Posts By Kent Williamson

Ghoulish Stories From The Illinois Backcountry

We all enjoy a good unsolved mystery. You know our website for its rich historical information coupled with advice on where to go and what to do — especially if you’re a frequent traveler. But every once in a while we can’t help but contradict ourselves by reliving those unsolved mysteries, and giving people a good reason not to come! Here are the creepiest ghost stories and paranormal legends in our fine state.

Those familiar with the Devil’s Backbone near Grand Tower might know of the ghostly activity. The legends actually arose from Native American storytellings, but they continued even after the indigenous tribes were pushed from their homes — albeit with a somewhat altered narrative. According to the story, a wedding party was drowned in the nearby river. But a woman named Esmerelda lived there when a terrible accident resulted in her lover’s death. She committed suicide. The stories say she now materializes frequently as mist. Keep a watch during thunderstorms and you just might hear her screams.

Dead Man’s Hollow in Pittsburgh doesn’t have anything on Crenshaw House. First named Hickory Hill, but called the Old Slave House, there were rumors that it was a “dark” underground railroad. Students of American history will know the original Underground Railroad was responsible for freeing slaves. But this one was used to capture free Black men and put them up for sale to the highest bidder. How many people were killed during this illegal, immoral trade? We don’t know, but we do know this: visitors to the Crenshaw House routinely hear moaning from the attic.

Ever hear of the Big Muddy Monster? Police investigated the scene of a monster scare near Big Muddy River on June 26, 1973 — only to hear screaming. Two teens reported another sighting one night later in Westwood Hills. A K9 was tasked with finding the source, but refused to enter the barn where the scent trails originated. Sightings frequently occurred until 1988, when they suddenly came to a stop.

The Rose Hotel is the oldest in the state of Illinois, and remains open as a B&B. The ghost of Sarah Rose — the original owner — is said to wander the halls of the hotel at night, whispering. Guests say that items in the hallways have mysteriously moved overnight. Guests have been witnessing Rose for decades.

Ever been to Cave-In-Rock State Park? The cave was originally home to outlaws from the late 1700s to the late 1800s. According to the oral history of the park, those using the river during this time would often be killed by the scum. Legend also suggests that there might be buried treasure somewhere on site — but surely someone would have found it by now, right?

Facts You Didn’t Know About The State Of Illinois

We routinely deliver news, facts, and historical stories about our wonderful Illinois state. We also derive pride from our state’s parks and monuments. We enjoy watching everyone assimilate this information and then put it to good use by going outside to see the sights. Today, we’re going to share some weird or interesting facts you probably didn’t know about Illinois. Here we go!

Illinois might be known for controversial politics, but believe it or not our state was the very first to ratify the 13th amendment to the United States Constitution. That was the one that abolished slavery!

We’re also a huge exporter of energy. We don’t need to rely on coal and oil as much as everyone else to heat our homes or keep businesses running — because we produce more nuclear power than any other state.

Chicago was once home to the tallest skyscraper in the country. The Sears Tower held the title.

Visitors will realize immediately that Illinois is mostly farmland, but we already had that reputation. 80 percent of our land is farmland — and we export innumerable crops to sell around the country, which boosts our state’s economy and sustains our future.

We were the country’s 21st state. December 3, 1818 was the day we marked our calendars — and we believe everyone should remember this occasion. Why not do some research this coming December?

McDonald’s has grown into a multinational franchise, but the very first restaurant was built in Des Plaines, Illinois! Twinkies also got their start here. They originated in River Forest.

Most people probably don’t view Illinois as a “big” state population-wise, but we’re actually the fifth largest in the United States after Florida, New York, California, and Texas. We can thank Chicago for that.

We’ve also bred presidents, but probably not the one you think. Former President Ronald Reagan was born here. Abraham Lincoln was not — even if we sometimes refer to our homeland as the “Land of Lincoln.”

Number One Reason To Live In Illinois: The Divorce Rate?

