In the lore of Coles County’s infamous Ashmore Estates, no tale stands out as much as the tragedy of Elva Skinner. In Michael Kleen’s book Tales of Coles County, Illinois, Elva – having died in the first almshouse on the property – appears in a short story as a ghost. Since then, she has captivated visitors to Ashmore Estates, yet few know the facts behind this girl and her tragically short life. Michele Watson-Baker joins us today for this exclusive look at Elva’s life, and death, at the Coles County Poor Farm, long before it became known as Ashmore Estates.
The Tragic Story of Elva Skinner
By Michele Watson-Baker
1880 Mortality Schedule. Family number 335, line 12, Elva Lowduskey Skinner, 4 years, 11 mos, 2 weeks.
Official records, emotionless and brief, do not hint at Elva’s short, trouble filled life.
Adam and Lucinda Skinner were married February 2nd, 1860. They welcomed Elva into the world on February 28th 1875.
Elva had a sister and a brother, Martha and Benjamin Skinner. At some point between 1875 and 1880, Adam Skinner, a Civil war Veteran, passed away, leaving the family penniless and bound for the Coles County Almshouse.
Monday, February 15th, 1880, Elva slept in. The others living in her quarters had gone downstairs, save for one other little girl. Elva awoke, and went to stand by the fire to dress. In the process, she got too close to the fire, her clothes caught, and she perished from her burns that day.
Two weeks after Elva’s death, Lucinda Skinner remarried to a man named John Sherman. Elva is listed twice on the Mortality schedule, once from the Almshouse, and once from Mr. Sherman’s household. Most likely, this was a marriage of convenience – to protect her children from life in the poor farm, after such a horrific and tragic accident.
Elva Skinner, in her short nearly 5 years, lost her father, became a poor farm inmate, and then gruesomely lost her life. Stories like this are never easy to tell, but history is worth writing about. Elva deserves to be remembered.
Special thanks to Alicia Woolridge Morgason for all her research and hard work, and to Tanya Kelley!
When not writing, Michele Watson Baker enjoys historical research, as well as paranormal research. She is the case manager and public relations liaison for Mid Illinois Ghost Society (MIGS), and volunteers at Ashmore Estates as much as she can.