Stories

Tim Shelley / WCBU
This architect’s concept drawing dates to 1895.

      A little dive into the history of Peoria Public Library. Most of this comes from the book “Tomes of Terror“. I tried finding out more on the people themselves, but some of what is written in “Tomes of Terror” is just wrong and or I couldn’t find any information to support what was written. In those cases, I wrote out what I found and the source. Otherwise, take this story for what it is, a good legend.

      Peoria Public Library doesn’t look like a place that is cursed, nor does it look to be haunted. Something that looks fairly modern, it’s hard to imagine a place so juxtaposed from one that is typically imagined when it is reported to have as many as thirteen ghosts in residence.

      To start off our story, we go to the 1830s, when Andrew and Mary Stevenson Gray lived in a two-story home in Peoria, IL. Life was seemingly well for them until Mary’s brother died, and her nephew came to live with them. He brought with him grief and little else, for he tended to associate with criminals and be of no use as a drunkard. He spent a good deal of time in jail and accrued a lot of fines and fees for lawyers.

      Eventually, the Gray’s were unable to pay the debts for their nephew and had used their mortgage as a means to pay their lawyer, David Davis (no wonder he turned out to be a crap lawyer with a name like that). And as this story goes on, Mr. Davis wanted his money and brought a lawsuit against them to foreclose on the mortgage.

      Mary kicks her nephew out and when his body is found later floating in the Illinois River she curses the land with “thorns and thistles, ill luck, sickness and death to its every owner and occupant.” 1

      The land gained a quick reputation for being haunted. Stories began that Mary’s nephew could be heard crying and begging at the front door. Caretaker’s for the property refused to work there. Because the public opinion was so against David Davis, he never actually lived there and the home abandoned. What a waste!

      It’s unclear what or how Mary and Andrew spent the rest of their lives, however there is a legend that states that on the night the house caught fire, the local’s saw the ghost of Mary in the flames, dancing and laughing as the house burned.

Gov. Thomas Ford

      The property then becomes the home of Gov. Thomas Ford, who was thought to already have been cursed prior to moving in.2 (Side note: dude went to Transylvania University… I’m being superficial here, but again, what a name.)3

      Within quick succession he lost his wife to stomach cancer, then died a few weeks after. Mrs. Ford died of cancer of the stomach October 12th, 1850, aged 38 years; and the Governor, then removed to the residence of Mr. Andrew Gray, already in the last stages of consumption, breathed his last on Sunday, November the 3d of the same year… 4

      According to “Tomes of Terror“, the property is then given to an ex-slave, Tom Lindsay. Lindsay had recently been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, and the son of his ex-master purchased a portion of the property and allowed him to live there.5 However, he wasn’t a slave and bought property himself, though I can find nothing on what property he bought.6

      The book “Tomes of Terror“, makes claims that Tom had a lot of issues living there, had to rebuild the home, and employing superstitious methods to live on the land peacefully. But again… the beginning of this section got it all wrong, so maybe there is no truth to this.

      Next up “Tomes of Terror” claims that many more property owners and their children died, but without any names I again couldn’t look it up, so I’ll just add it here, cause it makes for a spooky story.

      However, in the decades following Lindsay’s departure, several more residents of the property suffered a series of eerie fates. The first was a local businessman whose wife died tragically within the first year of the couple obtaining ownership of the property. The next was a banker whose wife died shortly after giving birth to a baby boy; the child died soon after. That same banker remarried and he and his new wife also had a boy. That boy, who suffered a bizarre affliction wherein he avoided warmth, was often found sleeping in the cold front hallway of the home in the depths of winter. He too, died. His mother’s grief and despair was so deep that she was sent off to Minneapolis in an attempt to recover her sanity. The next resident of the cursed site was a boarding room housekeeper whose son plunged to his death from a hot-air balloon, and whose daughter drowned in the nearby river.

      After the property was purchased to use as a library, Fred J. Soldan was appointed as head librarian. He was taken ill after a ride to Washington and returned with other members of the Peoria Bicycle Club in late October 1891 and died of pneumonia on November 5th at age 39.7

      E.S. Willcox was appointed next and twenty years later on April 6, 1915, died after being struck by a car.8

  1. Patterson Prowse died of a heart attack in the library, 1921.9

      Lastly in curious sudden deaths is Dr. Edwin Wiley. It is said he died in 1925 from ingesting arsenic, though that seems to be another legend.