Anyone breathing air in the United States of America has probably heard the tidings of the apocalypse by now. Marriages are failing at a rate of about 50 percent. The end times must be coming! But guess what? Whether or not your marriage is likely to fail might be determined by where you live. A new report found Illinois to have one of the lowest divorce rates in the U.S., with only 6.6 percent of couples opting to call it quits. That’s only just over 17 divorced individuals per every 1,000 married.

An anonymous lawyer at the https://matteuccifamilylaw.com/ said that “most clients who believe in monogamous relationships aren’t interested in moving from place to place based on marriage rates. But when our clients are making big life changes anyway, we sometimes mention that a new home might be in the cards. Not everyone likes the heat in New Mexico. The grass is always greener on the other side, as it were.”

Founder Joshua Stern of Illinois-based family law firm Stern Perkoski said, “People think a lot about the cash flow and when and where they’re going to see the kids. Inevitably, if you get divorced, you’re not taking two incomes that are supporting one household and asking them to support two households. Usually, people see a drop in their available cash flow.”

Why is the Illinois divorce rate so low?

The pessimistic would likely hypothesize that conservative laws might squeeze divorcing couples for more money than they can afford. Or maybe the financial incentives simply outweigh all other factors combined. Marriage and relationship counselor Victoria Baum said “there’s no simple answer” to the question of why.

There are a few plausible explanations, though. For starters, many Illinois couples tend to cohabitate long before pulling the trigger on marriage — which gives them a pretty good idea what marriage would be like. That might make good couples more likely to stay together and get married. It might also make poor matches more likely to split apart before marriage is even in the cards.

There’s another explanation, too. Most men in Illinois are married around age 30, while women are married at 29. Two or three decades ago, couples were married at a much younger age. Now they wait. Some experts contend that maturity might have something to do with the low divorce rates in Illinois.

Family therapist Farrah Walker said, “Older couples have had time to develop a shared idea of what they want their marriage to look like. Having kids automatically creates strain in relationships; it’s less strenuous when your relationship has had longer to develop. You’re getting married older in a different stage of life. You had time to develop some of those habits in a relationship prior to having kids.”

Could the divorce rates be even lower? Experts say yes, of course they could. The key to making a marriage last is obviously communication. That’s why pulling the trigger on marriage counseling before problems develop could also reduce the rate of decay.

A Brief Snapshot Of Southern Illinois History

Like most of the United States, Illinois was home to Native Americans for thousands of years before European settlers ever arrived. What you might not know is that they were there as far back as 8000 B.C. — and they had a distinct culture and way of life. They included tribes like the Kickapoo, Fox, Sauk, Ottawa, Ojibwa, Potawatomi, Peoria, Kaskaskia, Tamaroa and Cahokia. In other words? Many, many people lived and died in this historic region.

The land looked much different as well. Around 22 million acres (or 60 percent of present-day Illinois) of the land was described as prairie. For comparison’s sake, only 2,000 acres of prairie are still around. This has drastically changed how life is lived in the region — especially for wildlife.

Most of what we know about Native American history prior to the arrival of European settlers is fragmented. This is because Native Americans shared stories and oral versions of historical events, which results in changed details. They didn’t write it all down. Still, we have a better understanding of what happened in the centuries immediately before settlement.

For example, the Cahokia tribe of Native Americans was thought to be comprised of tens of thousands of individuals before it mysteriously vanished in the 15th century A.D. 

Theories present a number of possible reasons for this disappearance. There were famines, earthquakes, and the Little Ice Age, all of which may have resulted in external and internal conflicts. For example, belief systems may have been challenged when the environment changed due to natural reasons. 

The area was also home to the Illiniwek Confederation, which was a huge alliance between many tribes. This alliance presented an obstacle to the region’s settlement, especially during the 17th century Beaver Wars. This conflict displaced thousands of Native Americans from Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana, which forced Europeans to react. Other tribes were destabilized as a result.

