Ghost stories are not just for Halloween anymore.
Nearly every town has its ghost stories, some more obscure than others; however, there’s other locations that are so well known for paranormal encounters that it is hard to imagine it not haunted. In Illinois, popular haunted locations like Ashmore Estates and Old Joliet Prison were thrust into the national spotlight through famous paranormal investigation teams like Travel Channel’s popular show, Ghost Adventures.
However, not many look past Chicago or Ashmore for a night of frights in Illinois, but there is a plethora of paranormal locations in small-town Illinois. In this post, I dive deep into the history and supernatural lore of 10 locations across Illinois. If you want to follow along on a map, click here.
- McPike Mansion
According to the official website for the McPike Mansion, the building was built in 1869 by architect Lucas Pfeiffenberger and resides on the highest point in Alton, Il—which was dubbed “Mt. Lookout” by Henry Guest McPike, the original owner and namesake of the mansion.
In Troy Taylor’s blog, Haunted Illinois, he tells readers that McPike first came to Alton in 1847 when he was a young man. During his stay in Alton, McPike became active in local politics, business, and became the president of a horticulture society. McPike’s political aspirations landed him as Deputy Provost Marshall of the District, which placed him in a management position when the Civil War began. Later, he was elected mayor of Alton from 1887 to 1891.
When the mansion was complete, McPike moved in with his family. On the grounds, he grew a variety of plants and developed the McPike Grape due to his interests in horticulture. After McPike’s death, his family stayed in the house until 1936.
Through several years the house’s ownership changed often, until Paul Laichinger had bought the home and turned it into a bed and breakfast. It was during this time that those staying at the house reported hearing children’s laughter, even when there weren’t any children present. Unfortunately, the mansion has been abandoned since the 1950s.
Since its abandonment, the weather and vandals have damaged the mansion to the point where many of the floors are unsafe to walk on. Many of the original marble fireplaces and stunning woodwork throughout the house has been stolen as well. However, all hope is not lost for the abandoned mansion because in 1944 Sharyn and George Luedke bought the mansion and hope to restore it to its former glory.
Sharyn believes the house to be haunted by Laichinger’s ghost, Taylor said on his blog. She said her first encounter was when she was working in the garden, when she saw a man in period clothing staring at her in one of the house’s windows. Soon after she saw him, he disappeared. She later did some research and found a photo of Laichinger that had looked like the man she saw in the window.
Another spirit that is believed to walk the halls in the mansion is a servant Sharyn named Sarah. A man had brought the Luedkes books he had taken from the house 17 years prior, one of which had the name “Sarah Wells” inside the cover. Since then, Sharyn had said she had been touched and hugged by the spirit and her husband occasionally smells lilac perfume on the third floor.
In Troy Taylor’s blog, he states that he witnessed a paranormal activity that had left the tour group puzzled. He said two women, who were uncomfortable in the small space of the wine cellar, had gone upstairs to wait for the tour group. After awhile, the group heard footsteps going down the basement stairs and “then crossing the basement floor. The steps were followed by a short pause and then the metal door to the wine cellar opened, scraping across the floor as it did so,” but the two women were still upstairs.
- Williamsburg Hill
Hidden in the backroads of rural Illinois, Williamsburg Hill is notorious among locals for various supernatural phenomena and cultist activities. A village called Cold Spring was founded in 1839 by Dr. Thomas Williams and William Horsman. The village was the first in Shelby County at the time, and for nearly 40 years, it was a bustling community. When stagecoaches from Shelbyville and Vandalia stopped traveling down the village’s main road due to the development of the railroad, the town was abandoned. Several of the residents moved to Lakewood in 1880, and many never returned. Currently, only a handful of people live in the hill, and the only reminder of the old village is a few gravel rock lots near the old radio tower close to Ridge Cemetery at the top of the hill.
