It is said that parents should never outlive their children, but sadly, this is not always the case. These tragedies leave behind a lifetime of scars, and sometimes, create ghost stories and legends that remain tied to the place where the child died. Ghostly children appear throughout the Midwest, particularly in homes, schools, and cemeteries. Mysterious Heartland has poured through these stories to bring you some of the most interesting and infamous. Which will prove to be the most compelling tale of them all?
10. “Clara” of Riverside Cemetery
This small cemetery off Highway 45 in north Oshkosh, Wisconsin may be home to one or more ghostly children, some visitors say. Riverside Cemetery is appropriately located at the mouth of the Fox River, where it enters Lake Butte des Morts, or “Mound of the Dead.” According to one local man, he was walking through the cemetery in cold weather when he observed a girl about five years of age with curly, blonde hair wearing a frilly dress. He noticed she was not wearing shoes or a coat, which was unusual for that time of year, but did not see her parents anywhere. When he looked back, she had disappeared. Several days later, the girl appeared to the man in a dream and said her name was Clara. Paranormal investigators Chad Lewis and Terry Fisk visited Riverside Cemetery with a psychic who, despite being unaware of the previous incident, told them she sensed the presence of ghostly children.
9. The Tricycle Tragedy of Abingdon Middle School
The old Abingdon Middle School at Snyder and Washington streets was formerly North Abingdon High School. During the 1970s, a tornado damaged the building and knocked down its distinctive chimney. Stories of the school’s haunting go back decades. According to legend, a speech teacher at the high school brought her three-year-old child to work one day and left him outside to play on his tricycle while she ran into her classroom to get something. Unsupervised, her child accidentally fell down the cement steps and broke his neck. The teacher was so grief stricken that she hung herself in her classroom. Former students will swear to the truthfulness of this story. Ever since, the ghosts of both the woman and her child have been seen in and around the school, and a former janitor even reported these sightings to the police. Some storytellers claim that blood stains appear on the steps where the child died. According to writer Michelle Williams, these stories may have their roots in an actual event: the death of a teacher named Karen Moriaty in October 1956. Moriaty’s tragic death is well-remembered in the community. Today, the school is abandoned and off limits to visitors.
8. “Angel” of The Inn at Aberdeen
The Inn at Aberdeen sits at 3158 South State Road 2, just south of Valparaiso, Indiana, adjacent to the Aberdeen Golf Course. It is unknown when the original structure was built on that site, but the earliest fieldstone, brick, and concrete foundation may date back to 1857, when a man named Samuel B. Collins owned the property. In the mid-1900s, a man named Gene Glick bought the home and property and named it Timberlake Farms. When John and Linda Johnson bought the ranch house in 1995, it had already undergone a series of renovations and additions. They brought more upgrades when they opened it as an inn and conference center. Today, an 1878 lithograph of a child in a nightgown hangs at the bottom of the stairs. It is the ghost of this child, many say, that haunts the building. The ghostly child has been seen and heard on many occasions, and her story has appeared in multiple books and on the PBS documentary Haunts & Legends. The historical basis for the legend is unknown, but one investigation team recorded an unknown voice saying the name “Angel.”
7. The Girl of Aux Sable Cemetery
Aux Sable is a quaint, garden-like cemetery tucked in the woods near Aux Sable Creek in Grundy County. Despite an otherwise mundane existence, it continues to be a point of contention between local youth and law enforcement. The legends associated with the cemetery are of the usual stock: strange car trouble, the ghost of a young child, and rumors of a gate to Hell. The most notable story at Aux Sable concerns the ghost of a young girl that has been seen lurking around the cemetery. According to the Shadowlands Index of Haunted Places for Illinois, the ghost will only appear if you get out of your car. Recently, someone removed the headstone of a six year old girl from the cemetery and left it on the playground of an elementary school. The ghost allegedly belongs to this particular girl.
6. The Gibbs Children
Falcon Heights, Minnesota
An old farmhouse in the urban fold of Minneapolis and St. Paul may be a strange sight, but for some visitors to the Gibbs Museum of Pioneer and Dakota Life, the strangeness doesn’t end there. Some visitors report seeing the ghost of a young boy and other children throughout the old home. Pioneers Jane and Herman Gibbs purchased the property in 1849 and erected a small sod house, where they lived for several years while improving the land. The couple eventually built a farmhouse, barn, and schoolhouse on the property. Today, it is maintained by the Ramsey County Historical Society as a museum to educate visitors on the life of Minnesota pioneers, as well as the American Indians who proceeded them. Ghostly children are frequently seen in the farmhouse, and staff have reportedly had to put toys back in a toy box even though it was locked up for the night. Doors and cupboards have also mysteriously opened and closed on their own.
