As we at the Legends and Lore of Illinois know, the Prairie State is a very creepy place! Haunted cemeteries, colleges, abandoned hospitals, roads, forests, and schools abound. But what are the most creepy places in Illinois? After much debate, we are happy to bring you the first in a series of “top 10″ places to visit if you are looking for a good scare – the Top 10 Creepiest Places in Illinois:
10. Peoria Public Library
According to legend, the Peoria Public Library is built on cursed ground and is occupied by as many as a dozen different ghosts. Back in 1830, Mrs. Andrew Gray, a prominent Peoria citizen, lived in a house on Monroe Avenue. After her brother died, she gained custody of her nephew, who was always getting into trouble with the law. In time, he required the services of a lawyer named David Davis, who took out a mortgage on Mrs. Gray’s home as security. When the bill came due, Davis sued to foreclose on the home and collect his money. Mrs. Gray was enraged. She evicted her worthless nephew, and shortly thereafter his lifeless body was found floating in the river. She then cursed the property and all its future owners. As it came to pass, misfortune befell anyone who occupied the house, including a former governor of Illinois.
In 1894, Peoria purchased the property and built a library. Contrary to some reports, the library was built next to Mrs. Gray’s home, not over it. Never-the-less, the first three library directors all died under unusual circumstances. In 1966, the original library was torn down and a new one built in its place, but the ghosts remained. Employees have reportedly heard their names being called while alone in the stacks, felt cold drafts, and even claimed to have seen the face of a former library director in the basement doorway.
On or around Lebanon Road are seven railroad bridges, some no longer in use. All of them are heavily coated in graffiti—a testament to their popularity for nighttime excursions. Local visitors have crafted a hellish tale around these seven bridges, which they dubbed the “Seven Gates to Hell.” The legend is that if someone were to drive through all seven bridges and enter the last one exactly at midnight, he or she would be transported to Hell. In some versions, the person entering the final tunnel must be a skeptic. In other versions, no tunnel can be driven through twice in order for the magic to work. Like Cuba Road in Barrington, an abandoned property near Lebanon Road has given rise to rumors of a “death house.” A closed road or driveway is alleged to lead to an old house in which a family was murdered. Moreover, a group of Satanists are said to sacrifice animals and children at the location.
8. Illinois College
Founded by Presbyterians in 1829, Illinois College is one of the oldest colleges in Illinois. Its first president was Edward Beecher, brother of Henry Ward Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe. With such a rich history, it comes as no surprise that Illinois College is rich in ghostlore too. Nearly every building on campus is thought to have a ghost or two. Like Millikin University, the female dorm at Illinois College, Ellis Hall, is haunted by a young woman who allegedly committed suicide there. A “gray ghost”—a faceless phantom at that—hangs out on the stairwell of Whipple Hall. Another gray ghost, this one dressed in a Confederate uniform from the Civil War, has been seen in Sturtevant Hall. Phantom footsteps have been heard in Beecher Hall, the oldest building on campus. It is rumored that early in the college’s history, medical students stole cadavers from nearby hospitals in order to learn about anatomy. After a while, the hall where the bodies were stored began to smell, and the student’s grisly enterprise was uncovered.
7. Massock Mausoleum
Spring Valley, Illinois
The Massock Mausoleum in tiny Lithuanian Liberty Cemetery has long been the focus of local curiosity. Visitors have brought back stories of a “hatchet man” that guards the graveyard. The mausoleum itself is said to be warm to the touch and the scene of animal sacrifice. Red paint is spattered on the door, which has been sealed with concrete ever since the late 1960s when two vandals stole a skull from one of the Massock brothers. The Massock brothers’ mansion was located in the woods nearby, but was torn down in the late 1980s. Local teenagers used to refer to it as the “Hatchet Man’s House.”
Rosemary Ellen Guiley, in her book The Complete Vampire Companion, related the story of several men who encountered a “gaunt, pale figure,” in the cemetery at night. Fearing for their lives, they shot at the figure and ran. Later, a reporter who had heard about the men’s strange encounter came to the cemetery and poured holy water into a vent in the mausoleum, which produced a groaning sound. Because of the attention this location receives, police routinely patrol the area.
Manteno State Hospital opened its doors in the early 1930s as construction on the sprawling hospital was still ongoing. Like Peoria (Bartonville) State Hospital, Manteno was laid out in a “cottage plan,” which meant that the patients were housed in a series of separate buildings rather than in one single institution. When it first opened, Manteno accommodated 6,620 total residents. Underground service tunnels linked all the buildings. In 1939, in an incident that Time magazine referred to as the “Manteno Madness,” 384 patients and staff came down with typhoid fever and more than 50 ultimately died.
Manteno State Hospital was later renamed the Manteno Mental Health Center and closed in 1985. The north side of campus became a veteran’s home. Other buildings were consolidated into the Illinois Diversatech Campus and rented to businesses. The main administration building became a bank. Despite public health concerns, a housing project called Fairway Oaks Estates was recently built at the location. Since the hospital’s closure, many people have visited its remains and have come away with strange stories. They have seen apparitions of patients and nurses, and have heard voices over the long-defunct intercom.
