Illinois’ Top 10 Military Ghosts

The call to serve is only answered by a select few, and the scars of war are some of the most enduring. While Illinois is not often noted for its military history, it is home to a number of past and present military installations and prison camps. During the Civil War, Southern Illinois saw divided loyalties and some of its sons ran away to fight for the Confederacy. As a result, Mysterious Heartland has found that the ghosts of former servicemen have been encountered in many places throughout the Prairie State, from abandoned bases to cemeteries and beyond. Which will prove to be the most haunted of them all?

10. The Gray Ghosts of Illinois College

Jacksonville, Illinois

Confederate_SoldierFounded 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.

9. Brother Against Brother at Old Zion Cemetery

Shawnee National Forest, Illinois

Civil_WarOld Zion Cemetery is a rural graveyard surrounded by forest, across the road from New Zion Methodist Church and New Zion Cemetery. In 1854, a woman named Jane Lay became the first burial in Old Zion. Its legends date back quite a few years, and include reports of a ghostly matron wearing a white dress. She wanders the grounds searching for something, and her distinctive flowery perfume can be smelled most notably in the winter. Another colorful story involves the ghosts of two brothers who died fighting on opposite sides of the Civil War. According to legend, they were buried next to each other and can be seen (on moonless nights) arguing around a campfire. On one occasion, a man approached the ghosts during this spectral argument and fled in terror when one of them began to chase him.

8. Calvary Cemetery’s Phantom Aviator

Evanston, Illinois

Calvary_CemeteryThis picturesque resting ground along the shore of Lake Michigan is home to the tale of “the Aviator,” or as he is sometimes affectionately known, “Seaweed Charlie.” In May 1951, Lt. Laverne F. Nabours, a WW2 veteran and an instructor at Glenview Naval Airbase, suffered engine failure on his FH-1 Phantom and careened into Lake Michigan. The plane did not sink right away, rather, Laverne climbed on top of the wing and began waving for help. He then tried to swim ashore, but succumbed to the powerful waves. In the late 1950s and 1960s, some passersby were treated to the alarming sight of a man drowning far out of reach in the icy waters. Even more startling was what came next. Instead of disappearing under the waves to a watery grave, the man, usually disheveled but sometimes covered in seaweed, emerged from the lake and crawled over the rocks toward the gate of Calvary Cemetery before ultimately vanishing. Sporadic sightings continued into the late ‘90s.

7. The Confederate Ghosts of Spirits Lounge

Alton, Illinois

Spirits_LoungeIn 2006, Gary Graham and Tim Brueggeman purchased this old Masonic temple and planned to open it as a bar, restaurant, and banquet center. The two made extensive renovations, knowing the building already had a reputation for being haunted. Unusual occurrences happened almost immediately upon its grand opening in 2007. Built around 1900, the Piasa Lodge of the Freemasons occupied the building for nearly a century. According to Gary Hawkins, who placed the former lodge on his ghost tour, it is occupied by dozens of ghosts, including two master Masons named James Brown and Frank Harris, a woman named Mrs. Smalley who haunts the lady’s lounge, and two children. Four Confederate soldiers who died of smallpox are also believed to haunt one of the former temple’s two basements, which were all that remained of an older building over which the Piasa Lodge was built.

6. General Turchin’s Widow

Mound City, Illinois

General_TurchinEstablished in 1862 during the Civil War, Mound City National Cemetery is a military cemetery that contains the bodies of 2,700 unknown Union soldiers. Army nurses, Confederate soldiers, spies, and even the colorful Russian officer General John B. Turchin (Ivan Vasilyevich Turchaninov), are also buried here. The cemetery is allegedly haunted by Turchin’s wife, Nadine (Nadezhda), who has been seen wandering the grounds in a white dress. General Turchin served in the Union army during the Civil War and afterward came to live in Washington County. After his death at an institution in Anna, his wife mourned at his graveside until her own life ended a few years later and she was interred next to him. Visitors to the cemetery have also reported seeing lights in an old abandoned caretaker’s house.

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!

5. Big Muddy Bridge

De Soto, Illinois

Popular memory maintains that, during the Civil War, a detachment of Union soldiers guarded the railroad bridge across the Big Muddy River three miles north of Carbondale. It was considered to be a vital supply route in an area home to many Confederate sympathizers. Far from the frontlines, life at this outpost was tedious, repetitive, and uneventful. Some say the soldiers left an impression on the land around the bridge. Visitors have reportedly seen blue balls of light and heard the sound of a drum cadence. According to Bruce Cline, a group of students from Southern Illinois University blew a tire near the bridge and were approached by two men wearing blue Civil War-era uniforms. The men vanished before the students could ask who they were.

4. Greenwood Cemetery’s Confederate Prisoners

Decatur, Illinois

Greenwood_CemeteryGreenwood 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.

3. Camp Grant Museum and Command Post Restaurant

Rockford, Illinois

Camp_GrantCamp Grant was established in 1917 as a sprawling army compound southwest of Rockford, just north of where the Chicago-Rockford International Airport exists today. It was a 5,460 acre facility with 1,100 buildings that housed 50,000 officers and enlisted men. During World War 2, it served as an induction and training center, a prisoner of war camp, and a medical training unit. Today, Camp Grant Museum is located in a building that served as one of the former fire stations and later the Induction and Muster Out Center for Camp Grant. According to Yolanda Weisensel, the museum’s owner, the building is haunted by servicemen that died during an epidemic in 1918. She has felt an unseen hand push her shoulder, and psychics have described seeing a soldier with a bandage on his head. Yolanda added, “I was walking past the hallway and looked down the hall, something or somebody (a young man) dressed in white ran across the end of the hall. If he had been real he would have run into a door. He was looking back over his shoulder laughing as if he was being chased for fun.”

2. Small Pox Island

Alton, Illinois

During the Civil War, Alton was the location of a prison that housed prisoners of war. The prison was not originally designed to hold so many inmates, so conditions were crowded and unsanitary. During the winter of 1863 and spring of 1864, smallpox ravaged the camp. Infected prisoners were quarantined to an island in the Mississippi River. Anywhere between 1,000 and 5,000 Confederate prisoners and Union soldiers died in the outbreak, many on this one island, earning it the name “Small Pox Island.” After the war, local residents avoided the island, and many believed it was haunted. A popular story tells of a group of boys who camped on the island to test its tales. They were greeted by the grim shades of dead Confederate prisoners from a bygone era. After a damn was constructed in 1938, the island disappeared beneath the waters of the Mississippi.

1. Chanute Air Force Base

Rantoul, Illinois

Aband3Chanute 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. Inevitably, local kids exploring the abandoned parts of the base in the past few years have begun to bring home unusual stories. Some visitors have, through the broken windows, reported seeing an officer working at his desk. Others say they have seen phantom airmen strolling the weed-choked sidewalks or sitting in the cockpits of the planes behind the Air Museum. 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.


Haunting Illinois by Michael KleenCheck 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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