With the summer tourist season fast approaching, we at Mysterious Heartland have prepared a list of some of the most unusual places in the great outdoors that you can visit. While these are all nice places to experience nature not too far from home, you may also encounter something of the supernatural variety. Be warned, however, some of these places hide very real dangers, not the least of which include hazardous terrain. So visit them alone–at your own risk!
10. Indiana Dunes State Park
Located along the shores of Lake Michigan east of Gary, Indiana, the Indiana Dunes are home to one of Indiana’s most popular and enduring legends. The sand dunes were formed thousands of years ago by the retreating waters of Lake Michigan after the last Ice Age. Every summer, visitors flock to the dunes, nature centre, hiking trails, and beaches to enjoy the scenery. Since the 1920s, however, a legend has circulated about a wild woman who lived in an abandoned cabin near the beach and would frequently be spotted skinny dipping in the chilly waters of Lake Michigan. She is known as “Diana of the Dunes,” and her ghost has been spotted wandering the shoreline for decades. A woman named Alice Mabel Gray, who moved to the dunes in 1915 to escape from city life, was the historic basis for the legend. For many years, she shared her cabin with a fellow recluse named Paul Wilson. Alice died of uraemia poisoning in 1925 at the age of 45. She is honoured to this day by the “Diana of the Dunes Festival and Pageant” in Chestertown.
9. Jackson Park
For a better part of the 20th Century, a sorrowful tree stood in a place known as “Molly’s Hollow” in Jackson Park along the Missouri River. A local foundry filled in the hollow at the end of the 1980s, but it could not remove the legend whispered there. Molly, it is said, was a slave in the days of “Bleeding Kansas.” Her master was a little too affectionate towards her for the liking of local women, so a mob lynched her in the branches of a gnarled tree. On certain nights, her unearthly screams could still be heard. In a more recent version of the tale, Molly and her boyfriend get into a vicious argument at the park, and her boyfriend drives off. Left alone in the dark, Molly hung herself from a nearby tree. Her spectral form is seen swaying in the branches, and of course, passersby can still hear her screams.
8. North Chagrin Reservation
Willoughby Hills, Ohio
This 1,700-acre wildlife sanctuary on River Road in the northeastern suburbs of Cleveland has trails, picnic areas, and a nature centre, but it is known for something more unusual. On the northeastern edge of the Reservation sits the hollowed out shell of Squire’s Castle. This stone edifice once served as a carriage house for Standard Oil co-founder Feargus B. Squire. Built in the 1890s, it was intended to be one part of a larger estate, but Squire never finished the project. The Cleveland Metroparks acquired the 525 acre property in 1925. According to legend, Feargus’ wife Rebecca stayed in the tiny castle and used to wander the rooms at night carrying a red lantern. One night, a mounted hunting trophy startled her and she broke her neck falling down the stone stairs. To this day, visitors see the red light of her lantern shining in the darkened windows. In reality, Rebecca Squire died in Wickliffe, Ohio in 1929. After years of vandalism, park staff gutted the carriage house, leaving behind nothing but its stone walls. Rumour has it that the castle used to have a basement, and that it can be accessed by way of a secret entrance.
7. LaBaugh Woods
LaBuagh Woods sits across the railroad tracks west of a group of large graveyards that includes Bohemian Cemetery. It is a claustrophobic forest and park that is divided by the Des Plaines River. Known for its gang activity, it also has a sinister reputation of a different kind. Since at least the 1960s, rumours of Satanic and occult worship at LaBuagh Woods have circulated in local high schools. According to author Ursula Bielski, “Accompanying these rumours have been documented discoveries of bodies found in the woods, sometimes hanged from trees. The ensuing murder cases have gone unsolved.” Today, many of the trees along its trail are tagged with graffiti.
6. Devil’s Punchbowl
The Devil’s Punchbowl Scientific Study area is located off Paradise Valley Road, near the Red Cedar River southwest of Menomonie. The “bowl” was formed thousands of years ago by water eroding the sandstone bluffs along the river. It was originally known as Black’s Ravine, after Captain Samuel Black, who served during the Civil War. No one is quite sure how this small spherical canyon came to be called “Devil’s Punchbowl,” but there are many similarly named places across the United States and the British Isles. This connection to the Old Country may explain sightings of gnomes, trolls, ghosts, and fairies at the location. Others have reportedly seen floating balls of light. According to local legend, water collected from the pool at the bottom of the bowl will always be crystal clear and ice cold. Preserved for scientific study, this location offers many wonders of nature—as well as some of the supernatural variety!
