Illinois is a very haunted state, from Chicagoland’s famous hitchhiking ghost, Resurrection Mary, to the ghost of “Old Book” at Peoria State Hospital, to the Headless Horseman of Lakey’s Creek. Some have argued that Illinois is one of the most haunted states in the country, and there are several towns and cities that claim to have contributed more than their fair share to that reputation. Mysterious Heartland has spent years exploring legendary locations throughout the Prairie State, and we are happy to bring you this list of the top 10 most haunted cities in Illinois. Which one will prove to be the most infamous of them all?
DuPage and Will Counties, Illinois
With a population of over 144,000, the City of Naperville is consistently at the top of the list when it comes quality of life in Illinois. In 2006, Money Magazine voted Naperville the second-best place to live in the United States and a 2010 study rated it the wealthiest city in the Midwest. Naperville’s population boomed in the 1980s and ‘90s, making it one of Chicago’s premier suburbs. Naperville’s history, however, lends itself to ghost stories. In 1946, it was the scene of one of the worst train disasters in US history when two passenger trains collided, killing 47 and injuring 125. Eyewitnesses have seen lost and disoriented spectres walking along Loomis Street. Residents of 4th Avenue, where bodies were laid out right after the crash, have also allegedly experienced cold spots, strange noises, and shadows. Barbara Pfeiffer Hall and Theatre, on the campus of North Central College, is believed to be haunted by as many as a half dozen ghosts. Naperville Cemetery, though usually peaceful and serine, has also been the scene of strange encounters.
Jo Daviess County, Illinois
Once home to President Ulysses S. Grant, Galena was originally known for its lead mining industry. It was once known as one of the largest towns in Illinois, but its population dropped from 14,000 in the mid-19th Century, to 3,400 in the early 21st Century. Today, it is known as a tourist destination for wine, history, and antique shopping. Haunted tours have also become something of a cottage industry. First opened in 1855, the DeSoto House is one of the oldest operating hotels in Illinois. According to hotel staff, guests have witnessed apparitions in old fashioned dress passing through walls where doorways once were. Others have heard voices in the hallway and caught the scent of an old cigar. The Galena History Museum, Turner Hall, and One Eleven Main (a former mortuary turned restaurant) are also believed to be haunted.
Macon County, Illinois
Founded in 1823 and located in the heartland of Illinois, Decatur is the county seat of Macon County. In the 20th Century it was known as an industrial and agricultural manufacturing hub, with top employers including Caterpillar Inc. and Archer Daniels Midland. Its population peaked at over 94,000 residents in 1980. By the 2000s, however, that industry declined and the population fell to just under 75,000 in 2013. Author Troy Taylor has spent more than a decade documenting and offering tours of Decatur’s haunted places. High on the list are the Avon and Lincoln theatres, Millikin University, and Greenwood Cemetery. After the Avon Theatre reopened in the 1990s, staff began to experience strange events that included hearing laughter, footsteps, and applause after hours. They have also seen the apparition of Gus Constan, who owned the Avon during the 1960s. At Greenwood Cemetery, visitors have caught a glimpse of spook lights, phantom funerals, and the “Greenwood Ghost Bride.”
7. St. Charles
Kane County, Illinois
Another wealthy suburb of Chicago, St. Charles is located along the Fox River and is known for its beautiful downtown. The Chicago Tribune named downtown St. Charles as one of the region’s “Top 10” for fine dining, arts and entertainment, recreational opportunities, unique shopping, and a lively nighttime personality. Additionally, the St. Charles Public Library is nationally ranked among the best libraries in the US. Though not well known for its ghostlore, St. Charles is home to a surprising number of haunted places. Al Capone’s Hideaway and Steak House, which closed in 2012, was probably the most famous. The Arcada Theatre, Dunham-Hunt Home, Hotel Baker, and St. Charles East High School are all also believed to be haunted. The Dunham-Hunt home is one of St. Charles’ oldest buildings. According to Bethany Krajelis of the Kane County Chronicle, “Museum stall have reported hearing footsteps, seeing moving shadows under doors, and claw marks on the wallpaper, as well as neighbours reporting flickering lights.” One former museum director held a séance in the home.
Sangamon County, Illinois
Springfield is the capitol of Illinois and the county seat of Sangamon County. Its population has steadily increased over the years, to just over 117,000 in 2013. The nearby Sangamon River and Lake Springfield provide a scenic source of outdoor recreation. Aside from its position as the political hub of Illinois, it is known for its numerous museums and connections to President Abraham Lincoln, whose tomb is located in Oak Ridge Cemetery. The ghost of Lincoln himself has been spotted numerous times around the old State Capitol. Additionally, the Dana-Thomas Home, Legacy Theatre, Yates Mansion, and the Chesapeake Seafood House are all believed to be haunted. In the 1970s, an exorcism was performed at the Sober Duck, a former disco and rock club on Fox Ridge Road in Springfield that burnt down under mysterious circumstances in 1992. In the Dana-Thomas Home, volunteers have heard humming, the sound of chairs tumbling down the stairs, and has even seen a lady dressed in black wandering the home when no tour groups were present.
