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By Connor Ashlock
There’s nothing that seems to have such an effect on one’s disposition as the changing of the seasons, especially fall.
Popcorn balls, hayrides, haunted houses and pumpkin carving — the opportunities for amusement are endless for sure.
As the coronavirus continues to plague the world, fall was just what the doctor ordered to alleviate the fatigue of social distancing and event cancelations. Indeed, we’ve come to see that maybe summer is a season built for community-wide get-togethers, with its fairs, concerts and festivals, but fall invites us to make our engagements more intrapersonal.
If one thing is for certain, it’s hard to top any element of the autumnal season, but there is one ingredient that can enhance any experience: A good ghost story. Whether someone is a fan of the paranormal or considers it just to be a bunch of hocus pocus, almost everyone agrees that there’s nothing quite like a good ghost story to scare the dickens out of
Somebody. And while one can use those tried-and true stories like the man with a hook for a hand or that call that was coming from inside the house, it is good to brush up on those local ghost stories that have excited
Jersey, Greene and Calhoun inhabitants for years. With rich history aplenty in the area, there’s plenty to talk about that’ll keep one’s friends or significant other sleepdeprived. Hauntings in Greene ever present Take, for instance, the tales of the Greene County Poorhouse, which rises eerily above the open fields. Many have heard the tales of footsteps moving about the hallways and shadows observed in the tower. But these alleged specters of times long-since passed appear to linger all about the region, well beyond the confines of central Greene County. Descend to the river bottoms — a storied region of the tri-county area — with its limestone houses dotting the expanse of the territory, many hiding in the shadows of the mighty bluffs that once held back the Illinois River eons ago. Arguably the crowning architectural feature of the landscape is the James Eldred house, a historic structure that most certainly is a treasure worth preserving. The spacious Greek Revival limestone house, and seat of the area’s early social life with its well-attended parties, is said to be haunted, albeit with the friendly ghosts of the Eldred family, and perhaps a traveling salesman who died in the home and a Native American believed to be connected to the property. The structure was built in 1861 and is listed on the National
Register of Historic Places. James Eldred built the home for his wife and four children, of which only one, a son, would survive well beyond maturity. His three daughters would die of tuberculosis in the home, all in different years. Shadows, apparitions, footsteps, knocks on doors when no one is there — it’s claimed that all have been observed within the house. It would appear that a pattern exists in Greene County. Even in Carrollton, the Greene County Historical
Society museum and research facility, has been deemed haunted since as early as the 1830s.“General James Turney lived in the house for some time, and he and his brave family withstood the mysterious voices and unearthly quakings without finding out whence they came,” J. Headrick wrote in the 1879 book, History of Greene County, Illinois. “That unhappy spirits reigned within the walls of the haunted house is beyond a doubt.” Otherwise known as the Lee-Baker-
Hodges house, the first portion of the building was completed in 1821, with additional construction soon after that would not be complete until 1830. The home was rich with history long before it reached an esteemed age, with it having served as a makeshift courthouse for a brief season in its earliest years and its residents instrumental in the building of the community of Carrollton.
The home was the scene of sad affairseven in its earliest days, as Samuel Lee,
who built the first portion of the building and commenced work on its addition, died in 1829. The house would pass through several families through the coming decades, with major life events, suchas death, having affected those who lived in it. General Turney had a child who passed away and was laid out in the home. One of the earliest accounts of haunted activity comes from the night Clarinda Rattan kept watch of the deceased during the night. Hearing a noise, she feared that a cat was near the body, so in rushing to the corpse, she claimed to see an apparition of a child move from the area of the body toward a window, escaping through it. Noises described as rumblings were also observed. Thumping on doors and scuffling on the floor were heard, and one resident even claimed that a bright flash of light illuminated he and his wife’s bedroom in the dead of night. Going south to Kane, ghosts are claimed to haunt several homes in the town. Residents of not-so-long ago might recall leaving a coin on the banister in an old house, its days of grandeur far gone by that time, only to return later to find that the coin had been replaced with a buffalo
Nickel. Then, even further south just outside of Kane, one might stop under the famed Witch’s Bridge to hear the moaning of a witch who walks up and down the railroad. Not too far away from the bridge rests the ancient slope known as Gypsy Ridge, a popular camping spot for gypsies traveling through the area. Gypsies weren’t too uncommon of a sight and were often a source of fear for children, who worried they might be kidnapped by them.
Jersey County has claimed ghosts as well Travel down further into Jersey County, where some will say the famed Ruebel Hotel and historic Hamilton Primary School, where occasionally sounds and apparitions are experienced, are haunted. Probably the most famous haunted structure in the county, though, is the popular Cheney Mansion, located at the Jersey County Historical Society complex on the north end of town. Reports claim that as many as 21 spirits call the mansion their home, including the infamous Prentiss Dana Cheney II, his father, grandparents and even great grandpa, Edward Augustus D’Arcy— it can be assumed that families that haunt together, stay together, as it would appear to be a true statement with the Cheney family. In addition to the family, it’s believed the family nurse, Miss Dorothy, also haunts the home, as well as an Underground
Railroad passenger that goes by the name of Paul. In the home, some volunteers and visitors report pictures being tilted, furniture behind moved, lights turning on, footsteps being heard throughout the house, muffled talking, the sounds of deep breathing coming from unidentified persons and doors closing and opening on their own. The original portion of the mansion was completed in 1827 and served as a center of economic and community life in the early community of Hickory Grove, laterrenamed Jerseyville. Every year the historical society hosts its annual Apple Festival and opens all society structures for tours. Stories of friendly ghosts and unfriendly ghouls interacting with visitors have passed down through the years. One story that has been told is that children ran down the stairs from the children’s room after watching a rocker move on its own. Women claim to be touched by Paul,who likes to remain secluded in the basement. Some smell smoke or vomit throughout the house, compliments of P.D. Cheney II, who was fond of his tobacco and alcohol. Calhoun has its own spooky tales
Calhoun County isn’t without its tales either, though many of them have yet to find their way into the wider realm of public knowledge. Old houses in deep hollows and hardened hills are full of strange occurrences. One story from Calhoun tells of a man who is said to have buried his money below
his fireplace in his log cabin. After he died, treasure hunters sought to discover his talked-about fortune with no success. Some are said to have paid dearly in their seeking to locate the fortune, only to be met with the fury of an unrestful person from beyond the grave. Amid a thunderstorm, the gang of Calhounians disappeared. Indeed, there is much talk to be had for these local tales. But, one can bet your buffalo nickel that they’ll be the toast of the bonfire by speaking through the red embers and into the night the stories of the famed inhabitants of early western Illinois who made such an impact that they never truly left us.