I recently took part in what must be my 5th or 6th Chicago Ghost Conference, hosted by the fantastic Ursula Bielski. Our Saturday night party (which was a ridiculous bash that featured not only some awesome costumes, but also an enthusiastic conga line) was held in the Great Escape, an historic restaurant that I featured in a profile video and intervew way back in 2010. I’m not sure how many conference-goers were even aware that the party was at a haunted venue. Here is that video:
Category Archives: Illinois
I run down what I’ve got coming up, notably moderating a panel at Midsummer Scream (midsummerscream.org) about the CLASSIC nickelodeon horror anthology show “Are You Afraid of the Dark,” with friend and show creator DJ MacHale. Also, I’ll be taking in the largest music festival in the world, Summerfest, with the “paranormal rock” band Sunspot (sunspotuniverse.com). Recently, I’ve been to a ton of haunted sites coast-to-coast including The Nat in Amarillo, TX and Stull Cemetery in Kansas. Subscribe to this YouTube channel and my newsletter at WhatsYourGhostStory.com to stay in the “know!”
At the end of January I was honored to be invited to take part in Chicago Haunting’s 6th annual Dead of Winter event. The weekend-long paranormal & psychic conference was held in the northern rural town of Harvard, Illinois, a stone’s throw from the Wisconsin border and from the iconic Woodstock square, home of the haunted Woodstock Opera House (featured in the book “Voices from the Chicago Grave” and pictured at right) and the backdrop for the classic comedy “Groundhog Day.”
The festivities kicked off with an evening tour of some of the more historic and haunted sites around northern Illinois, which I was invited to co-host along with author Ursula Bielski and archeologist Dan Melone.
(Pictures, clockwise from top, left: Scott Markus speaking at the Dead of Winter Event, Dan Melone & Ursula Bielski speaking during the tour, Melone and Allison Jornlin of Milwaukee Ghosts attempting a psychic experiment, Markus with Wendy Lynn Staats of the “See You on the Other Side” podcast).
Highlights from the tour have to include going to the Mineola Resort and the Stickney House (which we covered in our first newsletter, viewable here). It’s always fun to take people to haunted place to be able to tell the history and legends of a place while on site. It’s even more important to take people to places like this when they are endangered.
There is perhaps no historic location in the US more endangered than the Minneola. The building, constructed in 1884 is the largest surviving wood frame structure in Illinois. While the site is constantly associated with Al Capone as he visited the site on numerous occasions in the ‘20s, it was already an uproarious location decades earlier, around the turn of the century.
As Chicago was trying to clean up the vice-riddled levee district, Fox Lake became the lawless frontier. Nearly all of the resorts were stocked with slot machines and you just know there was little to no enforcement of prohibition laws. In fact, the last of the slot machines didn’t leave the building until a raid in 1952. According to a Chicago Tribune article (cited here), the Mineola was the “most vicious resort” in this burg of depravity. One can only imagine the stories and characters surrounding the long past of this site.
Can you imagine the residual energy left behind from a place like this? What phantom sounds and echoes through time are continuing to clutter up the massive structure?
1930 saw the Fox Lake massacre unfold at Manning’s Hotel, likely a retaliatory attack after the St. Valentine’s Day massacre that resulted in five mobsters shot and three dead. Interestingly enough both Al Capone and his rival, Bugs Moran, had homes on Bluff Lake, a mere seven miles from the Mineola.
There are legends of a ghost boy seen at the Mineola, reported by staff. However, possible activity throughout the building has been largely unobserved. Over the years more and more of the building became off limits as demand waned. The 100 hotel rooms have been closed off to the public since 1963. After 50 years of neglect, the elements took their toll. The domed ballroom collapsed in the ‘80s. By 2012 the restaurant/bar and banquet hall was the only corner of the building still in operation when the building was abruptly condemned.
(Images like the one above are pulled from a drone shoot I conducted in 2015. I will be posting the full video shortly.)