Ridge Cemetery is the center of local stories with supernatural encounters on the hill and the surrounding forest, where long-forgotten graves lay. Many who were brave enough to sneak past the nightly police patrols have reported seeing a bobbing red light and an apparition of an old man, who vanishes as soon as someone gets close, on an old back road leading up to the cemetery.
But that’s not all, according to local residents, strange things happen in the area nearly every day. Troy Taylor, one of the first people to write extensively about paranormal activity on Williamsburg Hill, recounted two chilling tales from a woman named Claire in his book Haunted Decatur Revisited.
Claire told Taylor that she has experienced several unexplained supernatural phenomena while she lived at Williamsburg Hill, but the first encounter she remembers was with her father. One sunny afternoon, Claire said she and her father was visiting a relative’s grave at Ridge Cemetery when she heard someone sobbing. Once she turned around, she saw a group of people in dark clothing around a grave. In the distance, she could hear horses. Claire said she looked away from the scene when her father called to her, but when she turned back, the group was gone.
Years later, after she had married and had a daughter, the woman returned to Williamsburg Hill. One day, her three-year-old daughter had taken a walk on her own, and when they found her, she was halfway down the old road leading to the cemetery.
Claire said they took a ride down the road a week later, and when they passed the cemetery’s lane, her daughter told her ‘the people who live down there want me to come and stay with them.’ When she asked who lived by the cemetery, her daughter said, ‘the people in the ground.’
- Pemberton Hall
Located at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Il., Pemberton Hall was built in 1909 and considered the oldest women’s residence hall in the state, according to EIU’s website.
For generations, the legend of Mary Hawkins has been passed down from generation to generation, until it has become a traditional tale at EIU. The story begins on a cold night in January of 1917 when one of the residents had gone upstairs to play the piano. Allegedly, a janitor was able to sneak into the hall, where he violently attacked and raped the woman. After the janitor left, the woman dragged herself down the stairwell where she scratched on doors to wake someone to help her. Eventually, she made her way to Mary Hawkin’s room, who was a headmistress for Pemberton. When Mary opened her door, she found the girl dead. After the girls’ death, Mary was said to have paced the halls of Pemberton and was later institutionalized in a mental hospital, where she had died. Residents say the ghost of Mary Hawkins returned to Pemberton so she could check on and protect the young women who lived in Pemberton Hall.
According to Troy Tayor’s blog, residents reported unexplained activity shortly after Mary Hawkins died. When the fourth floor was open to residents, many said to have seen a woman dressed in a white dress in the stairwell as well as the hallways on the fourth floor. Residents have said to hear someone banging on their doors, but when they check no one would be in the hall. Many others have reported hearing unexplained scratching on their walls, dragging sounds, moved furniture, and whispering.
However, this isn’t the only story about May Hawkins. According to an article written by Michael Kleen, Mary Hawkins had taken the position of dorm director in August of 1910, when she was 33. When she was the dorm director, she put strict rules into place, including a curfew at 7:30 p.m and only allowed unchaperoned co-ed activities at church and class. After working in Pemberton Hall for 16 years, she left the university due to health problems in 1917. A year later, she was admitted to M.A. Montgomery Memorial Sanitarium in Charleston, where she had died in October of 1918 due to “general paralysis of the insane,” otherwise known as general paresis, which occurs as a result of late-term syphilis. Others even say that the irregular publication of the campus paper at the time was a conspiracy to cover up the murder, but it was actually due to rationing during the first world war.
Whichever story you believe, stories of unexplained noises in Pemberton Hall still circulate across Eastern’s campus today.
- Ashmore Estates
According to the Ashmore Estates official website, the estates were built in 1916 as a hospital for the mentally ill. Through its history as a mental hospital, many patients—who often had no family left—have died within its walls. As many as 100 patients is estimated to be buried at a pauper’s cemetery on Route 16. The Estates is in Ashmore, and offers guests tours of the building in the daytime and nighttime.
For a detailed timeline about the history of Ashmore Estates, click here.
