10. “Help Me” Road
Spring Valley, Illinois
A local legend maintains that in the 1980s a couple was returning home along this road from a night of drinking at a nearby biker bar when their motorcycle crashed. Both riders were terribly injured, but the man managed to write “help me” on the road in his own blood before he died. Attempts to remove the words from the pavement failed. Even when the county repaved the road, the words mysteriously returned. Some have suggested that “help me” was written onto the road in tar by a mischievous construction worker. The road has recently been repaved and the words are no longer visible—for now.
9. Cumberland Cemetery
Marshall County, Illinois
Cumberland Cemetery is said to be the home of a headless lady, spook lights, and the ghost of a little girl. The cemetery itself is rich in history. It was the site of the first farm in Evans Township, and its rolling hills were once occupied by a fort built during the Black Hawk War to protect the nearby settlers from marauding Sauk, Fox, and Kickapoo Indians. The main ghost story associated with the cemetery involves a headless woman. There is no evidence to substantiate the story, but that has not stopped its proliferation. According to legend, a farmer began to suspect his wife was having an affair with one of the young men who hung around his farm looking for work. Crazed with jealousy, he cornered his wife in their barn and confronted her. Despite her pleas and denials, the farmer took his ax and chopped off her head. From then on, her ghost stalked the cemetery, searching for her missing head.
8. Saint Bede Academy
St. Bede Academy has a tradition of academic excellence dating back to 1890. For a century, this Benedictine school and abbey has prepared young men and women of the Illinois valley to enter college upon graduation. According to longtime campus legend, there are two eternal residents at the school. “Brother Otto” is the ghost of a monk who is sometimes seen on the third floor. His mortal life ended in a tragic accident, but now he is free to watch over his students for eternity. The second ghost to haunt St. Bede is named “Val.” Val was a janitor who stayed in a room above the stage. After his death, his room was used for storage, but his ghost is believed to turn lights on and off, open doors, and move furniture. Students have left a poem for him on the door to his former room, and he is said to protect the auditorium.
7. Peoria Public Library
According to legend, the Peoria Public Library is built on cursed ground and is occupied by as many as a dozen different ghosts. Back in 1830, Mrs. Andrew Gray, a prominent Peoria citizen, lived in a house on Monroe Avenue. After her brother died, she gained custody of her nephew, who was always getting into trouble with the law. In time, he required the services of a lawyer named David Davis, who took out a mortgage on Mrs. Gray’s home as security. When the bill came due, Davis sued to foreclose on the home and collect his money. Mrs. Gray was enraged. She evicted her worthless nephew, and shortly thereafter his lifeless body was found floating in the river. She then cursed the property and all its future owners. As it came to pass, misfortune befell anyone who occupied the house, including a former governor of Illinois.
In 1894, Peoria purchased the property and built a library. Contrary to some reports, the library was built next to Mrs. Gray’s home, not over it. Never-the-less, the first three library directors all died under unusual circumstances. In 1966, the original library was torn down and a new one built in its place, but the ghosts remained. Employees have reportedly heard their names being called while alone in the stacks, felt cold drafts, and even claimed to have seen the face of a former library director in the basement doorway.
6. J. Eldred Home
The James J. Eldred home is a grand, Greek-Revival ranch house that has stood abandoned since the 1930s. During the 1860s and ‘70s, James and his wife Emeline had a reputation for hosting grand parties at their “Bluff Dale Farm.” But life was harsh living along the Illinois River. The three Eldred daughters, Alma, Alice, and Eva, all died of illness at home in their beds. Both Alice and Eva were 17. Alma was only four years old. In 1999, the home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in recent years the Illinois Valley Cultural Heritage Association has made great strides in restoring it to its former glory. While there are no specific ghost stories about the property, its current owners list “phantom footsteps,” “phantom knocking at the front door,” “giggles of a young lady,” and “small shadows moving in the nursery” as phenomenon experienced there.
