Tonight on the Travel Channel at 8pm central/9pm eastern time, the season premier of Ghost Adventures will feature Ashmore Estates, a former almshouse and psychiatric facility in Coles County, Illinois. All this week, we have featured interviews, videos, and information about this strange and fascinating place. Before you watch the show, you should familiarize yourself with the real history, myths, and legends of Ashmore Estates. Now, there is a new book that does just that exclusively for Kindle and Nook users: Ashmore Estates: The Myth and the Legend. Click here to purchase the book for Kindle and here to purchase the book for Nook. For those of you without a digital e-reader, there is a comprehensive chapter on Ashmore Estates in the book Paranormal Illinois, also by Michael Kleen (your’s truly).
I have been exploring, researching, and writing about Ashmore Estates since a friend of mine took me there in the winter of 2000/2001. By that time, it was already a popular legend around the area. When my friend was a freshmen at Eastern Illinois University, two of her fellow students (the “Men of Adventure”) wrote a satirical piece for the Halloween issue of the Verge section of the Daily Eastern News on how to make Ashmore Estates into a “highly illegal” Halloween escapade.
“No one is really sure what this building once housed,” they wrote. “But there are stories. These tales revolve around pagan rituals and dismembered bodies. We aren’t sure if any of them are true or not, but they sure do make for three floors… of unadulterated fun.” The two also described “possibly” encountering a severed pig’s head in the stairwell. Like countless others had done, my friends and I parked along the side of the gravel road a few yards away from the building and walked through a thin layer of snow on the fallow corn field. Like the “Men of Adventure,” I knew nothing about what this building was or what it had been. As we carefully explored its interior, any story about it seemed possible, severed pig’s heads and all. It was years before I knew anything about its real history.
After months of painstaking research, I wrote about the building in an issue of a digital newsletter I had created called the Legends and Lore of Coles County, Illinois. Not long after I predicted a dismal end to Ashmore Estates in the June 2006 issue of the Legends and Lore of Coles County, a man named Scott Kelley, who owned a local computer company, contacted me and informed me that he had plans to rent or even purchase the property. Scott first became interested in Ashmore Estates around ten years earlier. Scott, a longtime operator of haunted attractions including the local haunts at Elsinore Farm and Rockome Gardens, believed the institution would make an excellent haunted house. He purchased the property from Arthur Colclasure in early August and immediately began renovating. To finance the project, he offered flashlight tours of the interior for five dollars a person, and volunteers helped clean up the property and the interior of the old almshouse. While the risk of arrest always accompanied my earlier visits, Scott gave me free run of the building.
That October, for the first time in its history, the doors of Ashmore Estates were opened to the general public, and people who had swapped stories about the building for over a decade lined up to get a look inside. On June 8, 2007, the Kelleys asked me to come and speak about the history and folklore of Ashmore Estates at an overnight event. That was my first real speaking engagement. I stayed for pizza and the movie White Noise, but I left before midnight. Although I was forced to move up to Rockford in June 2008, Ashmore Estates had become something of a phenomenon in the ghost hunting community. Consequently, I found myself returning to the area to be interviewed for several documentaries. The first was the Booth Brother’s Children of the Grave 2. The other was an episode of American Horrors. Then, this past spring, I returned once again to be interviewed for Ghost Adventures.
It’s been a long road, and who knows what the future will have in store for Ashmore Estates. I, for one, hope my readers have enjoyed everything I have written about it over the years. It is indeed a fascinating place!