Exploring frightening folklore in time for Halloween.
During this season of intrigue and superstition, it is interesting to explore the unexplained. Everyone has their stories of what lies beyond our understanding. Here are some of Stephenson Counties unexplained phenomena to celebrate the spirits of Halloween.
Growing up in Freeport, I believed in the ghosts, ghouls and exaggerated stories that haunted the dark places. This usually meant I was home by the time the streetlights would turn on. As an adult, I still wonder what lurks beyond my comfort zone. I have heard tales from various sources that many paranormal and supernatural experiences are prevalent in Stephenson County and the surrounding area. Even walking in the dark around the rural areas of Northern Illinois would give me the chills. Intrigued by this, I began looking into the folklore of our rural area.
Willow Creek Farm, Shannon
My first journey lead me to Willow Creek Farm in Shannon, IL. This farm is dubbed the second most haunted place in the area and has hosted many paranormal team visits. What exactly bumps in the night? Al Kelchner, owner and caretaker of the residence, shared with me that there were spirits that haunted the land. In his appearances on multiple paranormal shows, Kelchner states that the spirits will show their presence to visitors of the farm but are normally benevolent towards them.
Although recently he has not permitted many paranormal society visitors to stay on the property, he offered me an exclusive visit which I declined. I felt that since I jump at my own shadow often, I shouldn’t embark on such a journey. Instead I interviewed him about his property. During his full-time stay at the Willow Creek Farm, he has seen and been in contact with over thirty passing spirits and Native American apparitions. He holds annual seances for sceptics and shares evidence on social media and YouTube. He shared with me that seven primary spirits are active in the home, but he is not afraid of them as they are his “spirit family.” I felt my hairs standing on end watching some of the videos from past guests share their experiences. Guests have reported footsteps, distorted noises, and hearing children during their overnight stays. There are orbs in many of the posts online that have been linked to a spirit presence. Kelchner posts about his experiences daily on the Haunted Willow Creek Facebook page and allows people to interact with him about the farm.
I believe that Willow Creek Farm is haunted, but I also believe in Al Kelchner’s belief that his spirits are benevolent. He does believe there are some spirits who dislike him but feels very free of harm. On Halloween, he allows guests to tour the property. If you want a chilling afternoon, contact Kelchner via the Haunted Willow Creek Facebook page to discuss a tour.
Imagine seeing a transparent Native American man riding past you in a corn field. Talk about being paralyzed with fear!
Winnesheik Playhouse, Freeport
The next stop on this house of horrors field trip is Winnesheik Players Playhouse. Previous paranormal teams have found evidence there is a presence in the theatre. They reported hearing distorted voices and what could be described as footsteps. Could something or someone be lurking their after-hours? Let’s investigate.
I am proud to say that I found courage to check out this one personally. Behind the stage during rehearsals, actors say it is a very quiet theatre. I learned to correctly investigate the haunting the lights have to be cut off. This is when my nerve left me, and I quickly left the vicinity. But on my way out, I did feel a cold spot. There is a theory that when spirits are near, the cold spots are where they appear. Hot spots indicate the normal temperature. The cold spot lasted a second and I thought I was going to have a Sixth Sense moment. Dead people I did not see. Undoubtedly, it could be my mind playing tricks on me but there was an eerie feeling in my gut. Are the rumors true? I cannot be a judge at this time. Remember that next door to the Winnesheik used to be a hospital. Perhaps some of the spirits lingered over to enjoy a show.
Blood Point Road, Cherry Valley
No one told me to bring powder. Instead, I found myself in full panic on this rural, wooded road. The legend is that Blood Point Road holds many dark secrets including a school bus full of children that crashed off a bridge. I was told to drive to the bridge, put the car in neutral, and witness the feeling of being pushed back. My initial thought was how brave all of these reporters were for trying such a thing. However, I drove through the road at full speed without stopping, passing the cemetery and the residents who live there. Nearby, there was a house with graffiti that I felt looked completely out of a horror film. Needless to say, I didn’t have the nerve to stop and witness the mysterious phenomenon for myself.
Riders of this road have also reported seeing a demonic dog that chases their car and then would disappear. The legend also states that people have been followed by phantom trucks and men on horseback. Perhaps I went to early, but there was no dog, no trucks and no men on horses. What was present was an eerie feeling that I shouldn’t be there. This place holds the title of creepy, although interviewing the residents who live on this road they disagree and report no supernatural revelations. I am a strong believer if you go looking for a thriller night, you may get what you are looking for.
Freeport and Cedarville Railroads
Growing up, the folklore around town somehow included the Freeport and Cedarville Railroads. Generations of people have talked about traveling the railroads for exercise or a fun journey with friends, until you reach a certain spot right outside of the city limits. Hikers have reported hearing ritual chants, disembodied screams, a distant chainsaw, and seeing women dressed in white. There are residences not far from the railroads and some of the hikers have decided to settle there until they are picked up. People have also felt an eerie presence from the wooded areas and believed that a witch used to live on the land.
While many people recount their theories, others have shared variations. There are no personal accounts of these reports, but some have speculated that following the tracks is a bad omen.
The Oscar- Taylor Home, Freeport
“What a beautiful home,” I would think as a child during our annual field trips to Freeport’s historic mansion. The Victorian feel of the home is a snapshot of it’s time once belonging to the wealthy and liberal Taylor family. In top shape and visited often, the Taylor home has also become a topic of the haunted places in Stephenson County. Annually in October, a paranormal team comes to host a dinner with guests to investigate the home for lingering spirits. It is believed that some of the previous owners have stayed behind to keep the staff company.
The house was a station for the Underground Railroad. Paranormal teams have documented a presence in the basement where the family would hide captives. There is a rocking chair stationed in the basement that has been said to rock on its own. My own witness has brought me to believe there are anomalies that cannot be explained, but who would want to leave a nice home like the Oscar-Taylor home? The spirits are comfortable where they are.
Built on fame of Jane Addams birthplace, Cedarville has its own history of supernatural phenomenon. While Addams is reported to have led a quiet life in Stephenson County, other residents of Cedarville spread legends and myths of seeing a skin-walker in the area in the middle of the night.
A skin-walker is described as a hag-witch that can turn into an animal. “She” has been seen in the surrounding fields, and some recount childhood memories of having seen her in their dreams and closets. She also has the ability to possess and harm her prey, which are often children. There are no pictures to prove her existence but many sources have said that their encounters were very frightening. The next time you spend the night in Cedarville, you may want to sleep with the light on.
Guiteau House, Freeport
There are many places that have proven their spots to be haunted. Most notably the Guiteau House in Freeport. Legend recounts that President James A. Garfield’s assassin, Charles Guiteau, was buried in secret in the house after his execution. Although his remains have never been found in the home, Freeport natives are sure that the house it haunted. The house belonged to Charles Guiteau’s aunt and uncle who are also believed to haunt the grounds.
There is more to explore in Stephenson County and Northern Illinois. While some of these speculations are myth, the feeling that there is a bump in the night will forever linger. For Halloween this year, investigate these stories and others and find for yourself if you believe in all of the stories that register Stephenson County among the list of spooky places.