When Illinois Residents Moved West During California Gold Rush

Remember that old computer game, the Oregon Trail? This was the game that introduced many of us (if we’re old enough to remember it) to the perils of the wilderness before paved roads. Although the trail itself ran from Missouri to Oregon, not everyone hopped on at exactly the same point. People arrived at the closest possible point from anywhere in the United States, hoping to find better. And life hadn’t changed much when the California Gold Rush occurred. The journey west was always fraught with dangers most people didn’t expect.

Holcomb Valley was home to the largest rush of new settlers during this period — but modern day residents will know it as part of the San Bernardino National Forest. People from all around the country left the life they knew for the unknown in hopes of making it big mining for gold. Exceedingly few were successful. And Illinois residents are as likely as anyone to make the trip.

Why was the trip so dangerous? Maybe it wasn’t as dangerous as you expect: only one in ten died making the trip on the Oregon Trail. The push west to California was similar.

Well, you can start by imagining a time without common preventative measures like vaccines, water filters, or seat belts. These people didn’t have bear spray to ward away dangerous animals. But that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Those who perished on the journey died mostly of illness: dysentery, smallpox, flu, or cholera. They did their best to prevent others from falling for the same reason. When there was an outbreak among a particular group of travelers, they would leave messages behind for those who arrived later. This was especially important when the danger was external, such as hostile Native Americans. 

One common problem? When a wagon wheel surrendered to the pressures of the trail, the break would be sudden and violent. Usually, drivers and passengers would be ejected from the vehicle and deposited on the ground — sometimes with broken bones. Without a doctor to properly set the bone or a cast to help it heal, even these common injuries could be fatal. Many travelers were crushed by wagons for lack of paying attention or when trying to change one of the aforementioned broken wheels. 

In earlier times, there were no bridges to make river crossings safer. Many travelers were likely to drown (not everyone knew how to swim back in the day). 

There were also very few towns along the way. Mostly, the journey west was open wilderness. This is how the image of the American outlaw and cowboy became fully realized. Looking for the law? You wouldn’t find it out there. You were on your own when the shooting started or the bandits came. Because these dangers were so common and expected, everyone owned a firearm. Another common cause of death? Accidental discharge (of the gun variety). 

As time wore on, the journey became easier. Bridges were built. Towns sprung up over months and years, providing travelers with places to rest and relax or resupply.

The Creepy Side Of Illinois

Illinois has had hundreds of years to build a reputation based on economy, fairness, good people, and great places. But that span of time was also used to wash away a number of creepy tales and spooky folklore you’ve probably never heard about! Here are a few interesting stories we love to tell around the campfire.

Ever heard of Henry H. Holmes? He was a pharmacy owner in Chicago — and a successful early 19th century serial killer! He would rent out rooms to female visitors in town for an expo, and then murder them in the basement (or so the story goes). Police discovered dismembered body parts in jars. They also found a little shop of horrors, complete with acid and quicklime pits. There’s a post office at this location today. Workers say they can still hear the screams of the dearly departed…

Visit Flora Township for a taste of Blood’s Point Road. According to old folklore, a school bus full of children crashed near this location — which is also home to a cemetery and bridge. Storytellers say this bridge was the location of hangings.

In Egypt, Illinois, there was a man who passed away while waiting for a bus. He’s now known as the vanishing man, as legend suggests his spirit is still stuck on that bus — and many people have apparently noted this apparition, especially when it disappears from plain view.

The “Hatchet Lady” protects her son’s grave at Moon Point Cemetery. Wander too close to the grave in question, and she might just scream “get out!” Some have seen other ghosts at the cemetery, too, in addition to strange sounds or lights.

Head to Archer Ave and you might see “Resurrection Mary,” an apparently beautiful hitchhiker clothed in white. According to local legend, she will disappear once she’s in the car — leaving you with nightmares for a good long while. The stories say she ran from her boyfriend after a fight, only to be struck and killed by a passing vehicle near Resurrection Cemetery.

Why Should You Move To Southernmost Illinois?

