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Echoes from the Past at Chanute Air Force Base

At the Legends and Lore of Illinois, we would like to celebrate this Memorial Day weekend by bringing you the story of Chanute Air Force Base, much of which has been abandoned in Rantoul, Illinois for twenty years. Our page devoted to Chanute is by far our most commented on, with over 280 comments by former service members sharing stories and locating old friends. We salute your service, and thank you for all your years of sacrifice to keep this country safe.

Chanute_Field_-_1939Chanute Air Force Base opened in Rantoul in July 1917 and was a vital part of the local economy for nearly 76 years. After its closure in 1993, much of the base was divided up into residential and commercial properties, but most of the core buildings remain abandoned. The Chanute Air Museum moved into one of the old hangers, and its website offers an illustrated retrospective of the base’s history. Inevitably, local kids exploring the abandoned parts of the base in the past few years have begun to bring home unusual stories.

Chanute Field, as the facility was originally known, opened as a result of the First World War. When the United States entered the war in 1917, our fleet of military aircraft was woefully inadequate. The War Department quickly allocated funds to open the Field and begin training an air corps. After the war, Congress bought the land around Chanute Field and authorized construction of nine steel hangers. Fires plagued the original base, since many of the buildings were made of wood.

Does an Officer's Ghost Haunt This Hall?

Does an Officer’s Ghost Haunt This Hall?

Between 1938 and 1941, as the United States began modernizing its military, a “renaissance” occurred at Chanute. Buildings such as a headquarters, hospital, fire station, water tower, gymnasium, and even a theater were installed. The Works Progress Administration provided everything necessary for a permanent air corps to be stationed there.

At the outbreak of World War 2, thousands of new recruits flooded the base. According to the Chanute Air Museum website, the number of trainees at Chanute Field reached a peak of 25,000 in January 1943. After the war, however, the facilities deteriorated and the base gained a negative reputation. It became a joke in the Air Force that if someone needed to be punished, “Don’t shoot ‘em, Chanute ‘em.”

In the 1960s and ‘70s, Chanute Air Base played an important role in American missile development. It was the primary training center for the LGM-30 Minuteman ICBM and the Air-Launched Cruise Missile. In 1971, the Air Force closed the base’s last remaining runway, according to the Chanute Air Museum. In the following years, Chanute continued to be a training center for new aircraft pilots and engineers.

The Stairs Outside of White Hall

The Stairs Outside of White Hall

At the tail end of 1988, the Department of Defense recommended that the base be closed in order to save money. The end of the Cold War was the final nail in the coffin, and Chanute locked its doors and hangers for the last time on September 30, 1993. Most of the outlying structures of the base, including the officer’s quarters and the barracks, are now occupied as residences. There remains, however, a portion of the base that is abandoned. While by no means properly maintained, it is heavily patrolled by local police. Visitors are free to tour the grounds, but not enter the buildings.

The presence of abandoned buildings anywhere is always an incubator for ghost stories. Chanute is no exception. Some visitors have, through the broken windows, reported seeing an officer working at his desk. Others say they have seen airmen strolling the weed-choked sidewalks.

On September 13, 2001, at 10pm, a police K-9 unit responded to a trespassing call at White Hall, one of the largest abandoned buildings on base. Dutch, an experienced canine with 957 drug arrests under his collar, pursued something up to the roof, where he suddenly and unexpectedly leapt 15 feet off the building and fell to his death.

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Comments

  1. Russ Blakeman says:

    I can pretty much guarantee you there are no “ghosts” on Chanute. Spent 8 yrs there from 85 to closure in 1993 and as both an instructor in White Hall and Grissom Hall along with duty in base law enforcement I have been in about every building on post including some that were unused and boarded/locked. Nights for the most part and had never seen or heard a thing. The steam system put out a lot of thumps bangs groans and screams but never any apparitions. It is indeed a true shame how the Clinton era BRAC morons used Chanute as a slaughter to make their budget numbers look good that year. Now it sits and rots.

    • Old MSgt says:

      I enjoyed jet engine mech training there, but Chanute had no flying mission for a very long time due to location and the Air Force doesn’t need the volume of tech school students Chanute was built to support. Like an obsolete auto plant in Detroit of similar vintage, the infrastucture itself is a barrier to reuse. Also like Detroit, the weather is horrible for much of the year.

      The vast fleets of aircraft from those days met the smelter, FMS, or the Boneyard as modern systems and PGMs increased airframe effectiveness, and increased maintenance and other efficiency upgrades caused the same “job destruction” industry faced even as productivity improved.

      It was a smart call to BRAC Chanute. Bases serve operational needs, and those needs changed. Maintaining it would have burned hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars for no return.

      Chanute did have a wonderful old Air Force ambiance about it. One can still get those vibes at, for example, Randolph AFB where there is enough historic architecture coupled with an active Air Force presence remaining.

  2. EX POSTAL WORKER says:

    Poor dog :(. Dutch, as a police dog is considered the same as a sworn peace officer. If that was my dog, someone would’ve been shot for F’n, with my hound. I used to deliver the mail to Great Lakes Naval Air base in North Chicago. Is it even open or did they bleeding hearts close that too ? Fort Sheridan I guess is all residential now. I delivered their mail too back in the seventies. The only thing I remember while driving thru Rantoul in the seventies, is some guy in a jet fighter screwing around flying upside down very low, over the corn fields. Looked like he was having fun. As for ghosts ? I have seen some strange Erie shit in my old lifetime, but I do not talk about it because people would either call me crazy, or a liar. So why bother ?

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