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 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.
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.
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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