless horseman of Lakey’s Creek is quite possibly one of the oldest ghost stories in Illinois. Passed down as an oral tradition until John W. Allen put the story on paper in 1963, the mysterious man named Lakey, as well as his untimely end, has been immortalized in the folklore of Southern Illinois. Like Jonesboro’s legend of Dug Hill and Provost Marshal Welch, this story may also be preserving the memory of an unsettling event in local history.
Long before a concrete bridge spanned the shallow creek 1.5 miles east of McLeansboro along Route 14, folklorists say, a frontiersman named Lakey attempted to erect his log cabin near a ford along the wagon trail to Mt. Vernon. His task was nearly completed when he felled an oak tree to make boards for his roof. The next morning, a lone traveler stumbled upon Lakey’s bloody body. Lakey’s head had been severed by his own ax, which was left embedded in the stump of the oak. According to legend, his murderer was never found.
But the story doesn’t end there.
A few weeks ago, Keith Gilbert of the Volunteer News interviewed me for an article about Sunset Haven near Carbondale. Somehow it escaped my notice until today!
October 7, 2010
The leaves are beginning to change, days are getting shorter, and there’s something bewitching in the air. Halloween is rapidly approaching, and many will find thrill in stories of the strange or unexplained. Many will also find thrill in traversing “haunts” around the region. One of the most talked about haunts around our region is known as “the old insane asylum” located in Carbondale…
Micheal Kleen, author and historian, specializes in Southern Illinois folklore and legends… “Southern Illinois is a fascinating place because it has such a long history compared to the rest of the state. Some of the oldest ghost stories in Illinois come from that region, and we are lucky to have had several excellent folklorists who documented them in the 1930s and 1950s,” says Kleen.