Western Illinois, or “the Tract,” has a peculiar and unique history. Politically and economically isolated from the rest of the state, this region was nicknamed after the Illinois Military Tract of 1812, which was a section of land set aside for veterans of the War of 1812. Prior to the 1970s, there were only five Illinois highway river bridge crossings south of Peoria, leading some to also call this area “Forgottonia.” In 1972, a student at Western Illinois University proclaimed himself “Governor of Forgottonia” to protest the lack of funding and attention from the Illinois legislature in Springfield. Perhaps this isolation is why some of the most haunted places in Illinois are located in this 13-county area. Which one will prove to be the most haunted of them all?
10. Effland Woods
According to legend, an old dirt road once passed through Effland Woods. One day, an accident befell a group of travelers on the road and they all died. In some versions of the story, this was a car accident. People stopped using the road, and it became swallowed up by the woods. Now, visitors to the woods claim to see floating balls of light zipping between the trees. Others have heard whistling and low voices, and felt like they were being watched or followed by something unseen. According to authors Chad Lewis and Terry Fisk, the son of a woman who lived nearby went to hunt raccoons in the woods and returned home early in a state of shock. He was unable to recount what happened, but he refused to go hunting in Effland Woods again.
9. Crybaby Bridge
The “Crybaby Bridge” is a common folklore motif in the Midwest, and although the bridges may be different, their stories are very similar. One concerns a young mother who drowned her unwanted child in the river under the bridge, and the infant’s cries can still be heard. Another common story is that a bus or van full of children drove off the bridge, killing everyone inside. Now, if you put your car in neutral while on the bridge, invisible hands will push you safely to the other side. Both of these legends are associated with a steel, graffiti-covered bridge in rural Warren County. One tale particular to this location involves a speeding car full of impetuous youths who struck and killed a fisherman as he cast a line into the creek. Additionally, several people have claimed to hear a baby crying near this bridge.
8. Springdale Cemetery
Founded in 1855, this sprawling 225-acre cemetery has over six miles of roadways and is the final resting place for almost 70,000 people. It is so large that it has over two dozen different burial areas with names like “The Glen,” “Vista Hill,” and “The Willows,” with terrain ranging from open prairie to wooded hills and valleys. It even features a pet cemetery. Springdale was a private cemetery until 1999, when it was seized by the state due to profound neglect. Since then, it has recovered, but strange tales remain. One of the oldest stories involves the “Witch’s Circle,” a family burial plot surrounded by a circle of stones nestled in a field. Visitors often avoid this isolated area. As a young man, one person claimed that his friends and he were chased to the circle by mysterious glowing eyes, where they encountered a group of robed figures. At least one murder has occurred in Springdale Cemetery. In June 1935, the nude body of 19-year-old Mildred Hallmark was found in a ditch along Valley Road, the victim of a serial rapist named Gerald Thompson. Today, she is said to appear as a “lady in white,” and ghost lights have been reported near the crime scene.
7. Quincy Junior High
The middle school years are generally a tough time for adolescents, and for some, the stress can be too much to bear. For students of Quincy Junior High, their angst has been personified in the ghost of a young boy who, according to legend, hung himself in one of the bathrooms after being dumped by his girlfriend. Every year on the anniversary of his death, students and teachers are said to hear footsteps, crying, and mumbling in the bathroom. Students claim that teachers have kept quiet about the boy’s death in order to prevent copycats. Quincy Junior High occupies a beautiful old building that was constructed in 1933 and served as Quincy’s high school between 1933 and 1957.
6. Vishnu Springs
Vishnu Springs was a once-thriving resort community. Attracted to the natural spring’s healing properties, an entrepreneur named Darius Hicks inherited the land and built a hotel he called the Capital Hotel. Other people soon arrived to live and work there, but the isolated nature of the resort impeded its growth. During the early 1900s, several deadly incidents and scandals tarnished the community, and when Darius Hicks committed suicide in 1908, no one remained who was willing to invest their energy in the resort. During the 1970s, a group of hippies made a short lived attempt to turn it into a commune. Today, all that remains is the old hotel—a shadow of what it once was. Some visitors have reportedly seen the ghost of a lady in black wandering the grounds. Olga Kay Kennedy, a Western Illinois University alumnus, inherited Vishnu Springs from her grandparents and gifted it to the university in 2003. According to her wishes, all 140 acres will be turned into a wildlife sanctuary.
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. Abingdon Middle School (Former)
The old Abingdon Middle School at Snyder and Washington streets was formerly North Abingdon High School. During the 1970s, a tornado damaged the building and knocked down its distinctive chimney. Stories of the school’s haunting go back decades. According to legend, a speech teacher at the high school brought her three-year-old child to work one day and left him outside to play on his tricycle while she ran into her classroom to get something. Unsupervised, her child accidentally fell down the cement steps and broke his neck. The teacher was so grief stricken that she hung herself in her classroom. Ever since, the ghosts of both the woman and her child have been seen in and around the school, and a former janitor even reported these sightings to the police. Some storytellers claim that blood stains appear on the steps where the child died. According to writer Michelle Williams, these stories may have their roots in an actual event, which is well-remembered in the community. Today, the school is abandoned and off limits to visitors.
4. Meyer-Jacobs Theatre
In 1908, Lydia Moss Bradley, patron of Bradley University, paid for the construction of a beautiful gymnasium on campus. In the late 1970s, the gymnasium fell out of use and was subsequently remodeled and reopened as the Hartmann Center for the Performing Arts. A brand new theater was built inside and christened the Meyer-Jacobs Theatre. Something from the past remained, however. Since the theater opened, students have reported seeing a man in a brown suit who materializes in a cloud of cigar smoke. A second ghost, a woman wearing a white dress, has been spotted in the lobby. She appears more frequently than the brown-suited man. According to author Stephanie McCarthy, the ghost of a boy who drowned in the old gymnasium pool can be heard scratching at the floor boards beneath the orchestra pit. In addition to its ghosts, Meyer-Jacobs Theatre is reportedly home to an impish trickster spirit that messes with the equipment. A retired theater professor called it a “whompus.”
3. 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.
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.
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. 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 rumored 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.
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.