Cemeteries can be peaceful places in which to spend a quiet moment alone with loved ones who have passed, but they are often also a source of strange tales. Ghosts, living statues, animated toys, bleeding monuments, lights, and figures in the dark are just a few examples of the stories Mysterious Heartland has gathered at cemeteries throughout Illinois. Which one will prove to be the most mysterious of them all? Note: Many of these cemeteries have been vandalized in the past. Please be respectful when visiting and always adhere to cemetery laws. If you attempt to go to any of these places at night, we cannot be held responsible for what happens to you.
10. Elmwood Cemetery
Originally called Centralia Cemetery, this graveyard was in use in the 1860s but not officially established until 1877. Its name was changed to Elmwood Cemetery in 1921. A popular local legend maintains that the sweet strains of a violin can be heard emanating from the cemetery at night. The origin of these ethereal notes is said to be none other than the statue of “Violin Annie.” Deep inside Elmwood sits a large monument shaped like a tabernacle or an ancient Greek temple with only four columns. At the top of the monument stands a nearly life sized statue of a young girl with flowing locks of hair. In her hands she holds a violin. The statue depicts Harriet Annie, the daughter of Dr. Winfield and Eoline Marshall. Annie died of diphtheria in 1890, a few weeks after her eleventh birthday. Some locals also believe that Annie’s statue glows on Halloween night.
9. Calvary Cemetery
This picturesque resting ground along the shore of Lake Michigan is home to the tale of “the Aviator,” or as he is sometimes affectionately known, “Seaweed Charlie.” Between the late 1950s and 1960s, some passersby were treated to the alarming sight of a man drowning far out of reach in the icy waters. Even more startling was what came next. Instead of disappearing under the waves to a watery grave, the man, usually disheveled but sometimes covered in seaweed, emerged from the lake and crawled over the rocks toward the gate of Calvary Cemetery before ultimately vanishing. This scene was replayed many times before finally, one night after cemetery caretakers accidentally left the gate open, the ghost disappeared. Despite this apparent end, sporadic sightings continued into the late ‘90s.
8. “Ragdoll” Cemetery
The quaint and unassuming Bethel Cemetery sits nestled among rolling hills and picturesque farms south of the Coles County Airport. According to legend, there was once a little girl of about eight or nine years of age who was very attached to her rag doll. The girl died tragically, some say of an illness, others say murder. In the case of the illness, she asked to be buried with her doll, but when the time came, the doll was nowhere to be found. To this day, the doll forever searches for the girl’s grave. In the other version of the story, the doll was buried with the girl and crawls out of the grave every night to look for her killer. It is also said to be seen hanging from the oak tree by her grave, and will attack anyone who dares to come near.
7. Oakland Cemetery
Oakland Cemetery is no stranger to the unusual. The ghost of a young woman in a flowing white gown, a mausoleum that unlocks on its own, vapors, glowing balls of light, and even strange creatures have all been reported here. Most of the activity centers on the former railroad tracks (now a trail) along the northern boundary of the cemetery. There are possibly two sources for this activity. On March 31, 1888, an engineer named John Chapman was killed in a train wreck near the cemetery. That area was also a “potter’s field,” where unknown or impoverished people were buried. Some of these were transients who died on the train. Their bodies were deposited along the railroad tracks near the cemetery and they were unceremoniously buried the next day. Today, visitors have reported seeing balls of light and strange mists in that part of the cemetery.
6. Lithuanian Liberty Cemetery
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.
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. Wigwam Hollow Cemetery
Wigwam Hollow (the colloquial name for Old Macomb Cemetery) occupies a hill on the west side of town. The first person to be interred on that hill was the daughter of Peter Hale, an early settler. She died in a fire in February 1831. As one of the oldest graveyards in the county, situated next door to Western Illinois University, Wigwam Hollow has been a Halloween tourist spot for decades. Students from the university scare themselves in night-time treks out to see the crumbling, 150 year old headstones. The hill is supposedly haunted by a man who tortured his stepdaughter to death, then escaped from jail and disappeared. Some visitors have reported hearing shrieks and groans coming from the cemetery. An old house formerly stood next to the cemetery. It was abandoned (according to legend) because it was so haunted by the ghosts of American Indians that no one would live there. The old house, no doubt the destination of many nighttime excursions, was torn down in the early 1980s.
4. Anderson Cemetery
“Cemetery X,” or “Graveyard X,” as it is known, is actually Thomas Anderson Cemetery, located south of Taylorville near the tiny town of Clarksdale. It was founded in 1867 by Tavner and Polly Anderson. This cemetery’s claim to fame seems to be its inclusion in a documentary called “America’s Most Haunted,” which Troy Taylor highly dramatized in Beyond the Grave as well as Confessions of a Ghost Hunter. Dozens of amateur pictures of mists and orbs taken here have circulated the Internet. According to local legend, there is a phantom wolf that guards the cemetery, and an old section that is only reachable at night after “the trees part.” Attempts to keep this graveyard’s identity a secret may have inadvertently attracted more attention to this location.
3. Cumberland Sugar Creek Cemetery
Sangamon County, Illinois
Cumberland Sugar Creek Cemetery is a small, nondescript rural graveyard. According to author Larry Wilson, it is patrolled by sheriff’s deputies looking to catch teenagers who drive out there to drink. On several occasions, they have pursued lights into the cemetery, only to come up empty handed. Stranger still, some visitors have reported being pelted by stones thrown from the tree line and heard knocking on tree trunks. Footprints of a large bipedal creature have been found in the vicinity. Others, including Wilson himself, have seen bright lights in the sky over the cemetery. Cold spots have also been encountered here. However, this phenomenon is not believed to be spiritual in origin. To this day, the strange activity at this location is unexplained.
2. Peck Cemetery
Macon County, Illinois
Peck Cemetery is of the typical rural stock, formerly hidden in a wood at the end of a gravel road. Today, houses dot the pothole-filled road, the gravel path to the cemetery is now a driveway, and “Beware of dogs” and “no trespassing” signs are prominently displayed. Hidden from view prior to the 1990s, Peck Cemetery was the perfect place to hold nighttime excursions far from any prying eyes. The evidence of these excursions included burnt candles, graffiti, and headless statues covered in red paint. It was rumored that the leader of a Satanic cult installed a “devil’s chair” in the cemetery, on which he would sit during rituals. If anyone else sat on the chair, they would die within a year. Troy Taylor lists “inexplicable cries,” “whispers and voices,” “hooded figures,” “eerie lights,” and “the sound of a woman’s scream” as other phenomenon experienced at this cemetery.
1. Ridge Cemetery
Shelby County, Illinois
Ridge Cemetery and Williamsburg Hill are notorious in the lore of central Illinois. The hill is the highest point in Shelby County and once sheltered a town, in addition to its cemetery. Williamsburg, as the town was known, was platted in 1839 by two men, Thomas Williams and William Horsman. Many Horsmans can be found buried in Ridge Cemetery to this very day. The town disappeared in the 1880s as the railroad bypassed its inconvenient location. The legends surrounding Ridge Cemetery involve occult rituals, spook lights, phantom funerals, and the ghost of an old man who disappears upon approach. Animal mutilations and sightings of large feral cats, possibly panthers, have also been reported in and around the cemetery.
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.