An Intimate History of Mysterious Heartland, Part 1

SmilingMikeAs our longtime readers know, evolved out of a previous website, Legends and Lore of Illinois ( went online in January 2009 and mainly existed to support and promote our monthly digital newsletter Legends and Lore of Illinois. After a number of years, we began publishing other content on the website that wasn’t in the newsletter. In 2013, however, after our newsletter had long since ceased publication, we decided to rebrand our website and expand its coverage. Mysterious Heartland was born.

Since there have been a lot of newcomers to the website in the past few months, I thought you would enjoy reading a little about our website’s history. The journey from one young man with an idea to the blog you see today was uncertain and fraught with fits and starts. After all this time, however, I’m proud to say I have built into one of the most popular websites about mysterious and legendary places in the Midwest. I hope to continue to grow our readership and expanding our content for years to come. Thank you to everyone who has stuck with us over the years, and welcome to all those who are just joining us! So join me as we take a trip down memory lane.

~ Michael Kleen

The Beginning

Legends and Lore of Illinois

Check out all the issues of the Legends and Lore of Illinois in one definitive volume!

“I have an idea for a newsletter about haunted places in Illinois,” I told my friend Donna as we sat in a Taco Bell along Rand Road in Prospect Heights in the winter of 2006.

Or maybe it started months earlier in the basement of Booth Library at Eastern Illinois University, when I created the prototype of a website called “The Legends and Lore of Illinois.”

Or maybe it was in my friend Adam’s house on Henry Street in Des Plaines when, at the age of nine or ten, we formed a club to look for ghosts in his parent’s attic.

I actually do not know when the idea first came to me to start writing about ghost stories and the (allegedly) haunted places of Illinois. I have always been interested in the more unusual side of life. In high school, when others were playing sports or going to parties, I sat squirreled away in the public library reading Ursula Bielski’s Chicago Haunts.

During those long evenings after school, I never would have dreamed that one day I would be sharing the stage with my favorite authors. Ursula Bielski, Richard Crowe, Dale Kaczmarek, and Troy Taylor were the top names in the paranormal world at the turn of the last century. Twelve years later, their work has given birth to dozens of writers, researchers, and other paranormal enthusiasts.

Setting up to record one of my first public appearances in 2007.

Setting up to record one of my first public appearances in 2007.

Between January 2009 and December 2012, I interviewed more than thirty of those enthusiasts, including some of the big names themselves. My website, received more than 667,300 visits during those four years. The story of the Legends and Lore of Illinois goes back further than that, of course.

Its direct decedent was the Legends and Lore of Coles County, Illinois. During my undergraduate career at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, friends and acquaintances introduced me to a variety of local legends and stories that had never been written about in a book before. Places like Airtight Bridge, “Ragdoll” Cemetery, Ashmore Estates, and the St. Omer Witch’s Grave. I decided to do some research on them and write up a series of short monthly newsletters. I posted these newsletters in PDFs on my website for anyone who was interested to download.

In creating these newsletters, I tried to think about what would have been helpful to me in my search for information. What I wanted to see were pictures and facts. Stories were easy enough to come by. What was the history behind the story? What did the location look like? Most books and websites only gave their readers a vague description.

A PDF (electronic file) was the perfect format because it could contain several color photos and text that could be downloaded, printed out at home, emailed, or stored on a flash drive. I made sure that each issue of the Legends and Lore of Coles County contained at least five or six photos.

Dale Kaczmarek and I at a Paracon in DeKalb, Illinois, circa 2010

Dale Kaczmarek and I at a Paracon in DeKalb, Illinois, circa 2010

In addition to visiting each location and taking pictures, I used the skills I learned as a graduate student to do in-depth research on the history of each location. Research involves looking through primary sources such a property records, newspaper archives, birth and death certificates, court records, and even conducting interviews with eyewitnesses. Those sources are then used to piece together a story, a story that is (you hope) as factual as possible.

Because very few people had ever really looked into some of these stories, accurate information was difficult to come by. I spent hours searching through microfilm archives trying to get to the bottom of the stories and rumors I had been told. The result was nine issues of the Legends and Lore of Coles County. I even created little commercials on YouTube for the series.

After that project ended (around October 2006), I decided to begin publishing a monthly electronic publication about haunted places in Illinois. I obtained an ISSN number and called it Legends and Lore of Illinois.

Legends and Lore of Illinois is Born

Filming for FearNet's "Streets of Fear" episode on Blood's Point Road, 2009

Filming for FearNet’s “Streets of Fear” episode on Blood’s Point Road, 2009

The subject of the first issue of this new publication was Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery. I picked that place because it is, without a doubt, the most well-known haunted location in Illinois (perhaps even in the United States). It seemed like a logical place to start.

One thing that would distinguish this electronic serial from the last was the inclusion of a fictional story set at the location being discussed. The idea was to stimulate my readers’ imaginations and give them something unique that no other book or publication had done before. Instead of inventing whole new protagonists for these stories, I decided to use characters from previous short stories I had written, a group of paranormal investigators called “the Fallen.”

As it turned out, including these stories was so new and different from what people expected, it created a lot of confusion. I actually received emails from readers who thought the Fallen were real and that what they experienced in the stories actually happened. After a presentation at the Rockford Public Library in 2009, one audience member asked me, “Where are the Fallen?”

So why did I include the other characters in the stories? Why the P.C.P.R.S., Zealots, Satanists, and others? They are not just there for the sake of an interesting plot. Their origin is in Raymond Moody’s book, The Last Laugh. Raymond Moody, Jr. is the doctor who first publicized the phenomenon of near-death experiences in his groundbreaking book, Life After Life.

The Last Laugh was a post-script to Life After Life. The premise of The Last Laugh is simple but revolutionary. Throughout recent history, there have been three main players in the discussion of the paranormal: parapsychologists, professional skeptics, and fundamentalists. Not only have these three perspectives not advanced our knowledge very much on the issue, but Moody contends that neither actually wants to resolve the debate, because in resolving the controversy they would eliminate their bread and butter.

Order all 39 issues of the Legends & Lore of Illinois on CD-ROM

Order all 39 issues of the Legends & Lore of Illinois on CD-ROM

According to Moody, fundamentalists in particular believe that everything involving the paranormal is evil and the work of the Devil. The Zealots and Satanists in my stories were meant to represent this perspective. The P.C.P.R.S. represented the parapsychologists, and also satirized many paranormal investigation teams in general. Emmer, one of the characters in the Fallen, represented a professional skeptic.

I draw other elements of the Fallen stories from Lovecraftian horror and from some of my own experiences. All of those elements came together on a stage set with the haunted and mysterious places of Illinois, creating a unique set of tales I hoped my readers would appreciate…

Continued in Part 2 this Friday, August 15!

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  1. […] Join us for part two of our history of Mysterious Heartland as we take a trip down memory lane! Check out part one here. […]


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