Hospitals, perhaps more than any other building, witness the pains of human existence on a consistent basis. Birth, death, illness, despair, and even insanity are experienced by thousands of patients over many decades within their walls. Maybe this is why hospitals are some of the most haunted places in Illinois. But which is the most haunted of them all? At Mysterious Heartland, we have combed dozens of stories to bring you the top ten most haunted hospitals (past and present) in the state.
10. Sunnybrook Asylum (former)
In 1905, Jacob Beilhart moved his utopian commune known as the “Spirit Fruit Society” to a 90-acre site along Wooster Lake near the Chain O’Lakes. They valued hard work and free love as a road to salvation. Jacob died in 1908 and the group left after six more years at the farm. During the 1940s and ‘50s the property was converted into a health spa called Wooster Lake Health Resort. It was soon abandoned. “Urban explorers” took over the site and began to bring back stories about the abandoned camp. It became known as “Sunnybrook Asylum,” and visitors speculated that it closed down because the nurses went insane and burned the hospital down—patients and all. In 1995 the camp buildings really did burn down, and the site is currently being developed as a subdivision.
9. George A. Zeller Mental Health Center (former)
Originally known as the Zeller Zone, it was later renamed the George A. Zeller Mental Health Center after Dr. George Zeller, a former administrator of Peoria State Hospital. The hospital opened in 1965 and permanently closed in 2002. The Center consisted of ten buildings totaling over 250,000 square feet. It is currently being leased to Illinois Central College for $1/yr and called I.C.C. North Campus. According to some visitors, voices, noises, and apparitions have been seen and heard inside the buildings. Outside, the sounds of ambulance sirens and cars driving up to the entrance are sometimes heard.
8. St. Francis Medical Center
For more than 130 years, the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis have been caring for Peoria’s sick and infirm. Some say that a few of those dedicated women have remained at their posts long after passing from this world. The hospital began in 1877, when five Catholic nuns purchased a two-story framed house along the Illinois River to provide care for area residents. Today, their hospital has over 600 beds and employs more than 800 physicians. Over the years, patients and staff have reported encountering two nuns who appear to comfort the sick before mysteriously disappearing. No one knows who they were in life, but their presence is appreciated.
7. BroMenn Hospital (former)
This former hospital has a complicated history that no doubt contributes to its paranormal activity. Originally the Kelso Sanitarium, Mennonite Church leaders purchased that building in 1919 after their first hospital became overcrowded. The sanitarium was renamed Mennonite Hospital, and specialized in adult long-term care. In July 1984, Mennonite Hospital combined with two other area hospitals to create the BroMenn healthcare system. In 1998, the old Mennonite Hospital building was sold to a vacuum cleaner company called Electrolux. Something from its years as a hospital remained, however. Old photographs and writing on some of the walls left by former patients has not been removed. According to former employees, there is a haunted room on the 3rd floor. Odd noises, as well as the ever-present smell of death, prevent its use. This “death room” remains locked to this day. In 2011, Electrolux closed its office in Bloomington and moved to Charlotte, NC.
6. Cook County Insane Asylum (former)
Like many poor farms and mental hospitals in Illinois, the Cook County Poor Farm (and the asylum built upon it) had a tragic history. This tragedy spawned a diaspora of ghost stories as the modern City of Chicago spread around it and, eventually, over the site itself. The original poor farm, established in 1851, occupied over 150 acres. The Cook County Insane Asylum was built there in 1858 and housed nearly 600 patients by 1885. When much of the complex was finally demolished a century later, the real estate developer who purchased the land was shocked to discover that her construction crews were digging up bodies. Archaeologists conducted an excavation and discovered three cemeteries on the property. The bodies were removed and reburied in a 3-acre park now called Read-Dunning Memorial Park. The Chicago-Read Mental Health Center is also located on land formerly belonging to the poor farm. Residents of the area have told author Ursula Bielski about various ghostly encounters in the stores and other buildings constructed over the original poor farm property, including sightings of a specter of an elderly woman in a hospital gown.
