As the focus of such devotion and reverence, Mysterious Heartland has found that churches are some of the most haunted places in Illinois. Whether it is a devoted pastor who refuses to leave his flock, a religiously-inspired vision, or spirits of the departed drawn to the energy of an active congregation, it is rare to find a church devoid of at least one ghostly tale. Which church will prove to be the most haunted of them all?
10. Mt. Pleasant Church
Mt. Pleasant Church and Cemetery are relatively new additions to local lore, having developed their legends within the past few decades. The church, which closed in 1990, is said to be home to a variety of phenomenon. Visitors have reported hearing choirs and footsteps, and have witnessed lights emanating from the cracks in the door. There are also rumors of phantom funerals at the cemetery. As of yet, very little of the information regarding this location has been confirmed.
9. St. Rita’s Church
St. Rita’s in Chicago is known for one particularly hair-raising event on All Souls Day (November 2) in the early 1960s. More than a dozen parishioners had gathered there to pray and bore witness to the strange occurrences. Sometime in the early evening, the organ began to play by itself. Then, suddenly, six robed monks appeared, three wearing black and three wearing white. The parishioners attempted to flee, but they found the doors of the church were locked. The phantom monks advanced and the organ wailed. Finally, the vision faded as a disembodied voice whispered, “Pray for us.” Eyewitnesses estimated that the whole incident lasted about two minutes.
8. St. John’s Methodist Church
Oak Park, IL
St. John’s United Methodist Church has a diverse congregation that is heavily oriented toward missionary work and believes all are welcome to come and share in service. Beneath this outwardly quaint appearance, however, lurk some unusual tales. The basement of the church is said to be particularly active. It is home to the ghost of an old lady and one mischievous phantom who likes to play pranks on visitors. On at least one occasion, several churchgoers were playing pool in the basement when one of the balls disappeared. After looking in all the pockets and on the floor, the ball dropped from the ceiling with a thud. According to the Shadowlands Index of Haunted Places for Illinois, there is a winding set of stairs that leads to a labyrinth-like attic. Many of the rooms are used for storage, but one in particular contains a cryptic message written on the wall in red crayon which says, “Be kind in God’s house.”
7. Saint Benedict Church
St. Benedict Church was built in 1918 to serve the area’s German-American residents. Stained-glass windows and ornate Stations of the Cross were even imported from Germany. According to Chicago-area ghost and folklore expert Ursula Bielski, the church’s haunted history can be traced back to its construction when a worker fell from the scaffolding to his death near the altar. Since that time, an apparition of the worker has been seen sitting in the front pews or standing behind the columns in back of the altar. A janitor has also heard the sound of a kneeler rising and falling as he unlocked the church for early morning mass.
6. St. Turibius Church
St. Turibius is an old Roman Catholic church on Chicago’s southwest side. According to Chicago ghost expert Richard Crowe, a priest named Father Joe Lechert led St. Turibius during the 1950s and ‘60s. When he was replaced due to a reorganization of the local Catholic hierarchy, he was said to have died of a broken heart. It wasn’t long before parishioners whispered that his ghost still lingered. There were whiffs of cigarette smoke, and altar boys had seen the figure of a man wearing a biretta, just like Father Lechert once wore. His ghost has also been seen walking around the other parish building.
5. First Methodist Church
The First Methodist Church was founded on July 13, 1854 and in its early history provided leadership for the anti-slavery, temperance, peace, and educational movements. The current building opened in 1911. In 1954, it hosted the Assembly of the World Council of Churches, an organization that works to unify Protestant denominations. The First Methodist Church sanctuary, completed in 1930, is reportedly haunted by the ghost of an anonymous man dressed in a black business suit. According to the Shadowlands Index of Haunted Places for Illinois, “he walks down there side aisle in the sanctuary, coming out from behind one pillar and walking behind the next, but if you look behind the pillar, no one will be there.” No one knows who this man was or why he might be haunting the church.
4. Holy Family Church
Built between 1857 and 1859, Holy Family Church was one of the only buildings of its kind to survive the Chicago fire. Its very origins were connected to the spiritual. According to Father McCarthy, the church’s pastor in 1973, its altar was positioned above a stream that ran under the church, which itself was considered sacred ground by Americans Indians because of a battle that took place there. Traditionally, divine intervention is credited for preventing the church from being consumed in the Chicago fire, since Holy Family is located only a few blocks from where popular belief asserts the fire started. Additionally, statues of two boys holding candles hang high above the altar. These are thought to be representations of the spirits of two altar boys that led a priest to a dying woman in need of receiving last rites. Once, Father McCarthy also witnessed a figure standing in the choir loft, although it had been closed to the public for years.
3. Old First Baptist Church
This former Baptist church has a long and tragic history; it survived one fire only to perish in a second. According to legend, locals caught in a furor of anti-German sentiment during World War 1 attacked and seized a German janitor who had been working at the church and locked him in the basement. Fearful he might turn them in to the sheriff, the mob burnt the church to the ground and blamed the fire on an accident. A new church was built over the old basement. Since that time, visitors have reported seeing shadowy figures, experiencing cold spots and uneasiness, and hearing disembodied footsteps. Additionally, items have gone missing and unseen hands have left bruises on members of the congregation. The church held an annual haunted house until it burned down under mysterious circumstances in October 2003.
2. Beverly Unitarian Church
Also known as “The Irish Castle,” Beverly Unitarian Church is host to a host of strange phenomena that usually manifests in the wintertime. Built in 1886, the Irish Castle changed hands several times until finally becoming a church in 1959. It was then that the ghost stories began to be told. Parishioners describe encounters with the ghost of a young girl who is believed to have died in the 1890s during an influenza outbreak while the building was being used as a school for girls. An older woman wearing a red outfit has been seen at weddings and other church receptions and events. Muffled conversation, laughter, and the clatter of glasses and tableware is also occasionally heard. Additionally, the ghost of a lady has been seen tending the garden behind the church.
1. St. James-Sag Church
St. James of the Sag Church and Cemetery, abbreviated as St. James-Sag, sits on a bluff overlooking the juncture of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and the Calumet Sag Channel. The church and cemetery have distant origins. One burial can be traced to 1818, but the graveyard began to be heavily used in the 1830s when Father St. Cyr built a log chapel to accommodate the spiritual needs of the Irish canal workers. The limestone building that exists today was built in 1850, and in the past few decades phantom monks have made appearances here. According to Richard Crowe, a police officer by the name of Herb Roberts encountered nine of these monks in the early morning hours the day after Thanksgiving, November 1977. The officer reported that the robed figures ignored him when he ordered them to stop, and they seemed to disappear as he pursued them beyond the gates of the cemetery. No monks have ever been stationed at this parish, but these sightings have led the church to be popularly known as “Monk’s Castle.” One of Chicago’s oldest ghost stories, that of a young bride and a phantom carriage, also originated here, and a former priest claimed the hillside would move as if it were “breathing.”
Check out these stories and more in Michael Kleen’s Haunting Illinois: A Tourist’s Guide to the Weird and Wild Places of the Prairie State! Haunting Illinois contains 200 mystery sites and 85 individual illustrations. In this book, Michael not only examines the sites, but also the hobbyists and professionals who have devoted their lives to exploring the strange and unusual in our great state. Divided among eight distinct regions and listed by county, each location features a description, directions, and sources drawn from a diverse variety of books and articles. 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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