Illinois isn’t for everyone. But our communities, cities, and unique sense of culture are a step above the rest. Living in Illinois means fun for the whole family. Here are a few reasons why you might just be living in the wrong state!

We know food. Wondering what Illinois foods you might enjoy? Some of our favorites are poutine, pierogies, Chicago-style hot dogs, gyros, Chicago-style pizza, Italian beef sandwiches, horseshoes, or any meal from Frontera Grill! You don’t need to venture into the city to have a great meal. Some of the best hole-in-the-wall dining experiences are located in rural areas.

We have small towns. Let’s face the facts: the coronavirus pandemic might end based on the definitions set forth by the World Health Organization (WHO) or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but realistically COVID will always be with us. And although many experts expect that future variants of coronavirus will not be as virulent, there’s no guarantee. Want to feel safe? 

Many of our small towns provide the perfect atmosphere for community. They’re quaint, fun, near many outdoor locations, and best of all — they allow you to stay away from people whenever you choose. Either way, we recommend you get vaccinated or receive your booster shot!

We love sports. Whether you’re into college athletics or professional, you can always find a game to watch in Illinois. We have a number of college towns. And many of our residents love their weekend trips to Chicago to watch the Cubs or the Bulls.

We love history. Are you interested in living somewhere culturally rich with its own distinct history? This might be the place for you. You can visit the Ronald Reagan Birthplace and Museum, the Mendota Museum and Historical Society, the Swedish American Museum, or the Illinois Military Museum. Many Illinois state parks are steeped in history as well. Or maybe you study history as a treasure hunter. You won’t find a better state for shipwreck diving!

It’s cheaper than living in a big city. Even after the mass exodus from NYC, prices for rentals or real estate are sky high — for most of us. Moving to a smaller community doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be able to find a job. This is especially true for artists, freelancers, or contractors. We have a strong economy and our GDP ranks number five for U.S. states. Dozens of Fortune 500 companies are based here. And the minimum wage will soon be $15 an hour.

It’s a great hub for road trips. Most Illinois residents don’t stop at Chicago. Our road trips extend to Detroit, Indianapolis, Nashville, St. Louis, or Toronto. Looking for new scenery? Take a ride around the Great Lakes, or go up into Canada to experience life on the other side. Southernmost Illinois is also a great place to live for driving west. You can be in Denver, Colorado in a day. Or drive south to Tallahassee, Florida.

The Best State Parks To Visit In 2022: Part II

Almost a month ago, we began a series to grant readers more information on our favorite state parks. We know you’ll need someplace to go once spring comes. Now represents the best time to research vacation opportunities that won’t break the bank — especially since millions of Americans have moved from one job to the next in the last few months. Need a cheap option to get outside the house? Here are a few more of our favorites. 

Cave in Rock State Park is absolutely free! But even if it weren’t, it offers wonderful scenery for casual visitors. There is a cave 55 feet deep. While visiting, you will learn about its rich history: pirates and outlaws once used these caves as a sanctuary while running from the law. Please respect the boundaries and don’t venture into any closed-off portions of the cave. We need to protect this natural wonder for future generations. Book a campsite or cabin if you want to stay overnight.

History buffs won’t want to miss Fort Massac State Park. Visitors can enjoy the usual outdoor activities and hike to explore the area, but don’t forget to learn about the area. There is still a fort on site, although it’s a replica of what was originally built to overlook the Ohio River during the Revolutionary War. Even earlier than that, the Spanish were using the location for strategic purposes. Interestingly, Fort Massac was Illinois’s first state park. 

Water lovers and birdwatchers alike will want to visit Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park. You can boat, fish, swim, ride on horseback, hike, and enjoy the largest manmade lake in the state. Most visitors will want to arrive very early or late for the best wildlife viewing (or fishing) but you can also camp at its many primitive and modern sites. Although there was once a resort on site, it was decommissioned in 2016. It is unlikely to reopen anytime soon.

