More notches in my paranormal investigation belt!
On Sunday, June 30, 2019, I had the immense pleasure of joining local historian, prolific author, and renowned paranormal investigator, Ursula Bielski, and her Chicago Hauntings crew for my second professional paranormal investigation—or series of paranormal investigations. Dubbed the Great Lake County Ghost Adventure, we traveled to and investigated many sites in Lake County, Illinois, over the span of seven-plus hours. This particular tour is one that Ursula and her team have been leading for the past four years and counting. There were approximately 30 people aboard the coach bus with me that departed from one of the municipal parking lots in historic Long Grove, Illinois, at 10 a.m. that day.
Why is Lake County, Illinois, so haunted?
Lake County is one of the most haunted areas of the country. Since water serves as a great conduit for paranormal activity, it’s no surprise that Lake County has so many haunted places. “Water is a conduit for electricity, so we find manifestations [of paranormal activity] where there are larger concentrations of water,” Ursula explained. Another factor in hauntings is the tragic legacy of instances where various First Nations peoples were forced off their ancestral lands; perhaps the various Native Americans—in this part of Illinois, the Pottawatomie (their tribe name means “Keepers of the Sacred Fire”) in particular—deliberately opened portals into the Otherworld by cursing the white settlers and Union soldiers that drove them off their tribal lands. Many Pottawatomie burial mounds have been excavated west of the Des Plaines River in various locations in Lake County, including some of the haunted sites that were featured on this Great Ghost Adventure.
Destination: Buffalo Grove, Illinois
Location #1: Saint Mary’s Church and cemetery. Mass was underway at 10:00 a.m. as our coach pulled into the parking lot of the church. It’s a German Catholic church that dates back to the 1850s, and the cemetery was founded by German immigrants—a settlers’ cemetery not unlike the infamous Bachelors’ Grove Cemetery in the southwest suburbs of Chicago.
Saint Mary’s has a dark history: it was burned by anti-theist/anti-Christian settlers in the 1860s while the Civil War raged. Nowadays, there are reports—even while Mass is being held—of a vintage hearse that drives down Route 83 and Buffalo Grove Road. There’s a ghostly woman in white who is frequently seen inside the church, especially when the priest receives parishioners for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The spirit has been documented as wailing the words, “I need life,” as she holds aloft a white candle. People frequently report seeing floating orbs/spheres of light in the cemetery—again, this is phenomena eerily similar to what has been reported in Bachelors’ Grove.
Location #2: The eerie Emmerich Park. We actively investigated from 10:50 to 11:57 a.m., spending way more time than we were supposed to have spent! (That’s Fairy energy for you!) Buffalo Grove obtained its curious name from the bison bones that were excavated from the now-named Buffalo Creek from the 1830s onward, concurrent with the displacement of the Pottawatomie people. Not surprisingly, in addition to sightings of ghostly “Indians,” apparitions of massive buffalo have been reported near and even hovering above the narrow but fast-moving Buffalo Creek, where many children of the white settlers have drowned. All in all, this makes for very sad energy imprinted upon the land.
Emmerich Park exuded full-on creepiness in broad daylight, evidenced by a playground that was suspiciously devoid of children on the sunny and hot summer morning of our investigation. As soon as we crossed Buffalo Creek and began to enter the park, I felt a physical sense of oppression press itself directly against my sternum, as if my spirit guides didn’t want me to enter.
A sense of unease grew by the minute, especially when I beheld an “X” formation, made by two felled trees, directly over the creek. Fairy portal energy, was the phrase I “heard” in my head. And then a tell-tale, solitary pale mushroom to the north of the sole park bench caught my eye: it formed a line with the X made by the felled trees.
I began to feel light-headed and immediately pulled out my EMF detector. Electromagnetic energy issued from a massive, old aspen tree near the creek bed began to cause my device to spike from 0 to 9.5 milliGauss as I waved it around the trunk section nearest to Buffalo Creek. The device’s alarm sounded. I announced the spike in energy to the group.
Ursula then pulled out a copper pair of divining rods and used them to communicate yes/no answers to her questions while her teammates Steve and Joe used a spirit box (SB-11) to pull spirit voices through. When the men asked a recurring female voice/spirit to name itself, it curiously replied, “Akasha.” Ursula proceeded to interrogate the spirit, asking if it was the spirit of a child that had perhaps drowned in the creek.
It’s fucking with you, was my immediate reaction. There are spirits here, oh yes, but they’re not human. At all. They want to play tricks with us.
