Peggy Clydesdale is an artist and ghost mapper from rural Illinois. She is an avid fan of American folklore and has been collecting books and stories about the paranormal since she was a child.
When and why did you first start compiling a list of haunted places in Illinois on your website (ghosttraveller.com)? Did it take a while for the public to respond or did people start sending their own contributions right away?
I used to have huge Halloween parties, and my first website was a Halloween site – with DIY projects, articles on the history of Halloween, recipes, and one section on Illinois ghost stories. As the site evolved, the ghost stories became the focus. Some of the only areas being covered in Illinois at the time were the Alton and Decatur areas by Troy Taylor and the Chicago area, of course, by Ursula Bielski and others.
I had always heard really interesting ghost stories about the Illinois Valley, so I compiled my own list of email addresses from the internet that I knew were area residents and basically spammed them asking for ghost stories. I got a few angry responses, but I also got a few stories. After the site gained popularity and was featured in a local paper, I was getting quite a few stories, and elaborations on specific stories from several different sources. It was quite interesting how the stories evolved.
Check out an early version of the site here (http://www.members.tripod.com/bedpan3/halloween/sanchohp.html) and enjoy the vintage internet kitsch factor.
Why are you so fascinated with the more unusual (or kitsch) aspects of American culture?
I can’t tell you why that is. I’ve always been attracted to unusual imagery and unusual people. That just seem to hold my interest. I’ve always liked really tacky things – objects that are rather a joke in and of themselves: objects of kitsch. I think the midwest is chock full of great images and objects that are specific to American culture and would be out of context anywhere else.
What is your favorite bizarre or haunted place in Illinois, and why?
Probably The Old Slave House is one of my favorites. It has all the elements of a great ghost story: a long-dead person known for evil deeds, horrible suffering on the site, and historically it is a fascinating building with or without the ghost folklore. You see a lot of ghost stories and a morbid interest in general about affluent people and their homes. I really get a kick out of the fact that this awful man, who has been recognized by the state of Illinois as a kingpen of the reverse Underground Railroad, is still defended and protected by his descendants – who couldn’t possibly have known him personally.
I recently found out from my mom that I was once in the attic at The Old Slave House with my sister and brother when I was a toddler, before it was closed to the public. Closer to my home is Moon Creek Cemetery in Streator, which I went to with some friends on Halloween night when I was 16 or so. A fan of my site wrote a screenplay based on the folklore there and is in the process of making it into a film.
What do you think about shows like “Ghost Hunters?” Have they changed the way you view this subject? Do you think the predominance of those shows have helped or hurt “paranormal tourism”?
There are very few of those shows I can sit though without rolling my eyes or giggling. How do you capture a fleeting, unpredictable, highly subjective phenomenon on film every week to display to an eager audience? You can’t, that’s how. So you embellish non-events with theatrics and other silly displays of Hollywood magic. My favorite is the duo from the dead celebrity ghost hunting show. They were great.
“Oh my GOD! I can distinctly smell flatus here in the downstairs bathroom of the late, great Joan Crawford! I feel… I feel… OH I NEED TO LEAVE THIS PLACE! Joan? Joan? Do you want us to leave? You want us to leave because you are… you are… pooping? I CAN’T BE HERE ANYMORE! SOMETHING DOESN’T WANT US HERE!” (Flees to stage left, tears streaming down his face under the eerie glow of night vision cameras).
I think those shows have increased interest in sites like ours markedly, and I’m pretty confident that every bed and breakfast in the world is as likely to have a “resident spirit” in it nowadays as it is to have a scone on the table at breakfast. I always held stories about old Victorian style bed and breakfasts highly suspect, and even more so with the increased tourism generated by the TV shows. The haunted room at the Ritz-Carleton that I find a tiny blurb about on some message board – the room that is not spoken about by hotel staff because it’s in poor taste or sullies the reputation of the establishment – that is the room I’m interested in staying in.
Are you surprised at how much your website has grown? Where do you plan to take it in the future?
I am surprised at how many stories I’ve accumulated. I have admittedly neglected the site in the past few years, just because it takes a great deal of time and effort to compile and research all those stories and maintain some kind of accuracy on location, if it is a real place, how to locate that place, etc. I have never lost interest in the paranormal. Recently I’ve been reading lots of books about bizarre occurrences – kangaroo sightings in Chicago, objects that fall from the sky – just weird stuff. Most of my newer content is non-haunting phenomena. I am starting to get a few ghost stories from readers again after my last “submit a story” email address was overwhelmed with spam and abandoned. Those are by far my favorite stories – straight from the horse’s mouth.