In our travels we have visited many haunted places, but for some reason we’ve overlooked one of the most haunted cities in the Midwest: our home city of Decatur, Illinois. There’s a lot of information in old newspapers and local legends about Decatur’s ghosts and most of it has been studied and documented by author Troy Taylor, who began writing about Decatur’s haunted past in his first book: “Haunted Decatur”. Mr. Taylor wrote that book after the success of his Haunted Decatur Tours which began back in 1994. It took 22 years for us to finally take that tour, but at last we’re finally going to discover Haunted Decatur!
Our tour began at the Lincoln Square Theatre which is considered to be the one of the most haunted theaters in the United States. Here we met our tour guides, John and Adam, and boarded the bus to the supernatural.
Wabash Train Depot
Our first stop was at the Wabash Train Depot; one of the two original train stations in town. Once a busy train station; the depot has been converted into an antique mall. Here John told us a story of an itinerant juke joint guitar player who didn’t have enough money for his train fare so he played outside the station collecting tips. He finally got enough for his fare and he traveled on to become a blues legend. His name, Robert Johnson.
This is also where we got our first ghost story of the night; that of a shopkeeper alone at night in the building who was startled by someone standing at his shop’s doorway. Thinking it was his wife coming to pick him up he went to the door and no one was there. It didn’t take him long to close up shop after that!
We got back on the bus and we began a route through the area of early Decatur, stopping along the street to point out and discuss homes with a checkered past and a haunted present. At the fourth house we were allowed to go inside. There we stood in dimly lit rooms while John and Adam told us of the fire and murder that had occurred here. I was pretty spooked-out here, especially by some sheer curtains that were moving in the wind…at least I kept telling myself it was the wind! It’s a good thing no one shouted “Boo” because I would have knocked everyone over as I jumped out the door.
We reboarded the bus and a few stops later we were dropped off on a bike path by the Sangamon River. Our bus left us there with guide John and we slowly walked (with no flashlights) the path downriver until we came to Hells Hollow, one of the most infamous areas of Decatur. A hundred years or so ago, this area was home to thugs, gangs, and river pirates. The gangs would go into the town above and rob the Decaturites and return here with their loot. The pirates would stop boats on the river and extort money and goods before letting the travelers on their way.
Midway on our walk John stopped us and told us of some of the ghoulish things that have happened here including hangings and at least one instance of cannibalism. The stories were scary enough, but all through his talk we heard nearby coyotes yipping and howling. It was like the guides had trained these coyotes to sound off at just the perfect time! We didn’t see orbs or ghosts here, but just as we were leaving John said there was a ghost in the area that didn’t like him. As if on cue, the air turned sour and it smelled like something was rotting next to us. Ugh, glad to be moving on!
Lincoln Square Theatre
We ended our tour where we began it, at the Lincoln Square Theatre. This time went inside and with our special tour access we were allowed to go up to the balcony. Here we sat while John told us about a few who have performed here, including: Al Jolson, Ethyl Barrymore, John Phillip Sousa, and even Bob Hope! John then went on to tell of of ghostly sightings here, including two of his personal interactions with apparitions. As we sat listening to the stories I kept my eyes peeled for something…anything, but no ghosts for me tonight.
It was 11:30 PM and after 3 1/2 hours it was time to end our tour. We hadn’t seen any ghosts, orbs, or anything unusual on this tour but we talked about it all the way home. It was a great way to learn about Decatur’s past, both sordid and otherwise. Not only that, we’ve got several places that we’ll be keeping our eyes on as we drive through Decatur’s streets at night. You just never know!
This post doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of what we learned on the tour, nor what we’ve read about area hauntings. Be sure to check the links below for more information.
In my first paragraph I mentioned author Troy Taylor and his first book “Haunted Decatur“. He’s gone on to write 119 more books and you can learn about them all here: Troy Taylor’s Web Site.
Here’s everything you need to know about the tours: Haunted Decatur
Yes, the Lincoln Square Theatre has a lot of history, but it’s also an active theater with performances and movies. Check it out at: Lincoln Square Theatre. You can also check out their Facebook page at: Lincoln Square Theatre Facebook
Tour guide Adam is a Senior Investigator for a local group that investigates hauntings. Check out their Facebook page at: New Age Paranormal Research