Ashmore is notorious for its paranormal activity, so much so that Travel Channel’s paranormal investigation team, Ghost Adventures, has stayed overnight to investigate the property. During their stay, they recorded unexplained voices, objects moving when no one touched them, and doors closing on their own.
During a discussion about Ashmore Estates at Effingham’s Public Library owner Robin Terry and on-site historian Michelle Watson-Baker talked about well-known ghosts that reside on the property. One such ghost is the spirit of Elva Skinner, a 5-year-old girl whose dress caught on fire. She burned to death and caught part of the building on fire as well in 1880.
Watson-Baker told Effingham Daily News that her first encounter with Elva’s ghost was when she and her sister worked as apart of the haunted house that was previously help on the property. She said she felt someone tugging on her shirt, “just as a child might tug on its mother’s blouse to get her attention.”
Grounds caretaker Sue Remmers told The Daily Eastern News that during the tours many have reported paranormal activity on the second floor and in the boiler room.
“Lots of reports of shadow figures, footsteps or disembodied voices,” Remmers said. “We do have a room that had the twin girls, [who] were here during the hospital era, and they are very active. They like to be read to, and that’s also on the second floor.”
Scattered throughout the building are toys, children’s books, medical equipment, items left from the haunted house, and cryptic spray-painted messages litter the walls. One object forms the haunted house is an old piano, which allegedly plays a similar tune once someone plays. However, Remmers said one of her most memorable encounters at Ashmore Estates was when she saw a full body apparition.
“I have been investigating here, and other places, for 10 years…” Remmers said, “I couldn’t describe in detail, it was female, and had on a nurse’s uniform but the older style, and she just, I just saw her go up the floor and down the across the hallway. It looked like she was just going from room to room.”
- The Witch’s Grave
St. Omar Cemetery lies on a small back road in Ashmore, Il., as a final reminder of where the town St. Omar had stood. If it wasn’t for the Barnes grave, the cemetery would have likely been forgotten along with the town.
While other tombstones face East to West, one spherical tombstone stands out form the rest as it faces North to South. The grave has four people buried at it: Marcus Barnes, his parents Granville and Sarah, and his wife, Caroline; however, according to Atlas Obscura the orientation of the tombstone isn’t its only oddity. The carved death date for Caroline is one that could never happen: February 31, 1882.
According to legend, Caroline was a witch. She was arrested for her crimes and, depending on who you ask, hanged or burned to death. Local lore at the time of her death said a witch’s spirit would come back to life on the anniversary of their death, so an impossible date was carved into her headstone. The spherical shape of Caroline’s tombstone is said to represent a crystal ball and appears to glow on moonless nights.
Those who have visited the cemetery said that film photographs of Caroline’s tombstone refuse to develop, and rituals take place at night, which may be true due to white melted candles being found on top of the ball repeatedly. Other objects like pennies have also been found on top of the sphere.
However, there isn’t much to back up the claims of witchcraft. According to Atlas Obscura, the Barnes family had a series of misfortunes. Caroline’s husband, Marcus Barnes, died in a sawmill accident in 1881 and was buried with his parents. A couple of months later, Caroline died from pneumonia when she was 23, and her death date is speculated to be around the 26th or 28th of February. Many think “February 31st” was carved into the stone on accident, but was too expensive to fix and there weren’t any family members left to fix it.
- Manteno State Hospital
The now abandoned Manteno State Hospital sits on 200 acres in rural Kankakee County and officially opened in 1930, according to the blog Sometimes Interesting, as a hospital for the mentally ill. When it first opened, it housed nearly 100 patients from Kankakee State Hospital. As more patients came, more land was bought to expand the hospital.
When the U.S got involved in World War II, the hospital began to experience medical staff shortages because qualified doctors and nurses were called upon to assist in the war. The low amount of medical staff eventually led to the hospital to hiring high school dropouts or other unqualified candidates as nurses. According to Sometimes Interesting, only 16 nurses out of 120 had training at one point. Despite occupancy doubling, the hospital’s budget was cut by 29% in 1934. Nearly two years later, shock therapy and lobotomies were commonly used within the hospital and a tuberculosis sanitarium was added onto the hospital. In the same year, nearly 5,000 patients and 760 staff occupied the hospital, according to Michael Kleen’s blog.