5. Massock Mausoleum
Spring Valley, Illinois
The Massock Mausoleum in tiny Lithuanian Liberty Cemetery has long been the focus of local curiosity. Visitors have brought back stories of a “hatchet man” that guards the graveyard. The mausoleum itself is said to be warm to the touch and the scene of animal sacrifice. Red paint is spattered on the door, which has been sealed with concrete ever since the late 1960s when two vandals stole a skull from one of the Massock brothers. The Massock brothers’ mansion was located in the woods nearby, but was torn down in the late 1980s. Local teenagers used to refer to it as the “Hatchet Man’s House.”
Rosemary Ellen Guiley, in her book The Complete Vampire Companion, related the story of several men who encountered a “gaunt, pale figure,” in the cemetery at night. Fearing for their lives, they shot at the figure and ran. Later, a reporter who had heard about the men’s strange encounter came to the cemetery and poured holy water into a vent in the mausoleum, which produced a groaning sound. Because of the attention this location receives, police routinely patrol the area.
4. Starved Rock State Park
Starved Rock State Park is a natural, scenic woodland park surrounding a large butte overlooking the Illinois River. It contains 18 canyons and 13 miles of trails. American Indians inhabited the site for several thousand years before the French arrived and built a fort at the location. According to legend, Potawatomi Indians trapped a group of Illiniwek on the butte and starved them into submission, giving the rock formation its name. In March 1960, three women were murdered in the park, and their bodies were found in one of the canyons. Eventually, a man named Chester Weger was convicted of the crime. Some visitors to the park have claimed to hear groans and other disembodied voices amidst the rock formations.
Between 1685 and 1702, Henri de Tonti was the most powerful man in central Illinois. He accompanied René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle in his exploration of the Illinois country, and La Salle left him to hold Fort Saint Louis when he returned to France. During his time in the Illinois River Valley, he is rumored to have accumulated over $100,000 in gold, which he buried around Starved Rock. He told a priest about the gold just before he died, but it has never been found despite search attempts in the 1750s by the French and the Potawatomie.
3. The Sweetin Home
Greene County, Illinois
Otherwise known as “the old stone house,” the remnants of this manor were, at one time, part of a mansion built in 1848 by a stockman named Azariah Sweetin. Though nothing but a shell today, a grand ballroom once occupied the third floor, a ballroom that was the scene of murder. During a farewell gala for newly enlisted Union soldiers, two farmhands, Henson and Isham, got into an argument that ended with one thrusting a knife into the back of the other. The wounded man fell down by the fireplace and bled to death. According to legend, his blood seeped into the stone floor and formed an outline of his body. The stain could never be removed.
As the war raged, Azariah Sweetin didn’t want to take any chances, so he stuffed all his gold coins into jars and buried them around his property. Unfortunately, an equestrian accident in 1871 rendered him without any memory of where he had buried his money. After his death, his ranch was purchased by Cyrus Hartwell, who also lived there until he died. Treasure seekers soon tore the mansion apart, but no one has ever found Azariah’s gold. Storytellers say Azariah’s ghost—alongside snakes—now guards his lost loot.
2. Peoria State Hospital
The hospital began in 1885 as Bartonville State Hospital. No patients were ever housed or treated in that building, however, and it was torn down in 1897. The institution was rebuilt and reopened in 1902 with a new name and a new superintendent. Now called Peoria State Hospital, a progressive physician named Dr. George A. Zeller took over the facility and instituted new, more humane treatments for mental illness. During his tenure there, he recorded many stories of daily life, including some that were almost beyond belief.
The main story associated with the hospital concerns the unusual circumstances surrounding the death of one of the patients, A. Bookbinder. Dr. Zeller assigned Bookbinder to the hospital’s burial corps, and he performed his job admirably. Old Book, as he was sometimes called, mourned the passing of each and every person he helped inter in the cemetery. When Bookbinder died, Dr. Zeller wrote that four hundred staff and patients observed his ghost mourning at his own funeral just as he had for countless others while he was alive. They even opened the coffin to confirm that Old Book was really dead. His corpse was securely inside.
1. 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 “gray ghost”—a faceless phantom at that—hangs out on the stairwell of Whipple Hall. Another gray 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 rumored 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.
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.