I said as much to Ursula and the group. One of the fellow tour group members, a Goth girl, agreed with me. “I saw the mushroom and thought, ‘Oh cool! Fairies!’” she said.
“Are you psychic?” a woman in sunglasses and a ponytail accosted me. I nodded while cautioning fellow tour-goers not to touch the strange, solitary mushroom of unusual height on our way out of the park. It made me happy to hear Ursula banish whatever spirits she and the tour leaders might have come into contact with: “You are to remain here and not accompany any of us back to the bus!” she politely but firmly declared. I reached into my purse and pulled out my travel-size bottle of Florida Water. Cleansing the nape of my neck, I ambled behind the group and got ready to board the bus.
Destination: Cuba Township, Illinois
Location #3: White Cemetery on Cuba Road. On the outskirts of Barrington lies Cuba Township, whose main thoroughfare of Cuba Road lies atop an old Pottawatomie Indian trail. These “Indian trails” as Ursula calls them are akin to ley lines; many diagonal city streets in Chicago such as Milwaukee Ave., Elston Ave., etc. are also old Indian Trails that convey ley line energy.
The ghosts of Cuba Road include phantom cars with headlights (including Model A cars from 100 years ago), and, reflecting a more contemporary aesthetic, phantom SUVs. White Cemetery is often referred to in paranormal circles as “the Bachelors’ Grove of the North,” and orbs/strange lights and a vanishing house are reported here, as they are at Bachelors’ Grove. (The haunted house here is a haunted farmhouse with lights in the windows that recedes the closer one approaches.)
Destination: Fox River Grove, Illinois
Location #4: Railroad crossing at Algonquin Road and Rte. 14, site of tragic school bus-train accident on the morning of October 25, 1995. We stopped just shy of the railroad tracks that claimed the lives of seven high school students at 7:10 a.m. on that fateful late October morning. The bus driver that day, a substitute, was not aware that the rear-most portion of the school bus was stopped by a traffic light directly on the tracks themselves as she waited to turn left from Algonquin Road onto westbound Route 14. The bus was struck by a Metra train (#624), a Union Pacific/Northwest Line train en route to Chicago; the timing of the signals was so insufficient that had the bus driver realized her bus’s rear was stopped on the tracks, she would have had to have run a red light on Route 14 to have moved out of the train’s path. This is the worst crash in the history of Metra trains, and one of the worst grade crossings in U.S. history. Nearby is a small memorial to the seven teenagers killed in the crash.
The site of this tragic accident has given rise to the urban legend, found in many communities in the U.S. with railroad crossings, that the ghosts of the children killed will physically help stalled cars by pushing them across the railroad tracks. Witnesses have testified to ghostly hand prints on their cars, and some have gone the extra length of coating their cars in baby powder to verify the ghostly hand print theory. Having never seen such things myself, I remain highly skeptical.
Destination: Wauconda, Illinois
Location #5: Wauconda Middle School, haunted by the ghost of a teenage boy wrestler. He supposedly bangs on the walls of the toilet stalls and lockers. No evidence documented, though the school did strike me as having extremely negative energy, even from the parking lot.
Destination: Volo, Illinois
Location #6: Volo Antiques Mall, home to numerous sightings of apparitions, including phantom dogs that run into and out of the main barn’s walls. The Mall was investigated by the now-canceled Discovery Channel TV series, Ghost Lab. Additionally, in the cemetery across the road, Volo native son and Union Civil War soldier Henry Wallace Gayle (who died from typhoid fever in 1863 at the age of 20) is buried but doesn’t stay at rest: he also haunts the main barn at the Volo Antiques Mall and has been seen peering through the windows…of the fourth floor, a hovering apparition. His grave is frequented by visitors, especially Army veterans, and there’s never a shortage of offerings for his spirit.
Destination: Fox Lake, Illinois
Location #7, the Mineola Hotel, which dates back to 1891 and was the former retreat of beloved Chicago mobster Al Capone during the Prohibition era. In 2013, the building was added to the 10 Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois list by Landmarks Illinois. The hotel was closed in 2012 due to safety concerns (it’s officially a condemned structure now and appears to be close to being demolished) and we were sadly not granted permission to enter. I was one of two tour guests who disembarked from the bus in a torrential downpour with 65-mph gale-force winds to take photos of the place, hoping to catch glimpses of faces of the dead in the third-floor windows! Can you see any? (We wound up seeing water spouts on Fox Lake as well as the storm worsened!)
