With the City of Chicago at its eastern edge, Rockford in the middle, and the Quad Cities in the west, northern Illinois is the most populated and developed area of the state. Darkened corridors of abandoned factories, old farmhouses, and foreboding roads offer a stark contrast to this image of progress, however, and there is a lot more to this region than the bright lights of the city. As we at Mysterious Heartland can attest, northern Illinois is also ripe with ghost stories and haunted places. Which will prove to be the scariest of them all?
10. Cigars & Stripes
Cigars & Stripes has been a long-time haunt for Berwyn beer and cigar aficionados, but its owner and his customers believe it may also be a haunt of a different kind. According to an article in the Berwyn/Cicero Gazette (available on the Cigars & Stripes website), several customers have seen a “shadowy figure” without arms or legs floating down the hallway toward the door leading to the beer garden. Ronn Vrhel, owner of Cigars & Stripes, has heard phantom footsteps on the basement stairs as well. Ronn’s wife has also heard shouts and sounds of a party in the basement when no one was present. The ghost of Rose, a former owner of the establishment, is believed to linger in one spot at the bar and play “match maker.” She is even credited for bringing together at least one pair of newlyweds. Typical poltergeist activity, such as glasses tipping over and lights turning on and off, has been experienced as well. The paranormal research team Supernatural Occurrence Studies recently investigated the location and walked away convinced that the reported hauntings were real.
9. Colonial Palmer House
Crystal Lake, Illinois
Built in 1858 by Colonel Gustavus Palmer and his wife Henrietta, two generations of Palmers lived in this stately home. Mr. and Mrs. Palmer died within a few days of each other in 1884, and their son lived for another two decades before following them to the grave. The home was rented for the next few decades, until it was purchased by the city and became home to the Crystal Lake Historical Society. Oddly, the ghost stories associated with this home do not involve the Palmer family. According to legend, the house once served as an orphanage. The supervisor there was very cruel and abused the children. He punished them by locking them in the basement, where some allegedly died. To this day, it is said, the sound of children crying can be heard coming from the basement. The sound of children stomping on the floor or scratching on doors has also been heard. Some visitors have seen sad, cherubic faces peering through the basement windows.
8. Fox Run Subdivision
Shortly after construction was completed on the Fox Run Subdivision, some residents began to report eerie encounters. Most of these encounters centred on the tiny cemetery at the southwest end of the subdivision, but some—notably ethereal singing, knocking, and a physically aggressive phantom wearing an old-fashioned suit—were experienced by at least one resident in her home. The Fox Run Subdivision had been built over the former site of the Illinois State Training School for Girls, which operated between 1893 and 1978. The purpose of the “school” was to rehabilitate juvenile girls who had been convicted of a crime in the Illinois court system.
Inevitably, deaths from illness and suicide occurred at the facility over the course of its 85 years in operation. Girls without families, or who had been disowned, are buried in a cemetery on the property. Several infants were buried there as well, and today the cemetery contains 51 graves. Since the 1940s, visitors have reported seeing red eyes in the woods around the cemetery, as well as the spectre of a woman in a white gown or flowing dress in the cemetery itself. Others have heard a crying infant. The developers of Fox Run agreed to maintain the cemetery in perpetuity, so it will always remain as a reminder of what was once there.
7. Willow Creek Farm
Willow Creek Farm dates back to 1838. William Boardman and his wife Mary came from England in 1835 and made their way to Rockford when the future city was merely a trading post. After a few years, William staked out a claim in Cherry Grove Township, Carroll County and erected a log cabin there. According to public records, the current farmhouse dates back to 1878, although there is evidence to suggest it was built more than a decade earlier.
In 2006, Albert Kelchner, the farm’s current owner, bought the property and immediately sensed that he was sharing his house with some invisible guests. He began to record his encounters and has invited mediums and paranormal investigators to his farm in the hopes of corroborating his experiences. Home to as many as seven identified ghosts and as many as a dozen others, Willow Creek Farm has been called one of the most active haunted sites in Illinois.