5. Sturges Park
Sturges Park is located on the shores of Buffalo Lake in the small town of Buffalo, a few miles northwest of Minneapolis, Minnesota. It is a small, trapezoid-shaped plot of land dotted with trees. Amenities include picnic areas, boat landing, and fishing pier. According to all outward appearances, Sturges Park is a typical recreation area, yet over the years rumours of paranormal activity have persisted. Alfred E. Sturges and his wife Adelaide opened this five-acre plot of land to the public in 1903. The City of Buffalo purchased the park in 1958. Mr. Sturges’ ghost reportedly haunts the park, and visitors have also seen orbs of light dancing through the trees. It is also rumoured that names written in blood appear on the bathroom mirrors.
4. Devil’s Gulch and Split Rock Park
Garretson, South Dakota
According to local lore, in 1876 the outlaw Jesse James leapt an 18-foot gorge over Split Rock Creek known as “Devil’s Gultch” on his horse while fleeing pursuit after a robbery. The jump has been called impossible, but some disagree. “I would think a horse could jump at least that far. I bet it would scare the hell out of you. But if the posse was coming hard, maybe you’d be scared already,” Dale Lewis, an expert on Western lore, told South Dakota Magazine. If the 60-foot drop itself isn’t frightening enough, parts of the creek below are believed to be “near bottomless.” But this quaint tale from the days of the Wild West isn’t the only unusual thing about Devil’s Gulch and Split Rock Park. According to Linda Moffitt, the gulch is haunted by the ghosts of two lovers who died in each other’s arms. Sometime in the 1800s, a white outlaw and a band of Indians kidnapped a woman named Nellie Harding and took her to the gorge, where her fiancé caught up with them. He managed to kill most of the kidnappers, but not before Nellie and he were mortally wounded. To this day, visitors report hearing moans and screams in the area, and have even seen an apparition of the two lovers.
3. Mossy Glen State Preserve
Strawberry Point, Iowa
Mossy Glen State Preserve is located off Eagle Avenue, a few miles northeast of the community of Strawberry Point in northeastern Iowa. In 1936, a local family of “hillbillies” was involved in a murder plot in which Pearl Hines, 33, married “Old Dan” Shine, 56, in order to acquire his property. Pearl’s uncle Jim, a man named Albert “Deke” Cornwell, and a young ne’er-do-well named Maynard Lenox picked a fight with Old Dan, murdered him, and then tried to make it look like a suicide. Their sloppiness exposed them, and all were convicted for their roles in the plot. Many locals believe the spirit of Pearl Hines was sentenced to an earthly purgatory in Mossy Glen. The Glen is also rumoured to be haunted by a mud soaked apparition near the bogs, the ghost of a murdered peddler who haunts a small cave, and the vengeful spirit of an attorney’s wife. Last but not least, some believe saying the name “Lucinda” several times near a particular cliff will invoke the spirit of a scorned lover holding a rose.
2. Cave-In-Rock State Park
Cave-in-Rock, located on the Ohio River, is one of the most notorious destinations in Illinois. From the 1790s to the 1870s the area around Cave-in-Rock was plagued by river pirates, horse thieves, counterfeiters, and highwaymen. Some of these pirates made a game of tying captives to the backs of mules and then chasing the mules off, of the ledge above the cave. Over $1 million worth of stolen loot, gold, cash, and counterfeit bills changed hands there between 1790 and 1830. In 1800, the Mason gang was rumoured to have hidden a large stash of gold at Cave-in-Rock, but Samuel Mason was beheaded after he was caught on the Spanish side of the Mississippi River with $7,000 and 20 human scalps. Aside from Mason’s horde, there are supposed to be dozens of stashes of gold and silver all along the cliff face. According to Troy Taylor, travellers passing on the river claim to hear moans and cries echoing from the cave.
1. Rock Island State Park
Door County, Wisconsin
Rock Island State Park is located off Washington Island at the remote tip of Door Peninsula in northeastern Wisconsin, near Green Bay. To get there, visitors must travel by boat or take a ferry to Washington Island and then another ferry to Rock Island. No cars or other wheeled vehicles are allowed on the island. It is famously home to Potawatomi Lighthouse, Wisconsin’s oldest lighthouse. The original lighthouse at that site was built in 1836, and the current structure replaced it in 1858. Today, the Potawatomi Lighthouse is a museum and open to visitors. Frequent shipwrecks in the area gave it the name Porte de Morts, or “Death’s Door.” According to legend, David E. Corbin, the original lighthouse keeper, committed suicide after he failed to prevent a wreck that killed several seamen. His ghost still haunts the lighthouse to this day. Corbin, however, died of natural causes in 1852. Two cemeteries on the island are also believed to be haunted.