The hospital began in 1885 as Bartonville State Hospital. No patients were ever housed or treated in that building, however, and it was torn down in 1897. The institution was rebuilt and reopened in 1902 with a new name and a new superintendent. Now called Peoria State Hospital, a progressive physician named Dr. George A. Zeller took over the facility and instituted new, more humane treatments for mental illness. During his tenure there, he recorded many stories of daily life, including some that were almost beyond belief.
The main story associated with the hospital concerns the unusual circumstances surrounding the death of one of the patients, A. Bookbinder. Dr. Zeller assigned Bookbinder to the hospital’s burial corps, and he performed his job admirably. Old Book, as he was sometimes called, mourned the passing of each and every person he helped inter in the cemetery. When Bookbinder died, Dr. Zeller wrote that four hundred staff and patients observed his ghost mourning at his own funeral just as he had for countless others while he was alive. They even opened the coffin to confirm that Old Book was really dead. His corpse was securely inside.
4. St. Anthony’s Health Center
St. Anthony’s Health Center began in 1925 when five Sisters of St. Francis traveled from Germany to America and settled in Alton to establish a hospital there. After raising donations, they purchased the Nazareth Home, a combination orphanage and infirmary, in 1925. This became the core of St. Anthony’s, with several additions over the next few decades. The physicians at St. Anthony’s are independent practitioners and not directly employed by the hospital. At least three ghosts are alleged to roam its halls. One is a small boy on the third floor who has been spotted in the administrative area. Another is the ghost of a former member of the order of nuns in residence at the hospital, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George. She has been seen wandering the third floor near the sterile processing department. Finally, another more mysterious figure has appeared on the second floor.
3. Choate Mental Health Center
The Choate Mental Health Center was originally called the Southern Hospital for the Insane. It was built in 1869 and opened in 1875. A fire destroyed a wing of the main building (called Kirkbride after the doctor who designed it) in 1881, and another fire destroyed a large section of the hospital in 1895. Tunnels connect the various buildings. The hospital has been rumored to be haunted for many years. Visitors and passersby have witnessed apparitions, figures, and faces in the windows. One popular story recounts that a “devil dog” attacked a patient in his room at night. When orderlies turned on the lights, they found scratches all over his body. The tunnels below the buildings are also supposed to be very haunted, and at least one person who went down there felt like he was touched by something unseen.
2. Manteno State Hospital
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.
1. Elgin State Hospital
Now called the Elgin Mental Health Center, the Northern Illinois Hospital and Asylum for the Insane (as it was originally known) received its first patient on April 3, 1872. A contributing factor to the hospital’s notoriety is the fact that it has long housed patients considered criminally insane. The hospital received its first criminal patient who was “not guilty by reason of insanity” in 1873. It became known as Elgin State Hospital on January 1, 1910. In 1929, the Illinois State Psychopathic Institute relocated to the grounds of Elgin State. According to the Illinois Department of Human Services, the hospital is primarily used to care for patients who have been found “not guilty by reason of insanity,” and those persons found “unfit to stand trial,” but who are required by Illinois law to remain confined in a mental hospital for a period of time. Despite the danger of arrest, urban explorers used to trespass in the older, unused buildings (most of which have been torn down) and came back with stories of strange sounds, moving shadows, screams, flashing lights, and blood stained walls. Former patients and staff report feelings of being watched and claim that the hospital is a terrifying place to be at night.
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! Three years in the making, the 3rd edition of Hunting Illinois is your ticket to adventure in your own backyard. This edition contains 60 new listings and 35 new pictures, for a total of 260 haunted or mysterious locations and more than 120 photos and illustrations. Divided into eight distinct regions and listed by county and town or neighborhood, each location features a description, directions, and sources from a wide variety of books, articles, and websites. 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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