Southern Illinois is the most geographically distinct of all Illinois regions. It is known as “Little Egypt” because of its proximity to a vital river trade route (like the Nile delta in Egypt) and the presence of towns with names like Cairo, Thebes, Dongola, and Karnak. As one of the earliest parts of Illinois to be settled, it is no wonder this region is home to so many ghost stories. Mysterious Heartland is proud to bring you this list of the top 10 most haunted places in Southern Illinois! Which place will prove to be the most haunted of them all?
10. Elmwood Cemetery
Originally called Centralia Cemetery, this graveyard was in use in the 1860s but not officially established until 1877. Its name was changed to Elmwood Cemetery in 1921. A popular local legend maintains that the sweet strains of a violin can be heard emanating from the cemetery at night. The origin of these ethereal notes is said to be none other than the statue of “Violin Annie.” Deep inside Elmwood sits a large monument shaped like a tabernacle or an ancient Greek temple with only four columns. At the top of the monument stands a nearly life sized statue of a young girl with flowing locks of hair. In her hands she holds a violin. The statue depicts Harriet Annie, the daughter of Dr. Winfield and Eoline Marshall. Annie died of diphtheria in 1890, a few weeks after her eleventh birthday. Some locals also believe that Annie’s statue glows on Halloween night.
9. Rose Hotel
The Rose Hotel is currently owned by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and operated as a bed and breakfast. Built by James McFarland c. 1830, with additions added in 1848 and 1866, it is the oldest active hotel in the state of Illinois. In 2009, the Little Egypt Ghost Society investigated the hotel and captured a photo of a strange reflection that appeared in the mirror of the McFarlan Suite. They compared it to photographs in an old hotel scrapbook and determined it was an image of the ghost of a former servant named Tote. Another anomalous photo appeared to show a woman in old-fashioned dress, which they believed to be a former hotel operator named Maimee Rose. The group also recorded several EVPs and heard a number of out-of-place voices.
8. Devil’s Bake-Oven
Grand Tower, Illinois
A cave along the banks of the Mississippi River called the Devil’s Bake-Oven is home to one of the area’s oldest and most famous legends. According to this legend, a young woman named Esmerelda fell in love with a riverboat captain, but her father disapproved of the courtship. One day, word came that her lover had been killed in a boiler explosion. Grief stricken, Esmerelda leapt to her death into the rushing waters of the Mississippi.
To this day, visitors have reported seeing a white specter in and around Devil’s Bake-Oven. Shrieks, sobbing, and moans have often accompanied this apparition. Local historian Charles Burdick believes the legend may be based in fact. Evidence, such as an old foundation hidden near the river and a few surviving photographs of a white manor house, helps lend credence to the story.
7. Pulaski County Courthouse
Mound City, Illinois
Ghostly encounters at the Pulaski County Courthouse go back at least three decades, and local resident Cleo King has been there in one capacity or another for most of them. The courthouse was built in 1911 and its basement was formerly home to the county jail, before it was recently remodeled. The earliest encounter King recalled was when a fellow student at Lovejoy School, located across the street from the courthouse, saw a man hanging from the tree in the courthouse lawn. No one had been hanged in Pulaski County for many, many years. According to King, the courthouse is haunted by four ghosts. One, the man seen swinging from the tree, was the last man hanged in the county. He usually haunts the former jail in the basement. The other three ghosts are that of an elderly black woman, an anonymous lady called the “Taffeta Woman” who is believed to have died in an accident, and the ghost of a former attorney who makes his presence known with thick cigar smoke.
6. Carbondale Post Office (Former)
Now occupied by DCI Biologicals (a blood plasma center), the old Carbondale post office is a building reportedly rife with poltergeist activity. Several years ago, the figure of a woman wearing a white dress was seen in the lobby, and a “white form” appeared standing behind an employee on a photograph. Employees have seen the lobby chandelier swing back and forth, doors open by themselves, radios turn on and off at will, and at least one janitor quit because he “could not handle the intensity and frequency” of the activity. In one incident, a janitor became trapped in a closet when the door shut and locked with no apparent cause. Michelle Kell, a manager at the plasma center, has heard a phone ring in the basement, even though no phones are located there.
