Going to college for the first time can be a very scary experience, but even more so if you plan to attend one with its own resident ghost! Almost every college and university in Illinois has a story, but what are the most haunted? After much debate, Mysterious Heartland brings you the Top 10 Most Haunted Colleges and Universities in Illinois! Note: Many of these schools have open campuses, but please be respectful if you plan to visit.
10. Illinois State University
Founded in 1857 and originally a teacher’s college, Illinois State University is currently home to around 23,000 students and faculty, as well as one tenacious ghost. The ghost is said to be that of Angeline V. Milner, or Ange for short, a beloved librarian who remained with her books long after she passed from this world. In 1917, the university moved its library from the Old Main Building to North Hall, where Miss Milner worked until she died. North Hall served as the library until 1940, when a new building was constructed and christened “Milner Library” to honour Normal University’s beloved Aunt Ange.
In 1976, the old Milner Library became known as Williams Hall and most of the university’s books were moved into the new Milner Library, located on the north side of campus. Since at least the 1980s, staff members working in the Williams Hall archives have reported encounters with what they believe is the ghost of Ange Milner, still tending to her books. These books have recently been moved again, to a brand new storage facility. Has Ange Milner’s ghost followed her books to their new location, or has she finally found peace? Only time will tell.
9. 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.
8. Illinois College
Founded by Presbyterians in 1829, Illinois College is one of the oldest colleges in Illinois. Its first president was Edward Beecher, brother of Henry Ward Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe. With such a rich history, it comes as no surprise that Illinois College is rich in ghostlore too. Nearly every building on campus is thought to have a ghost or two. Like Millikin University, the female dorm at Illinois College, Ellis Hall, is haunted by a young woman who allegedly committed suicide there.
A “grey ghost”—a faceless phantom at that—hangs out on the stairwell of Whipple Hall. Another grey ghost, this one dressed in a Confederate uniform from the Civil War, has been seen in Sturtevant Hall. Phantom footsteps have been heard in Beecher Hall, the oldest building on campus. It is rumoured that early in the college’s history, medical students stole cadavers from nearby hospitals in order to learn about anatomy. After a while, the hall where the bodies were stored began to smell, and the student’s grisly enterprise was uncovered.
7. Eastern Illinois University
Pemberton Hall at Eastern Illinois University is the oldest all-female dormitory in the state of Illinois and was the brainchild of Livingston C. Lord, president of EIU from 1899 to 1933. The old-English look and feel of the dormitory was well suited for its first full time matron, Mary Hawkins, who emigrated from Great Britain in 1901 and assumed the position of dorm director in August 1910, when she was 33 years old. Sometime after her death, the girls of Pemberton began to believe her ghost returned to haunt the hall.
The Roommate’s Death, a common folklore motif, has merged with the story of Mary Hawkins to create a unique tale. Sometimes Mary manifests herself as a prankster; a young woman who scratches at doors, leaves footprints, or wanders up to the fourth floor dressed in nothing but a white gown. Other times, Mary appears as a benevolent matriarch who makes sure doors are locked at night and warns “her girls” of trouble.
6. McKendree University
Founded in 1828 by the United Methodist Church and originally known as Lebanon Seminary, McKendree University is the oldest college in the State of Illinois. Like most colleges, several places on campus are rumoured to be haunted. The Alumni House is stalked by three restless spirits: that of an old lady, her husband, and an infant. The old nursery where the infant died is said to be much colder than the rest of the house. Bothwell Chapel, one of the oldest buildings on campus, seems to have attracted the most attention.
A former security guard claims to have heard organ or piano music playing in the sanctuary after hours. According to legend, a student hung himself in the bell tower, and to this day his ghost can be heard pacing the upper floors. Carnegie Hall has less specific hauntings. Students report odd feelings and electronic devices that exhibit unusual behaviour, such as a television turning on or changing channels on its own.
5. University of Illinois
The University of Illinois was established as an industrial university in 1867 and first opened on March 2, 1868. It became the University of Illinois in 1885 and was renamed the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1982. As one of the oldest public universities in the state of Illinois, the campus hosts a number of ghost stories. The English Building is purportedly haunted by the ghost of a student who either drowned or committed suicide there in the early 1900s during the time when the building served as a female dormitory.