5. The Children of Knock-Knock Road
Ghostly children are almost always creepy, but they are especially so when they appear in unexpected places. This is the case along Strasburg Road in economically ravaged Detroit, Michigan. For years, travelers along this road have reported the unusual sound of a young child rapping on their car doors and windows as they pass. According to legend, an adolescent girl was riding her bicycle in the neighborhood when she lost control and rolled into the busy street. She was struck and killed. Today, her ghost knocks on the windows and doors of passing motorists, trying to get their attention. Another version of the legend, however, tells of a car full of teenagers who crashed their car into a pole and slowly burned to death. Trapped inside the burning vehicle, they pounded on the windows, desperately trying to alert people to their plight.
4. “Whispering Willie” and the Sick Children of Marquette University
Marquette University was founded in 1881 as a Jesuit, Roman Catholic university and named after 17th Century missionary and explorer Father Jacques Marquette. It is situated near the heart of Milwaukee. Johnston Hall is the oldest academic building at Marquette and was reportedly built over an American Indian settlement (some say over a burial ground). It was originally used as a home for Marquette’s Jesuit professors, and a priest allegedly hung himself in his room on the fifth floor. The ghosts of children haunt other parts of campus. Glenn Humphrey Hall, a student apartment complex, was originally the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Marquette University acquired it in 1988, and since that time, students have reportedly heard screaming children. On the fifth floor, the ghost of a young girl has been seen, but she is shy and vanishes when approached. “Whispering Willie,” a boy who drowned in the pool when East Hall was home to the YMCA, haunts that building.
3. Gretchen’s Lock
Beaver Creek State Park, Ohio
The ghost of a young girl whose dying wish was to be buried with her mother is believed to haunt this dried up lock in the old Sandy and Beaver Canal. Located southwest of the tiny community of Fredericktown in eastern Ohio, near the Pennsylvania border, Beaver Creek State Park was established over the ruins of the canal and the nearby town of Sprucevale. Hambleton Mill, a road, and few abandoned landmarks are all that remain of Sprucevale. In 1852, four years after completion of the canal, it suffered a reservoir failure that irreparably shut down the canal, doming the town. According to legend, one of the canal’s builders, Edward G. Gill (some sources say Hans Gil, from Holland), came over from Ireland with his wife and daughter, Gretchen. His wife died in transit and was buried at sea. Shortly before the completion of this particular lock, Gretchen became deathly ill. Her last words were either “I want to join my mother” or “bury me with my mother.” She was temporarily entombed in a vault in the side of the lock. After work on the canal was finished, Edward Gill returned to Ireland, where he buried his daughter. Because her dying wish went unfulfilled, locals believe the ghost of Gretchen haunts the lock to this day.
2. The Orphans of Pythian Castle
In 1913, the Knights of Pythias, an American fraternal organization and secret society, built this structure from Carthage Stone quarried in the Ozarks. It was originally called the Pythian Home of Missouri and was used as an orphanage and retirement home for children and widows of members of the organization. According to legend, children staying at the castle were forced to crawl through a steam tunnel to deliver laundry to an adjacent building. During World War 2, it was commandeered by the US government for use as a recovery home for wounded soldiers. Soldiers staying there during WW2 reported hearing screams and seeing the ghosts of children. One veteran heard a conversation taking place on the second floor, though he was alone. The Pythian Castle was recently purchased by a private owner and opened up for tours. The building has since been featured in TV shows like Ghost Lab and Haunted Collector, and the documentary Children of the Grave.
1. The Sallie House
This unassuming home on N. 2nd Street was the scene of alarming poltergeist activity in the 1990s at the hands of the ghost of a young girl nicknamed “Sallie.” Built between 1867 and 1871, it was occupied by members of the Finney family for a century. Debra and Tony Pickman rented the home for nearly two years beginning in 1993. Almost immediately, they began experiencing strange activity. Their dog barked at nothing, there were electronic disturbances, and their child’s toys seemed to rearrange themselves. The activity soon accelerated, and several small fires broke out. Tony Pickman seemed to be the focus of the attacks—his arm, back, or stomach was scratched on several occasions. Each time, a cold spot would proceed the attack. It was believed that Sallie had died at the hands of a doctor who had his office in the home in the early 1900s, and that her ghost was lashing out at Tony because he was a man. The home had previously been occupied by a single lady from the 1950s to the early 1990s. Television shows like Sightings, A Haunting, and Unexplained Mysteries have all featured the Sallie House. The Sightings crew purportedly filmed Tony Pickman being scratched by the ghost. Since the Pickmans moved out, the paranormal activity has died down.