      Sources:
1: Leslie, Mark. Tomes of Terror: Haunted Bookstores and Libraries. Dundurn, 2014.
2:https://www.pjstar.com/story/entertainment/local/2015/05/19/101-things-that-play-in/34529649007/
3:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Ford_(politician)#Death_and_legacy
4:https://www.jstor.org/stable/40193411?seq=4
5: Leslie, Mark. Tomes of Terror: Haunted Bookstores and Libraries. Dundurn, 2014.
6:https://www.peorian.com/history/history-news/local-history/2374-molly-thomas-lindsay
7:https://peoriapubliclibrary.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/ppl-history-book.pdf
8:https://www.jstor.org/stable/40188815
9:https://peoriapubliclibrary.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/ppl-history-book.pdf

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      Welcome to the series of Haunted Libraries (and Bookshops) Around the World. In which I will highlight a library (or bookshop) and its stories of ghostly apparitions, and maybe suggest a book along with it.

      Moravian Book Shop is currently located in Bethlehem, PA and boasts the title of being the oldest and possibly first bookstore opened in America. I’ll spare you most of the history, but to say that the bookstore itself has changed its location and name many times. So this little ghost tale probably doesn’t have anything to do with the original owners.

      The staff have felt like they were being watched in the basement and just generally don’t like being there1, but more spectacular was when the ghost led the store manager back to the kitchens, where she had discovered the stove was still on.

      Jane Clugston, who sells children’s books and has been with the store for almost 30 years, can corroborate. She told me that one night, while closing the store with a fellow employee, she saw a dark figure in a back hallway of the store, going into the kitchen. She and the coworker followed the figure back. Then, she says she realized the back kitchen stove was on, as well as the fan.

      “I don’t know why this person, ghost, spirit drew us back there, but I guess to turn off those appliances,” says Clugston. “I’d never thought of it until I told someone else and they said a ghost led you back there. But in that back hallway a lot of people have said that they’ve felt things and they’ve seen things.” It’s like something out of a book.2

      Besides then general sightings of thinking there may be patrons waiting is a story of how another manager saw a woman sprinting from one room to the other and had assumed that she was a shoplifter. He went to go investigate and discovered that he was the only person to have seen her.1

1:Haunted Places
2:The Guardian

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      They decided to go camping near the lake instead of the woods, where the trees canopy wasn’t so thick overhead that you couldn’t see the stars. Though now that it was getting darker, she wished she hadn’t ignored the niggling fear that was now quickly building to dread.

      She thought it had something to do with the water and how black the surface was. You wouldn’t be able to see your hand just below the surface.

      The ghost stories they shared earlier around the campfire hadn’t helped her nerves either. Her imagination was turning every snap of a twig into some terrible being coming to get her.

      She lay there in her sleeping bag, alone in her tent, unable to sleep. There were footsteps outside her tent shuffling past, then a splash in the water. She unzipped her tent, and although she didn’t know how to swim herself, thought she would sit on the dock and join whoever from her party was out in the water now. The moonlight was bright and in the water she could see her friend bobbing just above the surface. Then in the next moment it looked as if her friend were pulled under.

      She waited a few heartbeats, wanting to see if her friend would resurface, and when she didn’t, started to cry for help. Their other friends, bleary-eyed, came running from their own tents, one tripping over their fire pit. She explained what happened, and they both went running into the water.

      After several minutes, they pulled her friend onto the shore and began CPR. Her friend began to cough up water, and with a speediness surely not normal, stood up and started to walk away. She caught up to her and grabbed her arm.

      “What are you doing? Come back, we will get the fire going.” Her friend, the one she had known since grade school, ignored her. As she watched her friend walk down the dark path towards the main road, she felt as if somehow that wasn’t actually her in there. She walked back to the water’s edge and in the moonlight she could have sworn she saw her friends face just below the surface.     


      There are stories all over the world of ghostly beings that drown those foolish enough to swim in their waters. The story above was inspired by the myth of the Shui Gui. The Shui Gui is a ghost from Chinese folklore. They are the result of a person drowning and will free themselves only when they drown another. The stories I read through vary on what happens. The victim takes the place of the Shui Gui, but the freed spirit either takes over the body or moves on.1


      Another similar story is of a spirit that tries to drag it’s victims to the depths of the pond at House of the Binns, Linlithgow, West Lothian. Though I couldn’t really find any stories regarding these spirits, they were overshadowed by the General who lived there and his card games with the devil.2

      Next we travel to Blackwater, Florida. There is a local legend of a woman who is deathly pale, and smells of rotten flesh. 3

By Tim Ross – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3075595

      As part of the Blackwater River State Park, Blackwater River State Forest is a favorite outdoor recreation spot. But if you’re tubing, swimming, boating or fishing in the river, make sure to leave the water before the sun sets.
Otherwise a woman in the water will drag you to the bottom with her.
      One of the least known ghosts in the area, the woman in the water, has been described as a deathly pale woman with long jet-black hair.
      The few people who managed to escape her clutches first smelled rotten flesh right before she re-surfaced and tried dragging them to their deaths.
      One account says that the ghost of Blackwater River isn’t limited to the river. Apparently, she grabbed a man’s ankle from within a puddle as he ran away from her.
      He was lucky. You may not be. So, stay safe at the Blackwater River State Forest.4