In 1939, Times Magazine dubbed a typhoid fever outbreak in the hospital as the “Manteno Disaster” because 384 patients and staff were infected, of which 47 died. At first the director of the hospital thought the outbreak was just a common case of diarrhea, but state welfare agents stepped in as more and more people got sick.
“Patients lay moaning in bed,” Time reported. “Others, whipped by mad fear, beat against the screened windows, grappled with attendants… Every night kitchen boys and orderlies disappeared. Over 45 ran away in all.”
As many mental health facilities began to close down, the Manteno State Hospital had to close its doors in 1987 and the land was auctioned off, Michael Kleen said in his blog.
According to Sometimes Interesting, the hospital allegedly allowed the U.S military to perform secret medical testing on the patients, who would be injected with malaria in an attempt to find a cure for the sickness. The blog also mentions that patients had sexually abused or attacked the nurses.
After the hospital was closed, many paranormal investigators ventured onto the grounds in hopes of capturing paranormal activity. Kleen said many investigators have reported seeing apparitions of nurses and patients walking across the grounds and in the buildings. Additionally, Kleen said that all of the buildings on the grounds have long since been knocked down.
- Old Joliet Prison
Located in Joliet, the Old Joliet Prison was first built in 1858 by architect W. W. Byington, who had also designed the Chicago Water Tower, according to the prison’s official website. The limestone used to build the prison was mined form a local limestone quarry; however, the prison was officially opened in 1858 and housed 53 inmates, who had began to mine limestone and work on constructing the rest of the prison around the small structure they resided in.
By 1878, over 2,000 inmates were crowded into the prison. Later on, reports of unsanitary and dangerous conditions contributed to the prison’s official closure in 2002.
During it’s time, the old prison housed many Civil War prisoners, which were from both sides, and numerous murderers like John Wayne Gracy, who was process though the prison in 1980. In an episode of Ghost Adventures, Zak was told that many inmates had committed suicide or died in the prison’s hospital.
Ground caretakers told Zak and his team that they have seen shadow figures moving through the prison, they also said they have been shoved and scratched while in the hospital wing. During the team’s daytime investigation, they heard unexplained banging and captured orbs and mists in photographs.
In Chicago Magazine, tour guides said they heard doors slamming shut, whistling, and sobbing. A reporter followed an investigation team during a night tour, according to the article the tour guide placed a Raggedy Ann doll in one of the more active areas in the prison, and when the installed EMT reader is prompted, the doll’s hand will light up.
“A voice emerged from the darkness: Were you killed in this bathroom?” one investigator asked. “Another asked, Did you die in the prison? Raggedy Ann’s hands briefly lit up then faded into darkness, prompting a low collective gasp.”
- Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery
Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery is located just northwest of Midlothian and was established in 1840. Over time, the cemetery became known for its numerous supernatural phenomena as well as a vandalism spot for teenagers.
According to The Line Up, reports of the supernatural began in the 50s, after the cemetery became known as a place where gangsters would dump bodies and illegal firearms. Some of the earliest supernatural phenomena at the cemetery is sightings of an old red barn that will disappear when visitors try to get closer and blue orbs that float above tombstones.
In 1960, the number of funerals held at the cemetery dwindled drastically nd when the last funeral was held in 1989.
The Line Up also mentioned an apparition of a farmer and his horses appearing near a lagoon at the cemetery.
- Resurrection Mary
Located on Archer Avenue, Resurrection Cemetery is a well-known haunted hot spot in Justice.
According to the Chicago Reader, the ghost known as Resurrection Mary has haunted Archer Avenue since the 1930s. The article said that many men have encountered Mary, who is described as a beautiful blonde woman, at the Oh Henry Ballroom. After a night of dancing, she would ask the men she danced with to drive her home and gave vague directions to drive past the cemetery on Archer Avenue. Once the car passed the cemetery gates, she would disappear.