A 2013 survey of the building showed the the core structure was still strong and therefore salvageable. However, each passing storm inches this structure closer to obscurity. There is an organization in place that’s trying to save the site, which is on the National Register of Historic places. To lend your support and offer to get involved, check out their Facebook here.
As is the case with most visits to the site, we were quickly approached by police officers. While we weren’t trespassing (we were walking around the building, staying on the road, as opposed to walking on the porch or attempting to enter the building), we were told to kindly be on our way and there was no further incident. Be advised, if you are to visit this site, do so respectfully and get ready to have someone checking in on you in short order. If you’re not doing anything wrong, you won’t have anything to hide. If you are thinking of breaking in, you will be stopped.
The building itself if condemned after all, meaning it’s unsafe to enter. Of course, damage to the building itself is also a real concern as we all hold out hope that this structure will live long enough for there to be a chance for a comeback with a new, well-funded owner.
Additional recommended reading, including a couple pictures of the interior can be found here at the NW Herald Website.
While the home is amazing and the Stickney House Foundation is making serious and steady improvements to the site, the family burial site is, unfortunately, another story. Just a five minute drive from the Stickney House is the Holcombville Cemetery. You might as well consider it a ‘pioneer cemetery’ as the location holds the burials of the Terwilliger family, just the third family to settle here. Their house also still stands and is rumored to be a safehouse location on the underground railroad.
Upon finding the Stickney family plot, the thing you notice most is the gap. Sylvia’s grave, once toppled and now lying face up over her grave is slowly eroding away and there is a large spance before finding the gravestones of a number of her children. George’s grave is nowhere to be seen. While records and oral history in this more remote land may be lacking, we are lead to believe that George and Sylvia laid to rest a number of children before they, themselves died. Presumably, most of the members of this family would be interred at the same cemetery. The mere gap between Sylvia’s grave (?-1879) and those still standing graves of Silona (1857-1868), Caroline (1849-1851), Adeline (1841-1842), along with the fallen, but still existing stone for Rosira (1843-1843) indicate a likely location of burials without headstones. The obvious question is, “What happened to those stones?” Damaged into obscurity? Stolen? Did they ever even exist? One would imagine that the stone for George Stickney would’ve been cast. However, after out living so many children and his first wife, perhaps George was done thinking of funeral plans by the time he died in 1897. This means a number of stones for children and George’s second wife, Lavina, are not present.
While I do feel it’s important to recover and re-mark the missing stones, let’s turn all of our focus to the quickly decaying stone belonging to Sylvia, the medium herself. As mentioned earlier, the gave is lying flat, face-up on the ground. It was broken free from its base countless decades ago, laying it on the ground seems like a safe way to preserve the stone as it no longer has to fight gravity, nor could it get damaged in a future fall. However, pulling the grass away from the edge of the stone reveals how much the earth and plant life is eating away at this weakened monument. Understandable effects of nature and weather aside, there is also the plainly visible recent chip marks caused by lawnmower blades (note the bright white scuffs in the image below). This has to be one of the most in danger graves imaginable as it’s literally being chipped away on a weekly basis by landscapers who are employed to keep the cemetery beautiful. While the Stickney House Foundation isn’t yet ready to open as a museum, it is my hope that sooner rather than later Sylvia’s stone can be replaced by a replica and the original can be safely preserved on site, in the Stickney House.
From a reader: Many people have died all from car accidents in Wilmot Road. Its curvy and wide open with no stop signs or lights. People usually speed on this road. When there is a car accident people are usually ejected from their vehicles and die in homeowners’ front yards. Home there are usually on large lots, about 8+ acres each.
So, a guy died on my brothers’ front lawn a few weeks back. The other day he was in his basement working out and watching TV. Out of the corner of his eye he saw someone sitting on a stool nearby. Yesterday his wife went to basement and saw a person sitting in the same spot. The house has felt very heavy and depressed since this accident.