Lake Zurich, Illinois
Cuba Road sits nestled between the towns of Lake Zurich and Barrington, both upper and upper-middle class retreats. It is the setting of a plethora of paranormal phenomenon, including a phantom car (or cars), a pair of spectral lovers, and a vanishing house. A side street called Rainbow Road formerly had the distinction of being home to an abandoned mansion that some believed was an old asylum. Along Cuba Road sits White Cemetery, which author Scott Markus has referred to as the Bachelor’s Grove of the north-Chicago suburbs. This small, rectangular graveyard dates from the 1820s and its ghostlore concerns mysterious, hovering balls of light.
Greenwood Cemetery is rumored to be one of the most haunted locations in central Illinois. According to Troy Taylor, the land that would become Greenwood was originally an Amerindian burial ground, and then 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 back to 1840, and Greenwood Cemetery was officially established in 1857.
One of the most interesting stories at Greenwood concerns the ghosts of dead and dying Confederate prisoners who were dumped at the cemetery on their way to a prison camp and buried in the hillside under what is now a memorial to Union soldiers. Years later, heavy rain collapsed part of the hill, mixing the bodies together. The hill was repaired and the bodies reburied, but many believe their spirits were permanently disturbed. Another popular legend concerns the so-called “Greenwood Bride,” who wanders the grounds in her wedding dress searching for her fiancé, who was murdered by bootleggers. Greenwood Cemetery is also haunted by phantom funerals, ghost lights that flicker in the southeastern hills, and other, more sinister apparitions.
Cold Spring Township, Shelby County
Ridge Cemetery and Williamsburg Hill are notorious in the lore of central Illinois. The hill is the highest point in Shelby County and once sheltered a town, in addition to its cemetery. Williamsburg, as the town was known, was platted in 1839 by two men, Thomas Williams and William Horsman. Many Horsmans can be found buried in Ridge Cemetery to this very day. The town disappeared in the 1880s as the railroad bypassed its inconvenient location. The legends surrounding Ridge Cemetery involve occult rituals, spook lights, phantom funerals, and the ghost of an old man who disappears upon approach. Animal mutilations have also been reported in and around the cemetery.
2. Hickory Hill Plantation
Also known as the Crenshaw House or the Old Slave House, this mansion was built in 1838 by John Crenshaw and his brother Abraham. Crenshaw owned vast salt mines in Southern Illinois and was one of the wealthiest men in the entire state. He also owned over 740 slaves. Illinois entered the Union in 1818 with strict “black codes” on the books. The Illinois constitution prohibited the slave trade, but permitted those residents already holding slaves to keep their property. Visitors to Crenshaw’s plantation included Abraham Lincoln. Slaves were kept in cramped cells in the attic of the mansion.
As early as 1851, there were reports that the mansion was haunted. The German family who operated the estate between 1850 and 1864 reported hearing strange sounds coming from the attic. After the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, tourists began to come and visit Illinois’ only plantation. They heard phantom footsteps, voices, and singing. A legend spread that no one could spend the night in the attic. Many tried, but every last one was scared off before dawn. In the late 1920s, one “ghost hunter” is believed to have died after spending the night there. Today, the mansion is owned by the State of Illinois and closed to visitors.
Bachelor’s Grove has been a south side enigma for over three decades and is one of the most famous haunted cemeteries in America. Some say it was named after a group of single men who settled in the area around the 1830s, but a family named Batchelder owned the land. One of the most controversial sightings around Bachelor’s Grove involves a phantom house. In the 1970s, Richard T. Crowe collected stories from dozens of eyewitnesses who claimed to have seen a white farmhouse at various places in the woods alongside the trail, complete with a glowing light in the window. There are several foundations and old brick wells tucked away in the woods—evidence that there were homes nearby sometime in the past.
Another popular ghost is the White Lady, or Madonna, of Bachelor’s Grove, who is said to be searching for her lost infant. This ghost, or one very much like it, was supposedly captured on a now famous photograph taken using infrared film. The pond adjacent to the cemetery has its own share of legends. Stories say it was one of the hundreds of places scattered around Illinois where mobsters dumped their victims during the roaring ‘20s. A policeman reportedly saw the apparition of a horse, followed by a man and a plow, walk out of the pond and cross 143rd Street. The ghost is said to belong to a farmer who drowned in the pond when his horse decided to take a swim one day, pulling him under the murky water in the process.
Check out these places and more in Michael Kleen’s Haunting Illinois: A Tourist’s Guide to the Weird and Wild Places of the Prairie State! Haunting Illinois contains 200 mystery sites and 85 individual illustrations. In this book, Michael not only examines the sites, but also the hobbyists and professionals who have devoted their lives to exploring the strange and unusual in our great state. Divided among eight distinct regions and listed by county, each location features a description, directions, and sources drawn from a diverse variety of books and articles. Haunting Illinois challenges you to get off the couch and start exploring our wonderful State of Illinois. Go here to order!
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