  1. Uncovering Chinese Mythology: A Beginner’s Guide Into the World of Chinese Myths, Enchanting Tales, Folklore, Legendary Heroes, Gods, Divine Beings, and Mythical Creatures by Lucas Russo
  2. This Haunted Isle by Peter Underwood
  3. https://www.rd.com/list/haunted-bodies-of-water/
  4. https://backpackerverse.com/forests-in-florida/#6_Blackwater_River_State_Forest_Milton
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It is cold and rainy inside the church. Every once in a while a large truck, or is it from the train men joining the cars together that is causing the church to shake? How late is it anyway, the man doesn’t know. Ever since he started working on the murals, he’s stopped taking his watch with him so as not to be tempted or tricked into thinking he’s tired.

      The man has been painting on top of a creaking scaffold now for four days. He is painting the Madonna, a difficult endeavor for him. He really was feeling tired and cold, but he wasn’t ready to quit yet, after all, he was on a short deadline.

He’s sees movement below him. Must be the priest, he reasoned. Why is he gesturing like that? Waving his arms around in that manner? The artist is annoyed, didn’t he ask the priest not to enter the church during this time? Well, he is probably practicing for his sermon. The artist chooses to ignore him, besides what right does he have to keep the priest out of his own church. It is laughable, really. Why too is the priest not saying anything? The artist reasons he really isn’t trying to distract him. “To the devil with him!” He really must work on this and does his best to ignore him.

          That night the man returns to the parish house where he is staying with the priest. The dogs go mad, barking and pawing him. The priest makes no mention of having been in the church during their normal cake and coffee, and the artist doesn’t ask, he only wants to get to bed.

      The next few days pass by with little incident. He works as much as he can and when he is at his most exhausted he joins the priest for their meal in the early hours of the morning. On the eighth night he is back on the scaffold, mixing paint, he happens to look down and see the priest again waving about. He feels strange. He can hear the priest mumbling and assumes the pries is prating. The artist does his best to ignore him, and again feels vexed at the intrusion. Still though, the cold, the weirdness, he decides it’s enough for tonight, and he will finish with the last of the paint he mixed, and retire early.

      The dogs are barking and excited again, and he is surprised that with all the commotion to find the priest asleep on the couch.

      “You must be sleep walker, ‘ he says to the priest when he wakes up a few moments later.

      The priest laughs, says no, then asks the artist to explain himself. And so the artist does, recounting seeing the priest on two nights come in and wave about. His assumptions…

      After the artist is done, the priest takes a moment and then explains that there have been stories of a ghost, though he himself has never encountered it. He goes on to tell the artist how worried he had been for him, high up on the scaffolding, and has been keeping guard outside, in case the artist sees the ghost and injures himself from fleeing.

      From that night on the priest joins the artist, and it is on that first night that he issues a challenge to the ghost. “Come on, ghost, show yourself and see if the gospodine profesor and I are afraid of you.”

      The artist laughed and began to work, when from the back of the church came a tapping or knocking sound. The artist felt a chill then asks “Hear that, father?”
      “What?”
      “That strange knock back there?”
      “Yes; but wasn’t it a creak in the scaffolding??”
      “I don’t know, I don’t think so?”

Note: I will continue this story next week, there you will be able to find my references.

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Published by: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: 30 Aug 2022
Genre: Magical Realism
Pages: 290
Source: NetGalley
Date Read: 02 Aug 2022
      I at first rated this 4 stars, then found myself going on and on about this book to my husband, started crying (again) about the ending, and went back to upgrade it to 5 stars. It really is a lovely tale.

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      This story is such an interesting retelling, with just the right about of spookiness to kick off the season.
      “You can, of course, but do you remember what we talked about before the funeral? You know Eulalie isn’t here anymore. She’s with Mama and Elizabeth now, in the Brine.”
      I felt her nod. “She keeps pulling my sheets off, though.”
      I blinked once before turning to snatch it up. When I left, the door slammed shut after me, as if pushed by unseen hands.
      “It works that way on the mainland,” he allowed. “But on the islands, estates are passed to the eldest child, regardless of sex. Many strong women have ruled over the Salann Islands. My grandmother inherited Highmoor when her father passed away. She doubled the size of the Vasa shipyard and tripled the profits.”

      How refreshing for this line to be delivered from the father/husband – current head of the household? Too many stories are set where it’s the son who inherits, and I’m here for this new way.
      The one downside I had with the story was that even by the end I still had no real idea of all the sisters, not really caring to remember their names.

Published by: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: 26 Aug 2019
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 406
Date Read: 20 Sep 2020

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