Monday, November 21, 2011

Ghosts of Albion - Haunted Illinois

I was visiting my parents home this past weekend and of course picked up on of the many "Haunted Illinois" books that are ubiquitous in the Central Illinois region.  I thought maybe I'd repost something  I had done for Ravenloft's "Gothic Earth".  This was for a netbook called the "Crossroads of Gothic Earth" done by the Kargatane many years ago.

While this was designed to be used with AD&D2nd ed, it was mostly a fluff piece and can really be used with any Victorian Era horror RPG.



Local Correspondent:
Timothy S. Brannan

When people say “heartland of America” often one thinks of Illinois.  Founded as a state in 1818, but inhabited long before that, Illinois is rich in history and in ghosts.  Former presidents walk the halls of their home or tombs.  It has been rumored that Lincoln haunts the his tomb in Springfield, the capital building in Springfield, and the old State Capital in Vandalia, a place where he had worked as a young lawmaker.  All of this has led to a popular, but  grim saying among Illinoisans, “Abraham Lincoln walks at Midnight.”
Iroquois, Fox and Sioux Indians walk ancient plains, and dead confederate soldiers march to an uncertain doom.  Illinois is a starting point for many in their westward expansion, and a final resting place for others.

Illinois is located in the heart of the “Heartland,” bordered by the mighty Mississippi River on the west and the Ohio on the south.  This, combined with rich, flat land and warm, humid summers, produces some the nation’s best farmland.  Since the 1850’s no other state has grown as quickly and as prosperously as Illinois.  Currently (1890) the population is over 4,500,000.

The area was first seen by Europeans in 1673, by two Frenchmen: Louis Joliet, a fur trader, and Jacques Marquette, a Catholic missionary.  Marquette later set up a mission along the Mississippi river (present day Kaskaskia) for the native peoples.  The first permanent settlement built by Europeans was a mission on the Mississippi river in the town of Cahokia in 1699.
Up to 1763 the area had been controlled by the French.  After the French-Indian wars, France gave this part of North America to the British, who soon made it part of Quebec.  This action was one of the causes of the American Revolutionary War.  During the war both Cahokia and Kaskaskia were sites of pivotal battles.  In 1783, Britain surrendered the Northwest Territory, which included Illinois.  In 1809 Illinois became a separate territory.  About this time the settlement of northern Illinois began, centered around Ft. Dearborn on Lake Michigan.
In 1818 Illinois was admitted as the 21st state of the Union.  Kaskaskia was named as its first state capital. This later moved to Vandalia in 1820 to encourage growth in Illinois’ interior.  The capital was later (1837) moved to its present day location of Springfield.  The city of Chicago was incorporated in March, 1837 on the site of  Ft. Dearborn.  By 1850 it was Illinois’ largest city with a population above 5,000.  Chicago became the leading industrial center of the former Northwest Territories.
The Civil War began in 1861 with most of the state supporting the Union.  Illinois sent more than a quarter of a million young men to serve with the Union army.  Among those were General Ulysses S. Grant.  In 1865, after the war’s end, Illinois became the first state to ratify the 13th Amendment to outlaw slavery.
In the years of the Reclamation, Illinois has seen many immigrants from other countries.  Most notable are the Irish, Italians and Poles.  Many ethnic neighborhoods have sprouted up all over Chicago and in some of the down-state areas as well.
The effects of  the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 can still be seen to this day, more that twenty years later.  The fire killed 250 people and left nearly 90,000 homeless.  The city was quick to rebuild and surpass its previous size.
Illinois is set, here at the turn of the 19th Century, to become one of the leading industrial and agricultural areas of the Untied States.

Forbidden Lore
As America of the 1890’s expands ever westward, the forces of the Red Death follow.  Minions that are common in Illinois are most types of non-corporeal undead (Ghosts, Spectres, Haunts).  It is known that there is at least one Banshee on Chicago’s south side and two more down-state.  Many graveyards are prone to have ghouls and ghasts lurking around.  Zombies and skeletons, created by powerful necromantic magic, are usually rare.  No vampires or Liches have been recorded.
Lycanthropes, in particular werewolves and foxwomen, are more common down-state.  Other common minions are Will o’wisps.

Ghost March of Southern Illinois
The Civil War pitted brother against brother.  Nowhere was that more strongly felt than in Southern Illinois.  While Illinois was technically a “free” state, many farmers south of Springfield sided more with the sensibilities of the Confederate states.  These farmers’ fields became the sites of some of the bloodiest skirmishes of the war.
At certain times, sometime after midnight, a ghostly army arises from the mists hugging the ground.  This ragged army of undead are all that remains of a Confederate Army troop sent into Illinois at the height of the war.  The ghostly horde appears exactly as can be imagined; skeletal remains, with tatters of rotting flesh and gray uniforms.  Their weapons, long since spent of ammunition, hang in their hands useless, but serve as constant reminders of what has lead them to this fate.  Occasionally one can find a soldier that faired better than his brothers in arms.  He is not as damaged or decayed, but his young innocent face is no less of a horror than the phantasms that surround him.
It is unknown what prompts this ghastly march or what motivates it.