One man, Vince, retold his encounter with Mary. He said he asked her to dance at the Oh Henry Ballroom. Vince told the Chicago Reader that her skin felt brittle and cold.
When she noticed his realization, he said he hoped to lighten the mood by telling her, “Cold hands mean you have a warm heart.”
At the end of the night, he offered her a ride home since she lived on Archer Avenue. After a few miles she insisted that he stop in front of the cemetery, when she got out, she placed her hand on the padlock on the gate and disappeared.
Vince said he drove to the address Mary had given him before she asked to be dropped off at Resurrection Cemetery. When he arrived, he asked the woman who answered the door if Mary was home, to which he found out that Mary had died in a car crash on the way to a dance hall and that she was buried in Resurrection Cemetery.
Once the dance halls were taken down, reports of Mary died down, until the 1970s. According to the Chicago Reader, Mary was buried on a rented plot and her parents died before they could renew the contract. She was later moved to an unmarked grave in Resurrection Cemetery.
Allegedly, people have seen her spirit walk among the graves in the cemetery, only to disappear when police were called to check on her. Others have reported seeing her walking down Archer Avenue or seeing a woman in white laying on the ground, who disappears right before their car hits her. More disturbing encounters describe Mary’s spirit running in front of cars and getting hit, to disappear when drivers look for her.
- Chicago River
The Chicago River is well known for its St. Patrick traditions; however, many say the spirits from the Eastland River Disaster haunt the waters edge.
According to the Smithsonian Magazine, around 2,537 passengers and crew boarded the steamboat Eastland on July 24, 1915. Employees from Western Electric Company’s Hawthorne Works factory and their families to an outing at a park across Lake Michigan. As rain began to fall, women and children moved below decks. As more passengers began to board the ship, the ship began to list to the side, though no one seemed to notice aside from the crew, who scrambled to get on the deck of the ship.
As the ship turned on its side, many passengers were crushed or trapped by the heavy furniture below deck. Above deck, some jumped into the water below or climbed over the railing to get onto the exposed hull, according to the magazine.
“When the boat toppled on its side those on the upper deck were hurled off like so many ants being brushed from a table,” wrote Harlan Babcock, a reporter for the Chicago Herald. “In an instant, the surface of the river was black with struggling, crying, frightened, drowning humanity. Wee infants floated about like corks.”
Those on the docks tried throwing things to the passengers to help keep them afloat, but some wound up knocking the victims out or dragged them underwater.
According to the Eastland Disaster Historical Society, rescue workers began to cut through the hull of the Eastland to save those who were still alive below deck.
Of the 2,500 passengers and crew, an estimated 844 people lost their lives–including 22 entire families.
The Smithsonian Magazine, said the ship was thought to have been too top-heavy due to the amount of lifeboats the ship had on board due to the “lifeboats-for-all” movement after the Titanic sank. Originally, the ship was built to accommodate the weight of 6 lifeboats, but had to carry 11 lifeboats, 37 life rafts, and enough life jackets for everyone on the ship, and no tests were done to see how the weight would affect the Eastland.
According to Imagine Spirit, the ship was later raised from the water and sold, where caretakers have claimed to hear moaning and loud banging on the ship. Those walking past the disaster site have heard splashing sounds accompanied by screams and moans on days when the water was calm. Others who visit riverside cafes see unexplained rises in the water, which often floods the river walk. Some who scroll by the river claim to see lifeless faces in the water.
The Oprah Winfrey Talk Show was located along the disaster site, where security guards or maintenance workers report seeing victims of the disaster roam the building, Imagine Spirit reported. Particularly, a woman in a long grey dress was spotted by staff and maintenance workers, but the woman disappeared when approached. There’s also reports of staff hearing whispers, sobbing, moaning, children laughing, shouting, doors open and close, and unexplained footsteps.