The third floor of Lincoln Hall has its own ghost, but so does the ultra-modern Psychology Building, where a student threatened to kill himself by jumping from one of the upper floors overlooking the foyer. He survived the incident unscathed, but died a few years later. Some students claim that his ghost has returned to torment his analytically-minded former classmates. Even the YMCA cannot claim to be ghost-free. According to legend, the spectral manifestation of Chief Illiniwek is said to roam the basement of this venerable building, which formerly hosted a painting of the university’s mascot. Perhaps all the recent controversy has contributed to his unrest!
4. Western Illinois University
Western Illinois University began as a teacher’s college. Originally called Western Illinois State Normal School, its classes were confined to one building, now known as Sherman Hall. Sherman Hall was then known by the unimaginative title of “Main Building.” In 1902 the university added a training school to Main Building in order to allow its students to obtain teaching experience in the classroom. As the student body expanded, they constructed a new building to house the training school. In the 1960s, as Western Illinois State Normal School became Western Illinois University, the Training School building was converted to house the Department of English and Journalism and renamed Simpkins Hall.
For years, students and faculty in Simpkins Hall have told stories about the ghost of an adolescent girl, but she is only one of the apparitions rumoured to haunt the 71-year-old building. Many other odd occurrences at the hall are attributed to “Harold,” a former janitor or graduate assistant who lurks among the classrooms on the third floor. After classes finish for the day, the disembodied sound of keys jingling, doors opening and closing, or a typewriter clicking, rattle the nerves of even the most seasoned educator. Another story circulating the hall is that of a woman who can be heard crying in the first floor restroom.
3. Rockford University
Rockford University (known as Rockford College until 2013) is steeped in history. It was founded in 1847 as Rockford Female Seminary and changed its name in 1892, but remained a predominately female academy until 1958. Jane Addams graduated from the school in 1881. In 1964 the campus was moved from its home along the river to its present location along State Street.
Many campus buildings are said to be haunted. The laughter of past students has been heard in the vicinity of Adams Arch, which was constructed using a doorway from the original campus. A suicide victim reportedly haunts a former radio station in the Burpee Building. The Clark Arts Centre’s two theatres are also visited by their own phantoms, one of whom is supposed to be the ghost of the building’s architect.
2. Millikin University
Millikin University began its career with great fanfare. Named after the man who bankrolled the school, James Millikin, it opened in 1903 and was dedicated by Teddy Roosevelt. Classes begin on September 15 of that year. Its numerous ghost stories have their origins early on it its history. One story, involving the light of a long-deceased railroad crossing watchman named Tommy, has been told on campus since the 1930s. The old gymnasium, now used primarily as a storage area, is the scene of echoes from days gone by. According to Troy Taylor, students have heard the sounds of sports being played while alone in the abandoned gym. Aston Hall, formerly an all-female dorm, is reportedly haunted by the ghost of a young woman named Bernice who committed suicide there in 1927. She roams the third floor, and only her upper body is visible.
1. Benedictine University
Benedictine University is a private, Catholic university with a student population of around 5,000. Its current campus was built in 1901 at the beginning of the Edwardian era, after having been located on the Lower West Side of Chicago since 1887. Originally known as St. Procopius College, it changed its name to Illinois Benedictine College in 1971 and then to Benedictine University in 1996. Students at the college believe their imposing halls, woods, and cemetery are haunted by tortured ghosts. They speak of rituals in the woods where a woman’s body was once discovered, and of the death of a student who committed suicide by lying in the street. Lake Saint Benedict, a swampy, kidney-shaped slough next to the cemetery, only adds to this atmosphere.
According to both Ursula Bielski and Dale Kaczmarek, several students have attempted to contact the ghost of a former monk via Ouija Board, with disastrous results. A young lady living in Neuzil Residence Hall, for instance, blamed a séance gone wrong for a fire that started in her room, and several boys were scared witless after they brought an Ouija Board to the cemetery. These events took place during the early 1990s as the school entered its second century in operation.
Read more about college ghost stories in Michael Kleen’s new book, Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges & Universities!
At schools across Illinois, students tell ghostly tales, from beloved librarians who refuse to go home, to sad spectres suffering from a broken heart. Join Michael Kleen as he explores the history and mystery behind haunted college dorms, libraries, classrooms, theatres, and more. In this one-of-a-kind book, current and former students and faculty tell their tales of mysterious encounters at their beloved alma maters. Kleen scours every source to bring these stories to light in the first book exclusively devoted to Illinois college lore. Why do ghost stories continue to have such an appeal on college campuses? What are the scariest stories from universities in Illinois? Is there any truth to the tales? These questions and more will be answered.