Haunted Cemeteries
Illinois seems to have more than its fair share of haunted cemeteries.  Often these cemeteries are the source of faint apparitions or ghost lights, as in Barrington Cemetery in Barrington, home of the white ghost lights.  Sometimes the activity is more sinister.  Pagan rituals have been seen in cemeteries along the Des Plaines river, northwest of Chicago.  Similar events have happened in cemeteries in Jacksonville, 200 miles to the south.
Hickory Grove in Wrights, south of Springfield, is the final resting place for one unsavory character.  Lying in a small unmarked grave southeast of the cemetery proper lies the body of man who was a doctor and a murderer, hung for the shooting death of a love rival.  It is said that if you stand on his grave you can hear the sounds of a hanging rope swinging in the wind.
In 1841 an unknown man was found hanging in Clement’s Cemetery east of Champaign.  Whether he was the victim of a lynching or a suicide is unknown.  The people removed his body and gave him a proper burial.  Soon after reports came back of the “Blue Man,” a thin wispy ghost of blue that can only be seen in the light of the full moon.
Old Union Cemetery in Dewitt county is considered to be one of the more haunted cemeteries in Illinois.  Its first burial was in 1831.  Located on the stagecoach route between Bloomington and Springfield, Union has become a “favorite” stopping place for the dead.  Like many cemeteries in Illinois reports of ghostly lights
abound.  This place also has areas of extreme cold, even in Illinois’ normally humid summers.  Others have reported feeling sick at certain points.
Also located on a former stagecoach route is Williamsburg Hill, or “Cold Hill,” Cemetery.  When the railroad came, Williamsburg became a ghost town; or rather a town of ghosts.  The cemetery itself is placed on a large, uncharacteristic hill among completely flat farmland.  Among the hundreds of mostly unmarked graves it is said a being wanders.  This spectre is vaguely human in appearance.  It seems to be an electrical field of some sort.  Electricity can be heard crackling in the air around it.  Whether it is a proper ghost or even if was at one time human is unknown.

Haunted Schoolhouse
Bloody Island School in Lime-Kill Hollow was a small one-room school house.  Like hundreds of other schools that dotted the countryside children young and old were sent with pail and slate in hand to learn the “three R’s” from a school marm, but what the children learned here was a lesson in horror.  Two teenage boys, long rivals, stabbed each other to death in front of a dozen screaming children.  Town officials and the kindly young teacher, Miss Daniels, did what they could to clean up the blood of the two dead boys, but try as they might the blood continues to seep up through the floorboards and into the classroom.  The floorboards have been cleaned over and over, and finally replaced, but the blood continues to flow.  Plans are now to close down the school and build a new one.

The Watseka Wonder
Just south of Chicago and west of Indiana lies the sleepy town of Watseka.  Unremarkable, save for what happened one summer of 1877.  Lurancy Vennum fell into a deep coma-like sleep.  When she awoke the 13 year old claimed she could speak with the spirits of the dead.  These episodes began to happen with more frequency and lasted many hours.  During these times Lurancy would speak in different voices and say things that she otherwise would not know of.  When she would awaken she would have no memory of the events.  Her family took Lurancy to best doctors in the state; finally they decided that she was insane and were going to have her committed.
In January of 1878 a man named Asa Roff approached the Vennum family.  He had a story of his daughter, Mary, who had suffered a similar affliction, but had died in Peoria’s State Insane Asylum.  However, Asa believed in his daughter and wanted to save Lurancy from the same fate.  During mesmerism, Lurancy spoke in the voice of Asa’s daughter Mary.
Lurancy then proceeded to speak to Asa about details that only the Roff family would know.  Lurancy (as Mary) lived with the Roffs, with the Vennum’s permission, for three months.  She was able to identify family members and favorite things that only would have been known to the family.
In May, Mary left Lurancy and she asked to be returned home.  She left, bidding everyone in the family goodbye.  She never again experienced any contacts with the spirits, but she would return to see the Roff family on occasion and allow Mary to speak through her.

Haunted Theaters
Murphysboro in Southern Illinois is a quiet town located just a few miles east of the mighty Mississippi River.  This town, known more for its apples and its close proximity to the Shawnee Forest, also has a darker secret: The Ghost of the Liberty Theater.  The Liberty was built at the turn of the century and Emil McCarthy was there.  He started working there as a young boy; cleaning, running the spotlights and other odd jobs.  Sixty years later, Emil was still working odd jobs at the Liberty.  He had developed a drinking problem and a poor attitude over the years, but since he lived in the theater and had such an attachment to the place none of his supervisors had ever fired him.  Any that tried usually met with fatal accidents.  Emil was never suspected; he was usually in a bar or passed out in the city square when the deaths occurred.
When the town decided to tear down the Liberty to put a new theater across town, Emil panicked and seemed to die of a broken heart.  Plans are still underway for the new theater, but people now claim the new site is cursed.  Tools disappear.  Workmen get into accidents.  None have been fatal, but they are increasing in number and magnitude.  All is not quiet at the Liberty either.  Patrons complain of noises, and cold areas.  Management has reported that the curtains will open and close silently on their own.  As the day of the Liberty’s demolition approaches, more incidents are reported.

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