Unprecedented Access to One of America’s Most Haunted Houses

The following article contains:

  • News about future ghost tours at the Stickney House
  • First hand paranormal encounters
  • An exclusive look inside the historic site

stickneyhouse1Like many in the Chicago area, my first exposure to the Stickney House, tucked away in rural and picturesque Bull Valley, was Ursula Bielski’s “Chicago Haunts” in the late 1990s. The rich history and the seemingly endless claims of hauntings have proliferated the house and its grounds as much as the story proliferated my curiosity.

As the story goes, in 1856 George and Sylvia Stickney moved into this grand house to start a family and be the toast of the town with the second story of the house serving almost exclusively for entertaining.  However, tragedy struck early and often as seven of their 11 children died very young.  That ballroom, housing the first piano in McHenry County, quickly transformed to a séance room where the mourning parents would try to contact their lost children.

stickneyhouse2My first visits to the site in the early 2000s were merely to view the iconic structure from a distance, to see with my own eyes, the rounded corners and the boarded-up second story windows.  Many feel the rounded corners (note the walls blending into the ceiling in the photo to the right, as well as the rounded wall edges in the image below) being tied to spiritualist beliefs that spirits (particularly negative spirits) could get trapped in 90 degree angles.  There is some debate if this was the reason for the construction, but that is the commonly held notion at the moment.  The second story windows were, indeed, boarded up, presumably to keep away curiosity seekers who were getting strange images of ghosts in the upper floor windows in photographs.

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Walking the grounds one October evening, a friend and I heard a masculine voice groan loudly from behind the door that faces the parking lot.  We were absolutely frozen, but no further activity followed.  That interaction is benign compared to other claims of phantom screams, ghostly dogs, children crying and even shadow figures patrolling the grounds around the house.

After so much infamy, the village moved their offices into the home, partially serve as a built-in deterrent to any trespassers or vandals.  It’s easy to respond to a trespassing call, if you just have to walk out the front door, after all.  At this time there were legends that city employees were forbidden to talk about the activity at the location.  Whether true or not, a Chicago Tribune article from 1995 did a lot to pass along that “company line.” (link: “Bull Valley Home Haunted Only By Reputation.”)

In October 2015 I stopped by again, after a gap of many years.  I could see that the restoration of the building was well under way with the front entrance fully rebuilt.  I entered the front door, explaining that I was a local historian who was interested in the site.  Unlike 10+ years ago, this time I was invited in and could see that the “no corners” theme was carried out throughout the building, including a curved front door, built-in cabinets that blend into the walls and the walls themselves blending into the ceiling.  This time it was the village employees who started volunteering their own paranormal experiences.

stickneyhouse4The following October, just a few weeks ago was even more amazing.  I traveled back to the site with local archeologist Dan Melone.  I re-introduced myself to one of the employees I had met the previous year and after some chatting about the paranormal, he gave us the blessing to go upstairs.  I cannot over state my excitement in this moment.  Visiting a place I’d read about and researched for nearly 20 years, and now I was standing in a location that I’d mentally accepted that I’d probably never set foot inside.  Merely entering the home last year was a huge surprise and now, I was creeping up a very worn, narrow stairway, making my way into the largest room and standing in the room where Sylvia Stickney, her husband George and countess other mediums went to make contact and, make no mistake about it, come to terms with their devastating losses.  The gravity of the history and the location gave me goosebumps.  The feel of the room was tense, though likely just my own excitement radiating off of me.

Present day, the second floor isn’t one massive ballroom, as is often reported.  It’s been subdivided into smaller rooms, a far more practical use of the space for the numerous inhabitants after the Stickeys.  With the help of the Stickney Restoration Foundation, hopefully the original layout will be firmly identified and restored in time.

stickneyhouse5In addition to the experience we found out the following amazing bits of information:

In time, the village hopes to move their offices out of the Stickney Home and allow the site to function as a museum.  After it’s established as a museum, they will rent the site out to ghost hunting teams for investigations!

There are reports of a Civil War era soldier that is seen in the front room, nearest to the parking lot.  Speculation is high that he died of wounds here after being injured in battle further south.  This would line up with the pained masculine groan I heard come from that room some 16 years earlier.

One village employee relayed the following first-hand account: I am a marine, I saw combat, I was a police officer on the street, but the only time I’ve ever frozen was right here.  Working alone, late at night and a man screamed.  I knew no one was in the house.  It took me a good five minutes to be able to move again.

Dan and I did not wait long to return for another visit.  Shortly after another successful Chicago Ghost Conference, this time held at the haunted Willowbrook Ballroom on Archer Avenue (which tragically burned to the ground a couple weeks after the conference), we brought event organizer, and writer of the “Chicago Haunts” series, Ursula Bielski, to the Stickney House.  She’s an important part of the Chicago ghost lore tradition and, again, the person who, through her writing, first informed me of this location.