Another occasion from a few weeks ago, also stemming from an accident, his wife and son saw a man standing at their front door. His wife saged the house and they have not seen him at the front door since. They are going to sage the entire house today to see if that helps the ghost in the basement.
There are stories of peoples’ homes that have ghosts due to the amount of accidents on this road.
My Response: Wow – very interesting. A lot of cultures believe people hang around for 7-10 days after death. It’ll be interesting if just a little more time will do the trick too. Very sad, but interesting story.
Also, makes me think of the crash of Flight 191 where people in the area would hear frantic knocking on their front doors after the accident. Like disoriented spirits looking for help.
As an additional note, the town of Antioch is a very old town with a rich and occasionally tragic history. I had the privilege of learning about this town through the eyes of Dr. James Dorsey as he explored important locations relating to the Underground Railroad in Lake County and the abolitionist movement, which was alive and well in Antioch.
Additionally, the town was victimized by major fires in the 1800s that wiped out large portions of the town.
Also, the first ever paranormal investigation I was on was at the Liberty Tattoo Parlor. I wrote about the hauntings at Antioch High School in my book and I just recently brought a tour group up to the Lodge of Antioch with Ursula Bielski, Nicholas Sarlo and Chicago Hauntings. To say that Antioch is an active location is an understatement!
Sept 9-11: The Hollywood Show, Rosemont, Il (hollywoodshow.com)
Sept 10: Screening of “Cry Baby” and signing with star, Amy Locane, Woodridge, Il (hollywoodblvdcinema.com)
Sept 16: Investigation
Sept 17: Lake/McHenry Ghost Adventure, Long Grove, Il (facebook.com/events/508522306014679) 7-hour tour through some of the most haunted places in Lake and McHenry County with Ursula Bielski and Chicago Hauntings.
Sept 24: Private Event
Sept 28: Archeologist Dan Melone speaking on the topic of his work on Robinson Woods Indian Burial Grounds (one of my favorite sites). This will be held at the Norwood Park Historical Society. (norwoodparkhistoricalsociety.org/events/events16.html)
TBA: Appearance on “Pretty Late,” WGN AM-720
Oct. 1: Investigation
Oct. 6: Investigation
Oct 7-9: Chicago Ghost Conference / Dark Shores 2016, Willow Springs, Il (chicagoghosts.com/conference.html) A full weekend of great presenters and parties. I will be on hand to talk about some of the research I’ve been doing in Los Angeles including talking about Linda Vista Hospital, the haunted house near the site of the Tate/Manson murders, the Formosa Cafe hauntings along Hollywood Blvd and possibly Pasadena’s “famed” suicide bridge. Amazingly, this event will be held at one of Resurrection Mary’s favorite locations, the Willowbrook Ballroom.
Oct 10: Private Event
Oct 13: Special hosted screening of “Poltergeist” Details are TBD at this point.
Oct 15-16: Milwaukee ParaCon, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus (milwaukeeparacon.com). I will be on hand with Jay Bachochin, one of my partners in crime in creating the documentary “The Hidden Truth?” which chronicled the mysterious series of drownings in LaCrosse, WI, the possible paranormal connections and the investigation that followed. We will be meeting and greeting while sharing stories of ghosts and Jay’s ongoing search for Bigfoot.
Oct 20: Third Thursday, Los Angeles, Ca (link TBA) Free panel discussion with filmmakers followed by a mixer/cocktail party. Admission is free, but RSVP required. Sponsored by the International Screenwriters’ Association (networkisa.org)
Oct 21: Haunted Chronicles, online (paramaniaradio.com/SHOW.php?showid=66) Live radio show, I’ll be talking about haunted sites with Jennifer Runyon Corman & Jimmy Haunted.
Do you need a speaker for your event? I’ll be in the Midwest until Oct 17, then I’ll be in California starting Oct 21. Drop me a line and I’ll come tell stories at your Halloween party/company party, etc.!