Although belief in witchcraft has persisted in the American Midwest for nearly two centuries, Mysterious Heartland has found it surprisingly difficult to locate stories of witchcraft in the region. Never-the-less, we have scoured newspaper archives and dusty volumes to bring you some of the most exciting and obscure accounts of conjuring, hexes, and mistaken identity. Which story will prove to be the most compelling of them all?
10. The Weighing of Nancy Evans
In 1805 on the Ohio frontier, two teenaged daughters from the Hildebrand family began to display strange behavior. According to History of Clermont County, Ohio (1880), “On the approach of night they would scream, and at times become perfectly frantic from fright of the hideous objects which they professed to see, and which maintained such a spell over them that they were unfitted for their duties.” Their family came to suspect the girls were under a witch’s spell, and applied an obscure folk remedy. They conducted a ceremony over a linin and wool bag designed to trap the witch inside. Then they sealed the bag, chopped it to pieces with an axe, and burned the remnants. The girls continued to be tormented, however, so their suspicion turned to an old woman named Nancy Evans. In order to keep matters from getting out of hand, a local justice of the peace ordered a large wooden scale to be constructed. It was believed that God would not allow a witch to weigh more than the Bible, so Nancy was put on one end and a Bible on the other. In sight of witnesses, Nancy tipped the scale in her favor and was exonerated. Talk of witchcraft in Bethel died down after the Hildebrand family moved away.
9. The Three Sisters
Shelby County, Indiana
Shelby County is located southwest central Indiana. Today, it is home to over 44,000 people. In the early 1800s, however, Shelby County was a hunter’s and trapper’s paradise with less than 6,000 people living there. Cabins were few and far between, and hunting trails crisscrossed the heavily wooded landscape. According to local legend, three beautiful-but-reclusive sisters lived in a cabin deep in the woods. They were known to be witches who could transform into wild animals. Most of their neighbors knew to stay away from them, but one man who was new to the area went out hunting in that part of the forest. He was a particularly apt hunter and used to brag about how many deer he killed. That season, he came upon three fawns. He took aim and fired. He should have hit at least one of them, but mysteriously, the bullet missed. The next day, he fired at the fawns again, but missed. Frustrated, the hunter went to town to buy a new musket. An old man at the store told him there was nothing wrong with his weapon, but that he should melt silver coins and mold them into bullets. The hunter complied, and the next day, when he fired at the fawns, he hit one of them in the foot. He tracked the trail of blood back to a cabin, where he saw three beautiful women inside. One lay in bed, her foot maimed. When he confronted the women, they admitted that they were witches and had transformed themselves into the fawns. After that, they moved away and were never seen again.
8. The Loon Lake Witches
Deep in the swampy woods north of Spirit Lake and the Minnesota-Iowa border, lies Loon Lake Cemetery. Now abandoned, fewer than 18 of the original 67 headstones remain. According to legend, in 1881 the townspeople of the nearby village of Petersburg accused an 18-year-old girl named Mary Jane Terwileger (sometimes simply known as Mary Jane) of being a witch and beheaded her. She was buried on a hill in Loon Lake Cemetery. Their troubles with witches did not stop there, however, and they saw fit to execute two more young women in subsequent years. The graves of these women became something of a local tourist attraction, so their headstones were removed to protect them from vandals. Unfortunately, the exact location of Mary Jane’s grave has been forgotten, and legend says that anyone who walks across it will die within 72 hours. According to one account, “This was perpetuated by reports of a young man who walked over the grave while hunting in the area. On the way home, a heavy fog ascended, and after he pulled his car over, he suffered carbon monoxide poisoning.” The cemetery is believed to be haunted by other anguished spirits as well.
7. Eva Locker
Williamson County, Illinois
During the 1830s, on a place called Davis’ Prairie (also known as David’s Prairie), there lived a woman named Eva Locker, who was widely reputed to be a witch. Eva was notorious for her ability to steal milk from cows by hanging a towel over a rack or door and then, magically, wringing out the milk from the towel. Pioneers of the area blamed this old spinster for maladies of all kinds. “She could do wonders, and inflict horrible spells on the young, such as fits, twitches, jerks and such like; and many an old lady took the rickets at the mere sound of her name,” Milo Erwin, author of the History of Williamson County Illinois, wrote. According to historian John W. Allen, Eva had the ability to kill cattle by shooting them with balls of hair, which were found in the stomachs of the afflicted animals. Whenever Eva Locker struck, the men of Williamson County sent for Charley (Charlie) Lee, a noted “witchmaster” from Hamilton County who broke Eva’s spells by piercing an effigy of her with silver bullets.
