The Fox River Valley originates in Wisconsin and winds its way west of Chicago and south to the Illinois River. In northwestern Lake County, the Fox River forms the Chain O’Lakes, which alongside Six Flags Great America makes that area a prime summer vacation spot for Chicagoans. While most counties in the Fox Valley are technically part of the Chicago metropolitan area, this region has a distinct culture rooted in independent, small town life. As we at Mysterious Heartland can attest, however, the Fox Valley is also ripe with ghost stories and haunted places. Which will prove to be the scariest of them all?
10. Egyptian Theater
Conceived during a wave of fascination with Ancient Egypt, the Egyptian Theater was designed by Elmer F. Behrns and built in 1928. It held regular performances until 1970, when it fell into disrepair. In 1978, local citizens took an interest in the theater’s preservation and added it to the National Register of Historic Places. It is now one of only six remaining Egyptian Revival theaters in the United States. According to Operations Director Alex Nerad, the theater is haunted by two ghosts: one of Irv Kummerfeldt, whose leadership saved the building in 1978 and who died at the top of Isle 1, and one simply known as “Bob.” Open doors, footsteps, and mysterious taps on the shoulders of employees are all blamed on Bob. The Egyptian symbols in the theater also have been said to contain hidden messages.
9. Prairie Park/Dead Man’s Creek
Buffalo Grove, Illinois
Visiting Prairie Park is like stepping back to a time when the wild prairie stretched for miles. It is a bucolic setting, so it may seem strange that the stream that flows through the park is known locally as “Dead Man’s Creek.” According to local legend, a farm used to exist on that land, but the farmer’s barn caught fire and he died trying to extinguish the flames. To this day, it is said, the farmer’s ghost still haunts the land, frightening trespassers. Students at nearby Prairie Elementary School warn each other not to play near the creek alone. Braver children will venture to the edge of the prairie and say “Dead man” twice to try and summon his ghost.
8. Kaskaskia Hotel
A popular legend maintains that this hotel is haunted by the ghost of a woman who was either murdered or committed suicide there during the 1920s. Chad Lewis and Terry Fisk uncovered a real suicide at the hotel that took place in July 1948. A woman, distraught over her marriage, jumped from the roof and was killed instantly. Employees at the hotel often heard strange footsteps and reported that the elevator would open when no one had pressed the button. The hotel closed in 2001 after changing owners several times, but was recently renovated and reopened as a luxury hotel and conference center.
7. Devil’s Gate
According to local legend, sometime in the distant past a private all-girls school stood behind the set of iron gates off of a sharp bend in River Road, deep inside what became the Independence Grove Forest Preserve. 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.
In reality, this property, known as the Doddridge Farm, passed through several incarnations as a summer camp. It opened as the Katherine Kreigh Budd Memorial Home for Children in 1926. Between 1936 and the early 1980s, the Catholic archdiocese operated it as St. Francis Boys Camp. The archdiocese then sold the camp to the Forest Preserve, who knocked down all the buildings and converted the nearby gravel pit into a lake. The gate to St. Francis still sits at the entrance to what is now a horse and bike trail.
6. Channing Elementary School
Channing Elementary School has the unfortunate distinction of having been built over what remained of Elgin’s first cemetery. During the 1940s, most of the graves were moved to accommodate a new sports field, but in the 1960s, when construction crews broke ground on the new elementary school, their equipment began to uncover human remains. Since then, faculty and staff at Channing Elementary have reported an elevator that seems to move on its own, footsteps on the roof, dark figures, and even scratching on the walls. Today, a stone monument to the dead buried at the original cemetery sits at a nearby park.
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!
5. Fox Run Subdivision
Shortly after construction was completed on the Fox Run Subdivision, some residents began to report eerie encounters. Most of these encounters centered 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, were 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 specter 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.
4. George Stickney House
Bull Valley, Illinois
George Stickney came to Illinois from New York and was the first white settler in Nunda Township, McHenry County. He married Sylvia Beckley in 1839 and they began constructing a beautiful Victorian Italianate home in 1849. It was finished in 1856. The curious thing about their new home was that most of its corners were rounded. Many have theorized that the Stickneys rounded their corners because they were enthusiastic followers of Spiritualism, and they believed that spirits might become trapped in the corners of their house during séances. Spiritualism was very new at the time, having been created by the Fox sisters and their followers in 1848. Sylvia Stickney lost seven of her ten children, and held séances in the upstairs ballroom to try to communicate with their departed souls. After the Stickneys died, the house fell into disrepair. A group of hippies moved in in the late 1960s, spray painted the walls, and burned fires on the floor. The next owner claimed to experience strange occurrences, which he blamed on “Devil worshippers.” Bull Valley came into possession of the house in 1986 and converted it into government offices and a police station. So far, private donors have contributed over $250,000 to restore the house to its former glory.
3. Woodstock Opera House
This opera house was constructed in 1889 and is as famous for its ghost as it is for its beauty. Its interior was designed to look like a glamorous showboat, and its exterior is an eclectic combination of styles. In the late 1940s, an actor named Shelley Berman witnessed a chair (DD113) that popped up and down during rehearsals, as if someone had been sitting there. After a number of years, the thespians began to refer to their ghost as Elvira. Actresses are warned to stay away from the theater’s tower, or else they might feel a strange compulsion to jump. A Honda commercial during the Super Bowl in 1992 even played off the notoriety of the Woodstock’s ghost.
2. 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 there 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.
1. 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.
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 neighborhood, 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.