6. Roadhouse Restaurant and Bar
The Roadhouse Restaurant and Bar has a colourful history. It began as a grocery store, but during Prohibition it was converted into a gambling house and speakeasy. By the 1990s, the building was in serious need of repairs. Its current owner purchased it in 1993 and fixed it up, but soon began to experience some strange activity. He was visited several times by a mysterious young woman who seemed to vanish upon leaving the building. Employees smelled cigar smoke and heard the clink of poker chips in the basement. Most notably, however, the owner became convinced the Roadhouse is supernaturally connected to a double murder. In 1948, Mary Jane Reed and her date Stanley Skridla were found riddled with bullets near a lover’s lane along Country Farm Road. The murder is still unsolved. Among other active spirits, Mary Jane’s ghost is thought to haunt the Roadhouse—the last place she visited before she died.
5. Rockford University
Rockford University (formerly Rockford College) 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. The ghost of either a student or professor 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.
4. Elgin State Hospital
Now called the Elgin Mental Health Centre, the Northern Illinois Hospital and Asylum for the Insane (as it was originally known) received its first patient on April 3, 1872. A contributing factor to the hospital’s notoriety is the fact that it has long housed patients considered criminally insane. The hospital received its first criminal patient who was “not guilty by reason of insanity” in 1873. It became known as Elgin State Hospital on January 1, 1910. In 1929, the Illinois State Psychopathic Institute relocated to the grounds of Elgin State. According to the Illinois Department of Human Services, the hospital is primarily used to care for patients who have been found “not guilty by reason of insanity,” and those persons found “unfit to stand trial,” but who are required by Illinois law to remain confined in a mental hospital for a period of time. Despite the danger of arrest, urban explorers used to trespass in the older, unused buildings (most of which have been torn down) and came back with stories of strange sounds, moving shadows, screams, flashing lights, and blood stained walls. Former patients and staff report feelings of being watched and claim that the hospital is a terrifying place to be at night.
3. Cuba Road
Lake Zurich, Illinois
Cuba Road sits nestled between the towns of Lake Zurich and Barrington, both upper and upper-middle class retreats. It is the setting of a plethora of paranormal phenomenon, including a phantom car (or cars), a pair of spectral lovers, and a vanishing house. A side street called Rainbow Road formerly had the distinction of being home to an abandoned mansion that some believed was an old asylum. Along Cuba Road sits White Cemetery, which author Scott Markus has referred to as the Bachelor’s Grove of the north-Chicago suburbs. This small, rectangular graveyard dates from the 1820s and its ghostlore concerns mysterious, hovering balls of light.
2. Congress Plaza Hotel
The Congress Plaza Hotel has the nefarious distinction of being one of Chicago’s largest and most haunted hotels. According to Ursula Bielski, some even believe one of its rooms inspired Stephen King’s short story “1408.” Since 1893, the Congress has played host to gangsters, celebrities, millionaires, and presidents. In recent years, it has suffered from the longest hotel employee strike in history. Its ghosts are numerous. Security guards have heard organ music and the sound of skate wheels sliding across the floor in the Florentine Room, a former roller skating rink, after the guests have gone to bed. Wedding attendees have gone missing from photographs taken around the grand piano in the Gold Room, and a one-legged man has been seen in the south tower. In the north tower, moans have been heard coming from the elevator on the fifth floor. Finally, the twelfth floor is believed to be home to a room so frightening that its door has been permanently sealed and hidden behind wall paper.
1. Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery
Bachelor’s Grove has been a south side enigma for over three decades and is one of the most famous haunted cemeteries in America. Some say it was named after a group of single men who settled in the area around the 1830s, but a family named Batchelder owned the land. One of the most controversial sightings around Bachelor’s Grove involves a phantom house. In the 1970s, Richard T. Crowe collected stories from dozens of eyewitnesses who claimed to have seen a white farmhouse at various places in the woods alongside the trail, complete with a glowing light in the window. There are several foundations and old brick wells tucked away in the woods—evidence that there were homes nearby sometime in the past.
Another popular ghost is the White Lady, or Madonna, of Bachelor’s Grove, who is said to be searching for her lost infant. This ghost, or one very much like it, was supposedly captured on a now famous photograph taken using infrared film. The pond adjacent to the cemetery has its own share of legends. Stories say it was one of the hundreds of places scattered around Illinois where mobsters dumped their victims during the roaring ‘20s. A policeman reportedly saw the apparition of a horse, followed by a man and a plow, walk out of the pond and cross 143rd Street. The ghost is said to belong to a farmer who drowned in the pond when his horse decided to take a swim one day, pulling him under the murky water in the process.
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.cnc