Chicago To Worcester: The Underrated Road Trip

In this time of uncertainty, the only certainty is that you’re safer not using public transportation. Southern Illinois residents love to take the drive up to Chicago for a weekend getaway, but what if we want to extend the vacation? We believe that Boston is the best place to go for those looking for a fun road trip. We’ll provide you with basic details about where to go and the most interesting landmarks along the way. You’ve already been to Chicago, so we won’t tell you what to do there!

If you’ve never been to Niagara Falls, we recommend spending part of your first day there. The Canadian side of the park is much more scenic, but you might have trouble getting in while COVID is resurging. From there, we recommend one of two routes. The first involves driving up along the Great Lakes, taking pit stops as necessary. The second involves going down to the Finger Lakes, where you’ll find many camping and hiking opportunities. Check out the Finger Lakes Trail, which goes all the way around the lakes.

If you chose to go the Great Lakes Route, find a Fajita Grill for a lunch option we don’t have in Illinois. From there, you will head along I-90 toward Albany. Should you wish to stop there, you might try finding a show at the Egg. Yeah. There’s a landmark called the Egg. If you chose to go the Finger Lakes route, we suggest a detour through NYC. Walk around Manhattan. Take a trip along the High Line, an elevated park. Central Park is another fun option if you’ve never been there. 

From here, you have another option. If you chose the northern route, then you might take a long detour up into New Hampshire for some strenuous hiking or sightseeing in the White Mountains. You’ll find some of the most glorious views East of the Mississippi. If you chose the southern route, you’ll probably want to start driving straight toward Boston.

About an hour away from Boston is the fun, historic town of Worcester. This is a great pitstop if you’re just looking to stretch your legs. Another option is to spend the night here if you would otherwise find yourself in Boston late at night. Trust us: you don’t want to experience Boston traffic before it’s absolutely necessary! When you arrive, check out the Mechanics Hall, the American Antiquarian Society building, or take a drive up Skyline to the Massachusetts Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Once in Boston, we have one big piece of advice: take it all in. This city is one that preserves its history extraordinarily well. You can feel the colonial vibe just walking down the streets

We recommend hitting a brewery to take the edge off your drive, or go whale watching depending on the season. Once you’re feeling settled into your hotel, check out the Waterfront or the Freedom Trail. Catch a game at Fenway Park. Boston Common is the most beautiful park in the city, and you shouldn’t leave until you’ve taken a stroll there. Last but not least, find the Bodega! It’s hidden well.

The Best State Parks To Visit In 2022: Part I

New coronavirus variants are bursting into our society without warning (because we’re not paying enough attention). They’re damaging our ability to enjoy the holiday. They’re threatening our immunity. They’re leading to more death. More loss. Suffice it to say, we could all use a little bit more enjoyment in our lives. We’re still going outside more often as a result — and so it might be time for some alternative locations. Here are a few of the best state parks for spring!

Giant City State Park is one of our favorites for several reasons. First, some of us are tired of walking. So how about exploring on horseback? That’s one activity that Giant City offers visitors inside the scenic Shawnee National Forest. You’ll see beautiful — and unique — rock formations while you venture out into the forest. We recommend the Giant City Nature Trail. Oh! And don’t forget your camera! The park is open sunup to sundown, but you can stay overnight in the lodge if you’d prefer.

We recommend Ferne Clyffe State Park if you want to camp for a night or two. There are plenty of primitive sites available, or paid sites with the appropriate facilities. There are two really popular trails to check out: Hawk’s Cave and Big Rocky Hollow. The former isn’t actually a cave at all. It’s a bluff under which you’ll walk. The latter trail provides great views alongside a waterfall and popular swimming hole. Bring your bathing suit or dunk your feet!

Another fun option is the Dixon Springs State Park — especially because it hasn’t yet garnered a similar reputation to more popular parks. In other words, you might not get bogged down by a big crowd. Birdwatchers will love this locale and can ask someone in the visitors center for guides and checklists. We recommend hiking the Ghost Dance Canyon, a moderately difficult trek through a beautiful canyon.