6. Witch’s Castle
Also known as Mistletoe Falls, legend and real-life horror cross paths at the ruins of this abandoned stone house in the woods off Upper River Road. According to legend, a coven of witches lived here in the founding years of Utica. It is unknown how many witches resided within, but numbers range from three to as many as nine. Terrified, the townspeople trapped the witches inside and burned them to death. Today, all that remains are the stone walls, cellars, and staircases overgrown with underbrush. Visitors have reportedly heard and seen the ghost of a raven-haired adolescent girl wearing a white dress. “Witch’s Castle” has become a hangout for local teens and it is rumored that black rituals still take place there. In January 1992, these ruins were one of the places where four teenage girls tortured 12-year-old Shanda Sharer before ultimately stabbing and burning her to death.
5. “Black Annie”
Mount Vernon, Illinois
Between the late 1860s and the early 1930s, Mount Vernon was plagued by the appearance of a female spirit known variously as “Black Annie,” “Lady of Sorrow,” or “Cyclone Annie.” According to Michael Norman, sightings of Annie began when the citizens of Mount Vernon ran off a witch who was threatening their cattle. They thought they were rid of her, until February 9, 1888 when a tornado touched down in Mount Vernon and destroyed a half-mile wide swath of homes and businesses, killing 37 and injuring as many as 800 people. After the disaster, several eyewitnesses reported seeing a woman dressed in black—wailing and screaming—wandering among the debris. In 1918, residents of Mt. Vernon were terrified by the appearance of a woman dressed in black who chased pedestrians. Finally, “Black Annie” was blamed for a series of strange attacks in 1936 involving sleeping powder thrown through open windows. She has not been seen since, but parents sometimes use “Black Annie” to scare their children into behaving properly.
4. Bloody Mary
According to local legend, an old woman named Mary lived near Lake Eerie in the 1800s. She fell in love with a much younger man from Huron, who did not return the feeling. His eyes were fixated on the pretty ladies in their community. Mary became furious and vowed revenge. Upon drawing the shape of a woman in the sand, she snuck into the bedrooms of attractive young women at night, kidnapped them, and killed them at her cabin in the woods. She then selected their best body parts and assembled the pieces into the perfect woman. When it was complete, she placed this grotesque “doll” on a pier on Lake Eerie where she knew the young man would pass by and see it. When he went to go talk to this strangely alluring creature, Mary sprang the trap and dragged him into the water to his death. Mothers warn their daughters to stay away from the shores of Lake Eerie, lest they be kidnapped by the spirit of this old hag, who still wanders in search of body parts to this day.
3. Callan Road Witch
As motorists drive down Callan Road at night, the gnarled branches of barren trees cast frightening shadows in their car headlights. Some of these trees begin to take the form of a twisted old crone. The spirit of a witch, they say, inhabits these woods. The remnants of her old house can be found in the woods off to the side of the road. Crosses and bones lay scattered about. Some brave souls have reported seeing the ghost of an adolescent girl hiding behind the trees, still trying to escape the clutches of the witch. One visitor reportedly heard crying and faint moaning, and the sound of pebbles being thrown against his or her car. Additionally, strange flashing lights have been spotted deep in the woods, and the sound of trickling water echoes down the lonely road at night. Others report that the temperature will suddenly drop, chilling visitors to the bone. It is no wonder this creepy stretch of pavement has been called “Witch Road.”
2. Mary Worth
Accord to legend, Mary Worth was a notorious witch who lived on a farm west of Gurnee in Lake County in the mid-1800s. Prior to the Civil War, she would capture runaway slaves and torture them in her barn. Outraged locals took the law into their own hands and burned her to death. Some say her bones were buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery, but others say they were buried on her farm. Years later, a house was built over the foundation of the former barn. The family who lived there found a stone on the property and used it as a step beneath their front door. Poltergeist activity quickly followed. In 1986, the house burnt to the ground, and subsequent efforts to build at the location have failed. Some researchers believe this tale is the origin of the “Bloody Mary” urban legend.
1. Molly (Mollie) Crenshaw
St. Charles, Missouri
Since the 1960s and ‘70s, a legend has circulated high schools in the St. Charles area about a witch named Molly Crenshaw. Molly, it is said, was a freed Jamaican or Haitian practitioner of Voodoo who lived in the 1800s. Her charms were occasionally sought after, but after one particularly nasty drought or long winter, the locals turned against her and executed her. In order to prevent her from rising from the grave, they chopped her body into pieces and buried the pieces in the woods around a remote cemetery. It wasn’t enough. Year after year, the pieces crawl closer together. Anyone who successfully locates Molly’s grave will meet a gruesome end. According to a local English teacher at Francis Howell High School, “There was a story about two football players who went looking for the grave in the 1950s. They found it and tried to take the tombstone. They met with an untimely end. The sheriff’s deputies found their bodies impaled on the graveyard fence.” As far as local historians are concerned, there is no basis for the legend. Mollie Crenshaw did exist, but she was neither Jamaican nor Haitian, and she died in 1913 after swallowing carbolic acid. That has not prevented Molly Crenshaw from becoming one of the most popular and enduring legends in St. Charles County. Crenshaw’s surviving relatives removed her gravestone in 1979 to prevent further damage, but every year hundreds of thrill seekers still search for it.