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Again, we were permitted upstairs where Ursula, spirit box in hand, began attempting to make contact with whatever entities may still be on site.  Watching this unfold, it again donned on me that this may be the first time someone, other than a curious village employee, was using the séance room to try to make contact in some 150+ years.  In a small way, a historic moment.  While a couple scattered words did appear over the spirit box, we did not get any longer phrases or sentences, which is what I personally look for to push out my reason of doubt against radio interference.

Stay informed right here as I hope to start a working relationship with the Village of Bull Valley, along with Dan Melone and Ursula Bielski in helping raise funds for the restoration efforts and perhaps seperate fact from urban legend at this amazing site.


Holcombville Cemetery, Final Resting Place of the Stickney Family

holcombvillecemetery1While 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.

sylviastickneygraveUpon 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.

holcombvillecemetery2


Paranormal Investigation Highlights from the Tribune Tower, Downtown Chicago


We’re Starting a Free Newsletter!

Click here to sign up for the official, What’s YOUR Ghost Story Newsletter. We’ll be calling it the, WYGS Newsletter, from now on to save a few breaths.

The first issue of the WYGS Newsletter will premier on Tuesday, October 25th 2016!

These email newsletters will contain updates on famous tales, interesting new stories from new locations, paranormal photos, videos and who knows what other type of fun! They will also only come out 6-10 times per year – we promise not to flood your inbox! Did I mention the WYGS Newsletter is 100% FREE?  So what are you waiting for? Click here to sign up now.

If there is anything we want our readers and fans to know is we respect your privacy, and we promise to never share your information with any 3rd party in any way, shape, or form.

 


Hauntings Along Wilmot Road in Antioch

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!


Fall Event Schedule!

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.!


Updated Photos from Murphy’s Ranch

By Scott Markus

There has been much concern for the fate of one of LA’s most unique landmarks and ties to strange history – Murphy’s Ranch.  Plans for the demolition of the remaining buildings have long been known.  Then, early in 2016, some dates became public knowledge.  Specifically, late March was the bulldoze date.  Scott and Connor made a trip to the site in early April to get a look at the changes.  While a lot is gone, it could have been much worse. photo IMG_1655_zpsn2g8pk4a.jpg

 photo IMG_3865_zpstidyfjml.jpg Immediately apparent is the large fence and wall have been totally removed, making trail access even easier than it already was.  Perhaps if the gates weren’t locked in the first place, people wouldn’t have felt the need to create their own hole in the wall in the first place.

 

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The huge water tank was the first victim of the “clean-up,” having been eliminated in early 2016.  It was fairly recently that someone got themselves stuck inside of it, requiring help from the authorities to get free (I think it’s okay to call them an idiot).  The silver lining here is that there’s still evidence of where the tank was.  The cement walls were sliced at an angle, creating a sort of curb for the downward sloping trail.  Of course, we’d love for the tank to still be standing, but this is a nice accent that lightly hints at the former site.

 photo IMG_3875_zpsmiv6dfju.jpgSeen to the right, Connor (and co-adventurer, Brownie the chocolate lab) is standing in what was once the center of the large water tank.  The now removed wall gives you a unique perspective and vantage point to how enormous this thing was.

Along the way we passed the remains of a small house (pictured below).  Though largely untouched for the moment, most of the debris in the structure was swept out towards the road.  Our guess is that the junk will be cleared, but we hope the foundations remain.
 photo IMG_3885_zpstoiql42r.jpg

 photo IMG_3895_zps8ua1x67s.jpgTo our (and Brownie’s) delight, the most iconic building is still standing, fully in tact.  Not only is it untouched, but for the first time that I’ve seen, the cyclone fencing around it has been removed, making this a strangely inviting location.

The large metal building, which had turned into a mountain of twisted metal was removed (before and after pictures below), along with the remains of a 1960’s VW Mini Bus.  The loss of this bus is a negative to me because it was a wonderful example of how this location went from a center of hate and domination in the ’40s to a home to artistic endeavor and free thought/love in the ’60s.  Poetry in history.  The remnants of the van were brought up to the main road, likely for easier collection.

 photo IMG_1673_zpskpupefhc.jpg  photo IMG_3907_zps3t5mi7i1.jpg

I didn’t really want this to be a “review” of the changes, as I am quite the naturalist/preservationist.  I would’ve loved to see what was left standing of the large structure secured in a safe way, but I understand clearing out the debris.  Though I hate the loss of the water tank, people getting stuck inside of it (again, like idiots) makes this an easy decision for the powers that be to simply remove it.  Removing the wall & fence at the trail head seemed unnecessary.  Simply opening the gates and welding them to a secure, open position would’ve been effective and a much easier task then removing everything in full.  Still, as far as everything else is concerned, I’ve found my peace with what we’ve lost and I just hope nothing else goes.  This is such a wonderfully unique piece of Los Angeles history, it would be a shame to lose anything else.

I plan to do a more complete live video discussion on this topic in the near future on Periscope.  That video will later end up on YouTube and right here with video footage of some hard to find locations and a lot more ‘off the beaten path’ structures in this area you may not know about.  Stay tuned!