5. Sunset Haven (former)
The Jackson County Poor Farm became known as Sunset Haven during the 1940s when it was converted into a nursing home. The nursing home closed in 1957 and Southern Illinois University purchased the property to expand its agricultural program. During the 1970s, the university made an effort to locate all the unmarked graves of the dead that had been buried during Sunset Haven’s years as a poor farm. The graves are supposedly located in a grove of trees behind the building. Sometime later, the name was changed again, this time to the ‘Vivarium Annex,’ where sources say it was used for animal research. The building is currently abandoned, although emergency drills have been staged on the property. The building’s final closure and decay inevitably led to stories of ghosts and other horrors, and the atmosphere inside the structure lent itself to rumors of medical experiments gone awry. Update: Sunset Haven was demolished in 2013.
4. Cave-In-Rock State Park
Cave-in-Rock, located on the Ohio River, is one of the most notorious treasure-hunting destinations in Illinois. From the 1790s to the 1870s the area around Cave-in-Rock was plagued by river pirates, horse thieves, counterfeiters, and highwaymen. Over $1 million worth of stolen loot, gold, cash, and counterfeit bills changed hands there between 1790 and 1830 alone. In 1800, the Mason gang was rumored to have hidden a large stash of gold at Cave-in-Rock, but Samuel Mason was beheaded after he was caught on the Spanish side of the Mississippi River with $7,000 and 20 human scalps. Aside from Mason’s horde, there are supposed to be dozens of stashes of gold and silver all along the cliff face. According to Troy Taylor, travelers passing on the river claim to hear moans and cries echoing from the cave.
3. Southern Illinois University
Southern Illinois University in Carbondale was chartered in 1869 and is home to 22,550 students and faculty. In keeping with its central place in Little Egypt, the university’s mascot is the Saluki, the dog of ancient Egyptian royalty. In past years, the campus experienced riotous partying around Halloween. Wheeler Hall, Faner Hall, Shryock Auditorium, and Mae Smith Residence Hall are all believed to be haunted. While a poltergeist is said to dwell in Wheeler, the ghost of a student who became lost in Faner has been seen wandering in and out of its classrooms. Shryock Auditorium was dedicated to and named after SIU’s fifth president, Henry Shryock. Today, students and custodians have dubbed a safety light in the auditorium “Henry,” because it appears to have a mind of its own. They have also seen a shadowy figure standing on the stage. The ghost of a broken-hearted resident assistant supposedly haunts Mae Smith Residence Hall.
2. Original Springs Hotel
During the late 1800s, Okawville was widely known for its mineral springs, which were believed to have an invigorating effect on health. After the particular quality of the springs was discovered in 1867, a local businessman and a farmer established the first bathhouse and spa at the location. That burnt down in 1891, and the current building, which became the Original Springs Hotel, opened in the spring of 1893. The hotel is still in operation today, although it has had many owners. One previous owner, Tom Rogers, died in an upstairs room in 1962.
Guests at the hotel have reported seeing a mysterious woman wearing a white dress in the fashion of the early 1900s sitting on the second floor balcony. Her face is always hidden beneath her hat. One guest reported seeing her standing near his bed, and another saw her staring out the window of a locked storage room in the men’s bathhouse. Ethereal music has also been heard in the laundry room.
1. Choate Mental Health Center
The Choate Mental Health Center was originally called the Southern Hospital for the Insane. It was built in 1869 and opened in 1875. A fire destroyed a wing of the main building (called Kirkbride after the doctor who designed it) in 1881, and another fire destroyed a large section of the hospital in 1895. Tunnels connect the various buildings. The hospital has been rumored to be haunted for many years. Visitors and passersby have witnessed apparitions, figures, and faces in the windows. One popular story recounts that a “devil dog” attacked a patient in his room at night. When orderlies turned on the lights, they found scratches all over his body. The tunnels below the buildings are also supposed to be very haunted, and at least one person who went down there felt like he was touched by something unseen.
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! 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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