Jackson County, Illinois
Home to Southern Illinois University, Carbondale is the most populous city in Southern Illinois outside of the St. Louis Metro-East region. Its motto is “City of Trees and PhDs” partially because of its high concentration of college educated residents. It is a social and cultural hub of Southern Illinois, also known as “Little Egypt.” In 2007, it was selected as one of the “101 Best Outdoor Towns in America.” Southern Illinois University is rich with ghostlore, and many of its buildings are believed to be haunted. Oakland Cemetery is also no stranger to the unusual. The ghost of a young woman in a flowing white gown, a mausoleum that unlocks on its own, vapours, glowing balls of light, and even strange creatures have all been reported there. The Hudley Home, where a former mayor of Carbondale and his wife were found shot dead, was featured on the Discovery Channel’s series Ghost Lab in 2010. Even the former post office, now home to a blood plasma centre, has experienced unusual activity. 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.
Peoria County, Illinois
Located on the Illinois River in west-central Illinois, Peoria is the oldest European settlement in the state. Is the headquarters for Caterpillar Inc. and peaked at a population of nearly 127,000 in 1970. After a steady decline, its population stagnated around 114,000 throughout the 1990s and 2000s. It is known for its healthcare industry, which accounts for at least 25 percent of Peoria’s economy. Peoria has also been presented the All-America City Award four times, most recently in 2013. Aside from its association with the infamous Peoria State Hospital (actually located in neighbouring Bartonville), Peoria is home to more than its fair share of haunts. The Meyer-Jacobs Theatre at Bradley University is one of the most haunted theatres in the state. Equally haunted is the Peoria Public Library, which was allegedly built on cursed ground and is occupied by as many as a dozen different ghosts. At the Peoria Players Theatre, Lights flicker and props seemed to move on their own. Once, the grandson of a volunteer saw the ghost of a man in a grey suit sitting in the auditorium. Ghostly nuns reportedly comfort the sick at Saint Francis Medical Centre, and the sprawling Springdale Cemetery is home to an isolated place known as the “Witch’s Circle.”
Winnebago County, Illinois
A city of around 150,000 residents along the Rock River in northern Illinois, Rockford was once a regional manufacturing powerhouse. Today, it is mostly known for its high crime and poverty rate, although local residents are hopeful for a comeback. In the past, Rockford was home to a Women’s baseball team called the Rockford Peaches, and social reformer Jane Addams graduated from Rockford Female Seminary in 1881. Rockford Female Seminary evolved into present-day Rockford University, which is home to numerous ghost stories. The laughter of past students has been heard in the vicinity of Adams Arch, which was constructed using a doorway from the original campus. Though not well advertised, haunted sites abound throughout the rest of the city as well. Twin Sister’s Woods, the Emma Jones Home, Coronado Theatre, Faust Hotel, and the Camp Grant Museum and Command Post Restaurant are just a few. Most famously, in 2012 Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum was featured on Syfy’s Ghost Hunters. The Atlantic Paranormal Society documented every inch of the museum while filming the episode. At one point in the evening, a rocking chair began to move on its own. At the Emma Jones Home, a newlywed couple reported that an old woman appeared in their living room and asked what they were doing in her home, before she vanished.
Madison County, Illinois
Founded in 1837, Alton is a city of around 28,000 located along the Mississippi River in western Illinois. During the mid-19th Century, it was a hotbed of abolitionism and a hub on the Underground Railroad that smuggled slaves out of the South onto free soil. Famous Alton monuments include the Piasa Bird painting on the limestone bluffs north of the city and the Elijah P. Lovejoy Monument. Perhaps because of its rich history, Alton has a disproportionately high number of allegedly haunted places. Most famously, it is home to the McPike Mansion, which is one of the most haunted houses in the Midwest. Often, a building has been repurposed, leaving behind ghosts of the past. That was the case with the former Enos Sanitarium, which is now an apartment complex, as well as the Mineral Springs Mall and Old Milton School. The Mineral Springs Mall, a former hotel, is said to be haunted by several ghosts, including that of a jasmine-scented woman, an artist, and one frightening spectre who hangs out in the former swimming pool. The modern Saint Anthony’s Health Centre is also believed to be haunted by at least three ghosts.
Cook County, Illinois
Chicago is the third largest city in the United States and an “alpha city” in the global economy. With a population of over 2.8 million, it is the political and economic powerhouse of Illinois. With so many people living and dying here, it comes as no surprise that Chicago would be home to so many ghosts. Entire books and their sequels have been devoted to the ghostlore of the Windy City. The Congress Plaza Hotel, Excalibur Club, Red Lion Pub, and Drake Hotel are among the most infamous. Guests at the Drake have reportedly seen the ghost of a “Woman in Red” throughout its halls. More than half a dozen bars and pubs in Chicago are believed to be haunted. Ethyl’s Party in Chinatown, for example, was a former funeral home, and employees have seen the ghost of a man dressed in a brown trench coat, a thick white cloud, and even an extra band member who was spotted on stage for a few moments before vanishing. Though technically not located within city limits, one of the most famous ghost stories in the world, Resurrection Mary, and one of the most famous haunted places in the world, Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery, are often associated with Chicago.
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 neighbourhood, 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.