Old theaters, Victorian mansions, and cemeteries are often thought to be haunted. Some even attract ghost stories just because of their appearance, but few people expect to encounter a ghost while eating chicken wings at a Hooters restaurant or watching the latest blockbuster at a movie theater. Yet sometimes these places are haunted as well. The unexpectedness of the haunting makes it that much more spine-tingling. Mysterious Heartland has visited the unlikeliest of places all over the Prairie State to bring you their tales. Which one will prove to be the most haunted of them all?
10. Fox Riverfront
For cities, riverfronts are often centerpieces of downtown, and they are seen as adding natural beauty to otherwise artificial urban life. Many dams are located near riverfront communities, but the dam in the Fox River near downtown Yorkville has been deemed particularly dangerous. This large, concrete dam was recently rebuilt to include a canoe and kayak chute, but residents remain concerned about the safety of swimmers and boaters in the area. As recently as the summer of 2008, a teenage boy disappeared while swimming in the river with three other friends. According to some local residents, the ghosts of a family who drowned at the Yorkville dam can be seen reenacting their tragedy. The ghosts—a father, mother, and their daughter—walk across the top of the dam in a futile attempt to escape, but always vanish before reaching the shore.
9. Chester Public Library
It is not uncommon for a library to be haunted, but usually there is a person or event to which staff can point to explain the haunting. That is not the case with the Chester Public Library in Southern Illinois. A ghost affectionately known as “Miss Minnie” is said to haunt the building. She is a mischievous specter who often plays pranks on the staff, including ringing the doorbell after hours, taking books off shelves, and calling out librarians’ names. She has also been known to ride the elevator, which has undergone and passed inspections to make sure there was nothing mechanically wrong with it. No one is sure who “Miss Minnie” was in life, but staff have come to accept her presence.
8. Sunrise Park
With a name like Sunrise Park, visitors expect to be greeted by nothing more than a nice summer day, chirping birds, and the laughter of children. Sunrise Park in suburban Bartlett, however, is home to an unusually macabre tale. According to Chicago Haunted Handbook by Jeff Morris and Vince Sheilds, a local legend tells of a hair-raising incident that allegedly occurred there more than a century ago. In the early 1800s, there was a one-room schoolhouse near where the park sits today. A man lived near the school, and parents became concerned for their children’s safety after screams were heard in the man’s house and the nearby woods. They conspired to evict the man from his land and demolish his home. However, doing so only made the problem worse. Soon, area children began to disappear, even after the old man died. To this day, it is said, the cries of these children can still be heard in the woods near Sunrise Park.
7. Guiteau Home
Most haunted places are haunted for a reason, but in some cases, ghostly encounters have occurred in a place everyone just assumes is haunted. Locally known as the “Saltbox Place,” this unassuming stone house is rumored to have been the boyhood home of President James Garfield’s assassin, Charles Guiteau. Guiteau possessed delusions of grandeur and believed that he had been personally responsible for Garfield’s nomination at the 1880 Republican Convention. After President Garfield denied his application for an ambassadorship to France, Guiteau decided that God had told him to assassinate the president. On July 2, 1881, he shot Garfield twice in the back. For 11 weeks, the president lay in agony, until he finally died of an infection in September. Guiteau was hanged on June 30, 1882. Charles Guiteau’s remains were never found, and some locals believe that his bones were secreted back to Freeport, where they were buried in the basement of the “Saltbox Place.” In fact, neither Charles nor his parents ever owned this house. According to the Journal-Standard, that distinction belonged to Guiteau’s aunt and uncle. Never-the-less, tenants living in the home after Guiteau’s execution reported an oppressive, dark presence and the smell of sulfur. The house is currently being renovated after sitting abandoned for a number of years.
6. Carbondale Post Office (Former)
Post offices, whether past or present, do not often come up when discussing haunted places. The old Carbondale post office is one exception. Now occupied by DCI Biologicals (a blood plasma center), it is a building reportedly rife with poltergeist activity. Several years ago, the figure of a woman wearing a white dress was seen in the lobby, and a “white form” appeared standing behind an employee on a photograph. Employees have seen the lobby chandelier swing back and forth, doors open by themselves, radios turn on and off at will, and at least one janitor quit because he “could not handle the intensity and frequency” of the activity. In one incident, a janitor became trapped in a closet when the door shut and locked with no apparent cause. Michelle Kell, a manager at the plasma center, has heard a phone ring in the basement, even though no phones are located there.
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
A subdivision, with its neatly trimmed lawns and rows of identical houses, seems like an unlikely place for a haunting. Shortly after construction was completed on the Fox Run Subdivision, however, 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. Twin Sister Hills Park
Twin Sister Hills Park off Charles Street in Rockford is 22.44 acres of recreational land complete with two baseball fields and three sled hills. It is a popular destination for families and young adults in both summer and winter months, but some locals claim this park is home to more sinister guests. The woods, they say, has been the scene of several murders, hangings, and even a drowning. Feelings of dread, disembodied voices, and mysterious figures are just some of the phenomena experienced by visitors. There is a large willow tree near the entrance to the woods. According to the Shadowlands Index of Haunted Places for Illinois, “If you walk by the willow tree it is said that you have a strange desire to go into the woods. There is an old hanging tree with some odd carvings on it. A little girl is said to be seen walking around.” The little girl is the ghost of a child who allegedly drowned in nearby Keith Creek.
3. Cinema 4 (former)
Traditional stage theaters are frequently haunted, but visitors do not expect to encounter a ghost in a modern movie theater. Most recently known as AMC Harrisburg 4, this theater on Main Street in downtown Harrisburg opened in 1971 and closed on November 28, 2010. Before the theater closed, visitors and staff reported a number of strange occurrences. According to Dan Beal, a former manager, employees occasionally witnessed a dark figure near the front row of theater three. Moviegoers complained that the curtain over the projection booth window was moving when no one was inside. While sweeping the hallway outside theater three, Beal saw a tall, shadowy figure on the wall in front of him. It dissolved after just a few seconds. Silhouettes and shadows, feelings of being watched, and electrical malfunctions were common in other areas of the movie theater as well. The ghost of a little girl with curly blonde hair had also been seen running toward the restroom.
A restaurant known for its buxom waitresses may seem like an unusual place for a haunting, but ghosts have found a home here as well. According to Chicago area ghost expert Richard Crowe, it started with a string of bad luck. Every other business to occupy this particular location at the corner of Erie and North Wells had failed in a short period of time. Hooters even briefly painted a mural in homage to its predecessors. Perhaps the restaurant’s employees were a little better at tolerating its ghosts. In the storage room, waitresses would often feel like they were being watched. One even heard someone call her name. There are also electrical disturbances, and the jukebox has a tendency to turn on and off on its own.
1. Dana-Thomas Home
The Dana-Thomas Home is a beautiful and unique example of modern architecture that receives thousands of visitors each year. It is definitely not what a person expects when he or she thinks of a traditional “haunted house.” In 1902, Susan Lawrence Dana hired renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright to remodel a home she had recently purchased. The renovations cost a total of $60,000, and when they were completed, Susan owned arguably the most unique home in Springfield. She lived there between 1904 and 1928. During that time, she was very active in the Spiritualist Movement and held séances there. Since it opened as a museum, employees and volunteers working in the home have reported some unusual experiences. In one instance, Mike Anderson, a musician who has performed at the home for several decades, felt the temperature drop suddenly for several minutes. Volunteer coordinator Kathy Liesman told the State Journal-Register that she had heard humming, the sound of chairs tumbling down the stairs, and has even seen a lady dressed in black wandering the home when no tour groups were present.
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.