A program set for this weekend will explore the haunted tales of Southern Illinois.
Haunted Southern Illinois will be presented at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19, in the Schweinfruth Museum at the Jefferson County Historical Village, 1411 N. 27th St.
Kari Dillingham is a teacher at Centralia High School, who started using spooky stories to keep her students engaged in local history. She will speak about some of Southern Illinois’ most famous haunted people and places, including Kaskaskia Island and the Old Slave House, also known as the Crenshaw House.
There is no cost to attend, but donations will be accepted.
— The Southern
BPL Plasma, Carbondale
This historic building once served as Carbondale’s stately cement post office and is currently home to BPL Plasma.
Weird things happen in the building according to employees, including a night janitor who became locked in a closet when he was the only one in the building.
Legend has it doors open and shut by themselves, and a huge chandelier in the lobby is reported to swing back and forth of its own volition. The form of a lady wearing a long dress has allegedly been spotted at times floating around the lobby and appeared behind an employee in a picture.
Crenshaw House, rural Equality
This home, originally named Hickory Hill, is considered not only one of the most haunted places in Southern Illinois, but in the nation.
Called the Old Slave House, for years a legend persisted that Crenshaw House was once used in the reverse underground railroad to capture free blacks and sell them into slavery for hefty profits. Some slaves were kept in Illinois for the excruciating work in the salt tracts owned by the home’s owner, John Hart Crenshaw. The attic of the beautiful white home was allegedly fashioned into a torture chamber where slaves were shackled to small make-shift cells and often whipped.
Jon Musgrave, a researcher of the home’s history, says rumors of ghosts in the attic actually started appearing in the 1800s when townspeople were hearing the all-too-real moans of live people.
When the house reopened for tourism in the 1920s under new ownership, the ghost story revived as inhabitants and visitors alike told of strange noises throughout the house, most noticeably from the attic where, reportedly, blood stains appear on the walls and where chains still rattle and cries still echo at night.
Reports of ghostly shapes and areas of extreme cold in the house, even on the hottest August days, continue to this day.
Big Muddy Monster
A creature was sighted around midnight June 26, 1973, by a couple in a car parked near the boat launch area on the Big Muddy River, just east of Riverside Park. They described the creature as 7-feet tall, covered with light, shaggy hair and mud with a stench of river slime or sewage. Police investigated and heard high pitched screams around 3 a.m. June 26.
The next night, a creature of almost an identical description was sighted by two teenagers in Westwood Hills Subdivision. Police brought in a dog that followed scent trails to a barn, but refused to enter the barn. They found more tracks and slime. The search party did not find the creature.
Sightings continued for more than 10 years. In February 1975, four truckers saw something similar near the junction of Illinois 3 and 149. The supposed monster made another appearance in 1988 in a salvage yard in Ava to a couple of men, and later by several members of their families. It also appeared to a couple of men gigging frogs in 1988. Other local residents have claimed to catch a glimpse of the “monster.”
These days the Big Muddy Monster is more of a legend, with no sightings since 1988. He is celebrated at The Big Muddy Monster Brewfest.
Devils Bake Oven/Devil’s Backbone, Grand Tower
Legends of ghostly activity were first circulated by the Native Americans who called this area home. Powerful rapids at the base of the rock have caused numerous deaths at nearby Devil’s Backbone, a rocky ridge about a mile-and-a-half long at Grand Tower’s northern edge. Devil’s Backbone continued to thwart the most experienced riverboat captains, resulting in many tragedies.
Ghost stories continued throughout the ages, including the story of a drowned wedding party that resurfaced from the river and foretold the coming of the Civil War and Esmerelda, the daughter of a prominent citizen in the mid-1800s who lived atop Devil’s Bake Oven.
After a boiler explosion claimed the life of Esmerelda’s lover, she leaped to her death from the high cliff. While her home is long gone, some believe Esmerelda remains and appears as a fine mist. Some say she can be heard wailing, especially during thunderstorms.
The Hundley House, Carbondale
This historic brick home on Main Street, with accents such as an original Art Nouveau stained-glass window was in recent years operated as a bed-and-breakfast, but was the site of an unsolved murder in 1928. Former mayor J. Chas Hundley and his philanthropist wife, Luella, were gunned down in their home.
Speculation abounds with tales of shady connections the family may have had in the heyday of prohibition and mobsters. The only suspect was Hundley’s son, who was allegedly involved in a bootlegging ring. He was never charged.
Guests and residents have reported ghostly activity continuously for the last seven decades. The porch swing allegedly starts swinging by itself on windless nights, pots and pans bang in the kitchen, doors open and close, and lights turn on and off by themselves.
The Rose Hotel, Elizabethtown
The Rose Hotel is currently owned by Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and operates as a bed and breakfast. Built in 1820, it is the oldest active hotel in Illinois.
Former owner Sarah Rose is rumored to linger beyond the grave. Her ghost has supposedly been sighted walking in second floor hallways and on the stairs. Items are moved during the night and guests have heard a disembodied female voice.