Destination: Antioch, Illinois
Location #8, The Lodge Pub and Eatery. We had a party room reserved for us in this actively haunted bar and restaurant. While I didn’t see or document spirits, I drank other spirits and had incredibly tasty pizza and fried pickles while chatting about paranormal things with my fellow tour-goers.
Two doors down from The Lodge is an actively haunted tattoo parlor, Liberty Tat2, which has been professionally investigated by the Lake County-based paranormal research group, GhostLand Society. If I like the portfolios of the artists there, I’ll seriously consider them for my next tattoo and see if I can detect the presences of either the menacing “Lloyd” or the more helpful little red-haired girl, two documented spirits said to haunt the place.
Antioch, as far as small towns go, does give off a delightfully creepy little vibe. I’ve made a note to myself to come back on my own and check out St. Peter’s Catholic Church, which intrigues me from an architectural as well as a potentially paranormal standpoint.
Destination: Wadsworth, Illinois
Location #9, Old St. Patrick’s Cemetery, the final resting place of many early Lake County settlers, is infamously linked to hauntings caused by the ghost of a Civil War-era “witch” named Mary Worth—yes, that Mary Worth who gave rise to the urban legends of “Bloody Mary”! Additionally, the cemetery is the locus of modern-day “Satanic Panic,” with allegations that sinister ritual groups meet at night to perform animal sacrifices in the secluded back of the cemetery and the “Devil’s Pool” located in the woods northwest of the property.
Before President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that ended slavery, Mary Worth was a Wadsworth farmer who was said to have nefariously rounded up runaway slaves to have them re-sold—either to their former masters or to higher bidders from the South. Her behavior was unconscionable to the locals and they supposedly formed a mob against her and either lynched her on a tree on her property or they burned her in her own home. Another variant of the tale says they drowned her in the nearby “Devil’s Pool.” She was buried either outside the entrance to Old St. Patrick’s Cemetery (since a known witch would have been forbidden burial in consecrated ground) or underneath the lone boulder that mysteriously stands sentinel on the surviving farm across Mill Creek Road.
We conducted a spirit box session (with an SB-11 device) and I had the pleasure of holding it in my right hand, while tour guide and paranormal investigator Tony Szabelski asked the majority of the questions. We stood in a circle and held hands the entire time, preceding the spirit box session with a loud, threefold proclamation of “I BELIEVE IN MARY WORTH!”
I asked Mary Worth if she had the ability to enter peoples’ dreams as they slept, and a female voice affirmed “YES!” by way of reply.
Another tour member asked if it was alright for us to be investigating this cemetery, or would it be better for us to board the bus? A male voice issuing from the spirit box immediately replied, “RUN!” That was more than enough to cause three members of the tour group to drop hands, exit the circle, and make a mad dash in the rain-soaked grass back to the bus!
Destination: Zion, Illinois
Location #10, the Illinois State Beach Resort, whose hotel and surrounding woods are haunted not just by the human dead, but by the Mothman, too! The most recent of the human dead on the hotel’s property dates to the early 2000s and is that of a man who died of cardiac arrest on one of the treadmills in the basement fitness center. The shoreline adjacent to the hotel is not far from where the Lady Elgin capsized (on my birthday!) in 1860, killing at least 300 people. A possible drowning victim seen by hotel staff is a ghostly brunette woman in white Victorian-era clothing who appears on the shoreline, sobbing.
As with Emmerich Park earlier in the day, I felt a heavy pressure against my sternum when we disembarked the bus and approached the hotel’s main entrance. The hotel is long overdue for remodeling, and, given the hideous state of the drapery and carpeting, I can see why numerous people choose to commit suicide in the hotel rooms. All joking aside, the place had a disturbing effect on my cognitive capacity, making me feel light-headed and discombobulated. I had decided to investigate the lower level on my own and I had rapidly become so disoriented and confused, I couldn’t find my way back to the main stairwell at all! Once I had managed to escape via one of the lower-level exits and traverse the grounds and the stretch of Lake Michigan to the east, I felt only minimally better physically and energetically.
Honestly, I couldn’t shake the feeling that all of the land was somehow “poisoned,” and couldn’t for the life of me imagine how anyone could choose anywhere on this site for a relaxing day at the beach or picnic in the woods, or, worse, choose to get married at the gazebo on the hotel’s property. The trees in the surrounding forests seemed like they wanted to close ranks and hide their secrets. I wanted nothing to do with either the noxious trees or what they hid and was relieved when it was time to board the bus and travel to our next destination.
