A haunted history: Kankakee area rife with legends


Do you believe in ghosts? Think before answering, because you are living in a region rich with its own haunted history.

Local legends include tales of bloodstains that could not be removed and would reappear on the floorboards of an old house, now demolished, that stood on River Street, just east of the Schuyler Avenue bridge. Another that used to appear around Halloween was tales of a ghostly woman seen walking beneath the trees at Beckman Park.

It would be hard to find a place without a ghost or two of its own, said Dan Jungles, the founder and lead investigator for the Will County Ghost Hunters Society; and Chad Lewis, a well-known author, lecturer and paranormal investigator of haunted locations across the Midwest.

Lewis has made a career out of investigating ghost stories. Together with Terry Fisk, Lewis has written road guides to haunted locations in the Midwest and Florida, as well as a number of other books on unexplained phenomena.

During a lecture earlier this month at the Bourbonnais Public Library, Lewis said he's been searching 14 years and has "never seen a ghost, UFO, werewolf or Bigfoot," although he has documented such sightings across Illinois and other Midwestern states.

"We have captured a lot of strange things, mists or fog, but nothing overly paranormal. That's what keep me going to these places," Lewis said.

One of those places, Lewis and Jungles said, is the former Manteno State Hospital, where strange things may still be lurking within the shadows of old wards, dormitories and dispensaries. The first patients were accepted at Manteno State Hospital in 1930. It was later renamed the Manteno Mental Health Center. At its peak, Manteno State Hospital handled over 8,000 patients with a staff of 200 employees, Lewis said.

The facility closed in 1985. Since then, about half of the buildings have been demolished and replaced with new homes and large companies on the grounds of what is now known as the Illinois Diversatech Campus.

"We have been out there many times and have visited almost all the old buildings," said Jungles, who lives in Shorewood.

During a 2005 investigation, Kathy Stinson, one of Lewis' colleagues working with him on the investigations, photographed what Jungles believes to be a "spirit orb in motion." The camera, set to a slow shutter speed, allegedly captured a ball of light moving along the floor inside one of the buildings. The "orb" appears to move out from the wall, leaving a ghostly "trail" before disappearing.

Six months earlier, Stinson captured a phantom image while photographing a dark room at the then-defunct hospital. "There was no one else in the room when this picture was taken, and there was no light source," Jungles said.

"There were several EVPs recorded that night as well," Jungles said. EVPs in the parlance of ghost hunters is known as electronic voice phenomenon.

"One of the buildings, which used to house the pharmacy, was the most active spot at the center," Lewis said.

But Lewis said there's evidence, in eyewitness reports, that the former occupants may still be roaming the grounds.

"Over the years I have had many reports of people who entered the old buildings and saw nurses and doctors and even patients still dressed in their gowns," said Lewis. "There have been reports of people hearing pages over a phantom intercom system and other strange experiences."

In the late 1930s, a typhoid epidemic claimed 60 lives -- an event, Lewis feels, that may have given birth to the stories that haunt the grounds. But, he admits, "When I was there, nothing out of the ordinary happened."

Other apparitions

Ghostly sightings of "women in white" have been reported from Will County. Legends tell of the ghost of a young girl seen standing on the north side of Crete-Monee Road near a railroad crossing. Another apparition of a woman and child is sometimes seen on rainy nights along Sangamon Road near Crete.

And in Iroquois County, there is a tale of "Alfonzo's Grave," a glowing tombstone in a rural cemetery east of Woodland that has been endlessly repeated across the Internet. Cemetery records show no one named Alfonzo buried there; but the tombstone, lined with crystals of granite, resembles the figure of a man when seen in headlights.

Watseka holds claim to the area's most unusual story with its tale of the "Watseka Wonder."

The well-documented story tells of the 1812 demonic possession of a young girl, Mary Roff. Efforts to exorcise the demon failed, and Mary eventually died. Years later in July of 1877, 13-year-old Lurancy Vennum began falling into catatonic trances, claiming that she could speak to the angels and spirits of the dead, according to "The Possessed: The Haunted Mystery of the Watseka Wonder," by Troy Taylor.

News of Lurancy's strange condition drew Mary's father, Asa Roff, to the Vennum home. Lurancy was suffering from a similar condition that had killed his daughter, Mary.

"It soon became apparent to many that (Roff's) daughter's spirit was now inside the body of Lurancy Vennum," Taylor wrote.

Lurancy was allowed to go and live with the Roff family, who believed that their daughter had returned from the grave. Over the following months, Lurancy took on the personality of Mary and began talking about family matters that she could not possibly have known.

In time, Lurancy told the Roffs that it was nearly time for her to leave. "She became very despondent and spent the entire day hugging family members," Taylor wrote.

Weeks later "Mary" was gone and Lurancy returned to the Vennum home apparently cured of her earlier illness.