According to a posts on several online sites, guests have seen orbs and mist, had a face show up in the corner of a picture taken in June 2015, and had a radio turn on by itself in the middle of the night.
Original Springs Hotel, Okawville
After a patient with rheumatism was allegedly cured by bathing in a tub of mineral water, a small bath house business was started in Okawville in 1867, which would be the beginning of the Original Springs Hotel and Bath. The business burned to the ground in 1890 and was rebuilt to a bath house with 40 rooms and a two-story hotel, with a very large room in the center to hold hot and cold water storage tanks.
Through the years, a series of owner, ups and downs, new additions and remodels, outlaws and death, the hotel has survived. But perhaps more than the hotel survives.
Employees claim to have felt a presence watching them while they work. Strange noises and footsteps are heard in the hallways when no one is there, and old music sometimes drifts through the corridors. Mists and apparitions are briefly seen. A lady dressed in a flowing white dress and large hat has been seen in the office, a guest room and hallway. The lady in white was spotted by a guest and delivery man, as well as the owner.
Cave-In-Rock State Park
If you like to let your imagination run wild, Cave-In-Rock State Park is the perfect spot for you.
The heavily-wooded park in Hardin County is named for the 55-foot-wide cave that was carved out of the limestone rock by water thousands of years ago and overlooks the scenic Ohio River.
From the 1790s to the 1870s, the protected cave was reportedly plagued by outlaws, horse thieves, murderers and counterfeiters. Locals tell stories of unsuspecting travelers floating down the river on barges and flat boats long ago, when they were suddenly snatched by robbers or n’er-do-wells.
The Mason Gant was rumored to have hidden a large stash of gold at Cave-in-Rock, but Samuel Mason was beheaded after he was caught on the Spanish side of the river.
Travelers passing on the river still claim to hear cries coming from the cave.
Sackman home in Marion
In 2005, four members of The Southern Illinoisan staff spent the night in the home of Megan and Ray Sackman in Marion. The couple and their children reported many strange occurrences that lead them to believe the house was haunted. The home was built around 1875 and had five owners between 1979 and 1999.
All four reported hearing strange noises, including phantom footsteps upstairs when the group was sitting around the dining room table, along with the family and a couple paranormal investigators. A motion detector set up by the investigators went off, but may have been set off by the reporters.
Our staff did not come to the conclusion it was haunted, but did hear strange noises. The investigators were inclined to believe the family.
Many years ago, Kaskaskia Island was part of the Illinois mainland, but the peninsula was cursed. By 1881, it was completely cut off by the river and nearly was destroyed.
According to legend, a fur trader named Bernard lived in a large home with his daughter, Mari, who fell in love with a young Native American who worked for her father. When Bernard found out, he was enraged and let the employee go. The former employee left town, but promised to return for Maria. Maria and the man escaped and Bernard hunted them down. He had the paramour tied to a log and thrown in the muddy waters of the Mississippi River. Before he drowned, he cursed Bernard and Kaskaskia, said the altars of the churches would be destroyed and swore he and Maria would be reunited.
Within a year, the curse appeared to be coming true. Maria died and was reunited in eternity with her lover. The river changed course and turned Kaskaskia into an island. The church was moved twice so the river would not overtake it, and the altar was destroyed by a flood in 1973.
Pulaski County Courthouse, Mound City
The Pulaski County Courthouse was built in 1911 and its basement was used as a jail, before remodeling in 2004. It is said to be haunted by at least four ghosts, including the last man hanged in the county, an elderly woman whose children were supposedly having her declared incompetent to grab her money, the Taffeta Woman who is believed to have died in an accident and the ghost of a former attorney who smokes cigars.
Fort De Chartres, Prairie Du Rocher
Fort De Chartres has a Fourth of July parade unlike any other in Southern Illinois, but only when the fourth falls on a Friday. A ghostly funeral parade is said to start at the fort and end in a small cemetery outside Prairie Du Rocher.
The first peculiar sighting was by a woman sitting on her porch with a neighbor in 1889 near midnight. They said they saw more than 40 wagons with people in them, including a wagon carrying a coffin, but the procession made no sound and disappeared over a hill.
There have been other reported sightings of the procession, but only in years when the Fourth of July falls on a Friday.
Choate Mental Health Center, Anna
Choate Mental Health Center was built in 1869 and opened in 1875. Tunnels connect the various buildings.
The hospital is rumored to have been haunted for years. Patients and guests have witnessed apparitions, figures and faces in the windows. The tunnels are reported to be haunted, and at least one person who has ventured into the tunnels has felt like he was touched by something.
A patient was reportedly attacked by a “devil dog.” When an orderly opened the door to his room, the patient had scratches all over.
A.B. Safford Memorial Library is said to be home to the busiest ghost in Cairo. The building is red brick Queen Anne-style architecture with leaded stained glass windows. Besides books, the library houses antiques and artwork.
A librarian was sitting at the desk when she said something happened – a chair squeaked in the reading room, but no one was there. Later, a white light flashed across the room to the back stack of books.
Is it haunted? Who knows.