Destination: Waukegan, Illinois
Location #11, The Genesee Theater, a grand former bastion of the Vaudeville circuit that has been entertaining visitors since 1927. It’s also been scaring visitors since that year, when the opulent, haunted chandelier that adorns the main lobby was brought in from the Orpheum Theater in Seattle, Washington. One of the famous resident ghosts of the lobby, curiously enough, is a dog. A ghostly canine also haunts the basement, which is home to a network of tunnels that helped Prohibition-era gangsters with their liquor runs.
The fourth floor of the theater building used to serve as an apartment, which has documented deaths of female tenants from the 1940s onwards. Long since converted to the current theater’s bathroom, the entire fourth floor is haunted, and theater staff refuse to use the bathrooms on that floor.
Musician Jack Benny lived down the street from the Genesee Theater and the mural across the street pays homage to him. I don’t know if it’s due to his influence of his warm spirit or what, but I felt nothing but happy energies in and around the Genesee Theater.
Destination: North Chicago, Illinois
Location #12, Naval Station Great Lakes, aka “Great Mistakes” (according to my first husband and all of his peers in the Navy)! Its mammoth complex, opened in the year 1911 when Theodore Roosevelt was President, covers 1,600+ acres of land adjacent to Lake Michigan and includes 39 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Hence it’s no surprise at all to find this place on the Ghost Tour.
The famous American composer and U.S. Marine John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) was stationed in a haunted recruit barracks called Quarter 63—it was even known to be haunted in Souza’s time! The hospital is haunted (there are Pottawatomi burial mounds located behind it), the old barracks are haunted, the new barracks are haunted, with recruits reporting feeling nauseous. (My ex-husband can attest to this as well as poltergeist activity of doors slamming on their own, objects moving of their own accord, etc.) I definitely felt my amygdala “fight or flight” response kicking in and was immensely glad when we pulled away from the Visitors’ Main Gate.
Destination: Libertyville, Illinois
Location #13, the old “Main Gate” of town, aka “The Devil’s Gate,” formerly the entrance to Doddridge Farm/The Katherine Doddridge Kreigh Budd Memorial Home for Children (1925-1936), which was built as a summer camp for the destitute children living in St. Mary’s Orphanage on the south side of Chicago. Supposedly, a teacher went crazy during the 1940s-1950s—during one of the iterations of the property when it was either a finishing school for girls or a boy’s summer camp—and butchered several of his students, decapitating them and mounting their terror-stricken heads on pikes by the gate. Apparitions of the childrens’ heads are said to be visible on clear, full moon nights. Again, the area is rife with “Satanic Panic”-inspired tales of modern-day “Devil worshiping” taking place on the grounds of the former Doddridge Farm and ghostly orbs have allegedly been spied soaring through the groves of oak trees and the nearby Des Plaines River.
This was our last ghost-hunt stop of the day and at approximately 5 p.m., we were literally chased off the property on River Road by a security member of the very affluent and relatively new next-door neighbor, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker! His family operates a farm and stables for thoroughbred horses, and our little bus caught the attention of security cameras posted throughout the northern cul-de-sac of River Road. A black-clad driver in a black limousine drove up and politely chased us off the premises, saying that the Libertyville police would be called immediately if we didn’t depart straight away. Our tour bus driver, Kurt, acquiesced. I vowed that I would return on my own under cloak of darkness! The gate definitely gave off an eerie vibe and the whole area merits investigation.
There were many other sites we were supposed to have investigated but we simply ran out of time. My appetite has definitely been whetted, however, and I know which sites in addition to the “Devil’s Gate” of Libertyville that I’m going to return to on my own or with a select few hearty friends who have a keen interest in the paranormal. As for larger group activity led by Ursula Bielski and her Chicago Hauntings crew, I’m happy to announce that I’ll be joining them for an overnight investigation of a haunted forest in the vicinity of Burlington, Wisconsin, later this month.
Stay tuned, gentle reader!
- Bloody Mary
- Chicago Hauntings
- Civil War
- Cuba Road
- Devils Gate
- Emmerich Park
- Fox Lake
- Genesee Theater
- Henry Wallace Gayle
- Illinois State Beach Resort
- Lake County
- ley lines
- Mary Worth
- Mineola Hotel
- Naval Station Great Lakes
- Old St. Patrick's Cemetery
- paranormal investigation
- psychic medium
- Satanic Panic
- Union Army
- Ursula Bielski
- Volo Antique Mall