Explore 4 Haunted Places in Illinois

As a fall chill settles into the air in Illinois, there’s no better time to hit the road in search of the state’s most haunted enclaves. A drive to any of these four small towns (with your bravest family members in tow) all but ensures you’ll encounter paranormal activity — if you dare.

Alton, Illinois

Getting there: Drive 20 miles northeast of St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

Nestled on the banks of the Mississippi River along the state’s southwestern border, Alton is not only the ghost capital of Illinois, but it’s also perhaps the most haunted town in America. Ghost hunters hole up in the McPike Mansion, a grand Victorian home whose caretakers have seen its long-dead previous owner looking down on them from a window, and whose visitors often report orbs of light that mysteriously appear in photos taken at the house. Other spooky spots include North Alton Confederate Cemetery, where Civil War-era soldiers are said to roam, and the Mineral Springs Mall, where an apparition of a young man in a brown suit may watch you window-shop. The apparition is thought to be Clarence, a 17-year-old who drowned in the on-site pool at this former hotel. Ghost hunters and history buffs can stop by the mall’s lobby to see Clarence’s death certificate on display.

A few tour companies offer a wealth of expertise: Alton Hauntings is run by Troy Taylor, the organizer of a nationwide ghost-hunting conference that happens in town each June. Taylor (literally) wrote the book on Alton’s ghostly past, and his company offers events including a dinner and spirits tour. For another type of haunted Illinois excursion, Alton Haunted Odyssey leads trolley rides through the city’s highlights, like the McPike Mansion and Alton City Cemetery. If you’d rather do some self-guided spirit stalking, you’re in luck: There’s a Haunted Alton app.

If you’re looking for a spook while touring the McPike Mansion, make sure to hover near the cellar, where many visitors say they have felt energies. Photo by Chelsy McInnis.

 

Decatur, Illinois

Getting there: Drive 110 miles northeast of Alton.

Just south of Decatur’s main drag is Greenwood Cemetery, a phantom-seeker’s dream come true. Multiple supernatural phenomena have been reported inside the borders of this once-beautiful 19th-century burial ground, from a weeping young woman on a set of stairs to a ghoulish light show in a field.

One of the city’s most famous legends is that of the Greenwood Bride: A young woman drowned herself in the nearby Sangamon River during Prohibition, distraught over her fiancé’s death at the hands of bootleggers. After dusk, drive by the cemetery, where she’s said to meander at night in her wedding dress, searching for her lost love.

Calm your frayed nerves in Decatur’s downtown historic district, where you can grab a bite in a cozy booth at The Gin Mill and invent your own ghost stories about patrons who’ve sampled some (ahem!) spirits at its 1880s-era bar over the years. Then try to catch a glimpse of “One-Armed Red,” the stagehand said to haunt the now-defunct Lincoln Square Theatre. Or join some restless souls for a show at the nearby Avon Theater, home to more than a century’s worth of spooky tales: apparitions, disembodied laughter and applause coming from an empty auditorium.

Many of Decatur’s most prominent residents are buried among the unmarked graves of captured Confederate soldiers in Greenwood Cemetery, once a sacred burial ground for Native Americans. Photo by Chelsy McInnis.

 

Ashmore, Illinois

Getting there: Drive 65 miles southeast of Decatur.

There’s a reason that ghost-hunting TV shows love to come to Ashmore Estates, a former psychiatric hospital and the Coles County Poor Farm before that: It’s seriously scary. The Ashmore ghosts range from angry to jovial, and many visitors report feeling their presence. What could be better than spending the night here, looking for unsettled spirits?

Sign on for a 101 Investigations experience (tickets start at $50) and you’ll learn the basics of ghost hunting (how to use tracking equipment, what to look for and more tricks of the terrifying trade), then set off to explore Ashmore’s sprawling grounds.

Dozens of people reportedly died at the hospital facility while it was open, so all manner of ghosts are believed to trawl the place — from playful kids to irritated patients. Up the scare factor by spending the night in one of the bunkhouses. (If you get too frightened, you can break for comfort food courtesy of a pizza dinner, included in your admission.)

Plans for Ashmore Estates include a video station for visitors to set up camp and catch paranormal activity during their tour of haunted Illinois. Photo courtesy of WikiCommons.

 

Galena, Illinois

Getting there: Drive 150 miles west of Chicago O’Hare International Airport.

By day, Galena is a picturesque vacation town with charming bistros and brick buildings lining its streets. It’s practically begging for an Instagram post. But behind the impeccable historic facade, there are, apparently, ghosts everywhere — tossing around kitchenware in Embe Eatery or strolling the halls of the DeSoto House Hotel.

Amelia Wilson-Roth of Amelia’s Galena Ghost Tours is just as obsessed with the history of the town as she is with its paranormal activity; she spent weeks in the town’s library uncovering 19th-century newspaper reports of assorted ghost sightings, diary accounts and church records of spectral encounters before launching her tour company. Now, she and a team of guides lead everything from home tours of the city’s haunted highlights to séances in local pubs.

The “Lady in Black” has been said to disappear into the same wall at the DeSoto House Hotel since the late 1800s; the elusive lady’s story got more interesting when repairs revealed a hidden doorway in the same spot more than a century later. Photo by Ron Cogswell

Want to explore more haunted destinations with the family? Check out these five haunted places to vacation.

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About the Author

Carrie Schedler is an award-winning journalist and food writer who currently works as a senior editor at Chicago magazine. She’s one of a small minority of Chicagoans who actually likes deep-dish.