The truth behind the mysteries of Devil’s Gate, located near the Independence Grove Forest Preserve in Lake County, is elusive. What may or may not have happened there has been lost in the minds of the older generation, who have so far not come forward with the real story.
According to legend, sometime in the distant past a school stood behind the set of iron gates off of a sharp bend in River Road, about a mile north of Libertyville. One day, a maniac broke into the school and abducted several of the girls. He killed each one and mounted their severed heads on the spikes of the gate. Every full moon, the heads reappear on the rusted spikes.
Like most legends, there are very few facts to back up the story. There is no doubt, however, that an institution once stood on those grounds. According to the Chicago Daily Tribune, construction on what was known as the Katherine Kreigh Budd Memorial Home for Children began in the early spring of 1926. Britton I. Budd, the president of the Chicago Rapid Transit Company, funded the project. The institution itself was to be run by the Sisters of St. Mary, an Episcopal organisation, and was expected to house around 150 children in its first year.
The Reverend Sheidon M. Griswold formally dedicated the home late in June 1926. At that time, fifteen buildings, including a pool and a “large farm,” had been erected on the premises. In 1931, the home began to also accept destitute children and their families.
In my own research, I discovered that the three fire hydrants located on the premises were one-piece barrel model Eddyvalve Hydrants. That business was purchased in the 1940s by James Clow and Sons, the company name that is stamped on the sewer covers also scattered around the area.
Sometime in the late 1950s, Katherine Kreigh Budd Memorial Home for Children closed down. It was reopened several years later in the early 1960s as a summer camp known as St. Francis Home for Boys. Tragedy accompanied the transition. On May 11, 1961, a two year old boy named Glen Bottorff drowned in the Des Plaines River adjacent to the grounds of the not-yet-opened camp. According to the Libertyville Independent Register, he had been playing nearby with his sister, who ran home to ask permission to eat lunch outside. Depending on which version of the story you read, either two men who had been searching for the boy discovered his body, or his own loyal dog led them to it.
I do not know when St. Francis Home for Boys shut down, but I do know that the Park District owned the land in 1992. At some point, all of the buildings were knocked down and their contents buried on the premises. Today all that remains are cement foundations, rusted metal, and glass bottles that are slowly being reclaimed by nature, protected by a sign that proclaims it to be an “ecologically sensitive area.” My own hunch is that the ghost story regarding the severed heads dates back to when the boys camp was in operation. Many summer camps have their own ghost stories. It may very well be that this one has outlived the camp itself.
Legends and Lore of Illinois Vol. 1 Digital Edition
Order all 12 issues of the Legends and Lore of Illinois from 2007 in a special digital edition for your favourite e-readers. Places covered in Vol. 1: Bachelor’s Grove, Greenwood Cemetery, Devil’s Gate, Chesterville Cemetery, Dug Hill Road, Resurrection Cemetery, “Cemetery X,” Shoe Factory Road, Ridge Cemetery, Cuba Road, Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, and St. James-Sag! Plus, read bonus “personal experiences” and put your knowledge of these locations to the test with challenging trivia questions. Don’t miss these classic issues from the archives of the Legends and Lore of Illinois.