Organized tours of some of the state’s most famous haunts share stories of paranormal occurrences, strange deaths, dark energy and ghost sightings. Some of the tours involve humor and cocktails, but others are focused on supernatural scares. Here are some of the haunted offerings you can enjoy this season. We hope you aren’t afraid of the dark.
The 19th-century riverside city is charming by day, and in some places, haunted at night. Galena’s ghosts are brought to life in a few popular tours. The longtime Annie Wiggins Ghost Tour ended a few years ago (the owner retired), but one of its co-founders, Ted Williams, created Haunted Galena Tour Company. The tour company also has a Main Street retail store, A Darkness Lovely, that sells things like creepy candles, spell kits, tarot cards, artwork, high-end black lingerie and kids’ games.
While they offer a 90-minute ghost walk, the most popular tour is Spirits & Spirits. The year-round tour goes to three locations where there had been “mortuary preparation,” as Williams puts it, as he shares haunted history along the way. The $25 ticket includes three specialty drinks and ends on Galena’s Restaurant Row.
New in 2019, Haunted Galena Tour Company will put on a dinner theater performance at the DeSoto House Hotel. “She Remains” will tell the story of The Lady in Black ghost who roams the hotel’s basement. The show stars Williams and his wife/co-owner, Robin Davis. It’ll take place Saturday night, October 26, after Galena’s big annual Halloween Parade.
“We’ve been instructed to make it scary, so it’s going to be scary,” Williams says.
You might find ghosts yourself at Amelia’s Galena Ghost Tours. The 90-minute narrated bus and walking tours snake through town, with stories of tragic deaths and spirits who frequently make themselves known. The bus tour pulls up to a dark cemetery and each person is handed an EMF detector, a light-up device used to communicate with spirits. Then you walk around to see what you find. Another stop is the Ryan Mansion, where your EMF detectors will almost certainly light up upon entering the home’s library.
Amelia’s also hosts a spooky dinner theater, seances, haunted pub crawls, vineyard tours and “old tyme” photos in their Main Street shop.
Even though Embe Eatery and Lounge looks like a modern restaurant, it’s said to be haunted. The owner, Mary Beth, swears she’s seen items fly off the shelves. But the spirits you want to visit here are the ones behind the bar, including their decadent candy bar martinis.
Drinks are also part of Matthew’s Haunted Pub Crawl, a 2 ½-hour walking tour of three downtown Galena bars with interesting histories and famous hauntings. Knowledgeable owner/guide Matthew caters to both skeptics and believers, and even lets them test out some ghost-detecting equipment.
That’s not Alton’s only haunted mansion, though. At McPike Mansion, strange balls of light or human-shape outlines appear in the mansion’s windows, except they’re not seen by the human eye…only in the photos you take.
Haunted history tours and events are held from April through November, including darkroom sessions, where groups gather in the mansion’s cellar to see a medium communicate with the spirits in the house. Dousing rods are used to answer yes or no questions.
Want to see if the spirits come out at 2 a.m.? The overnight campout on the McPike Mansion’s hillside has been a sellout for the past 21 years. The adults-only, no-alcohol gathering (held October 19–20 this year) includes a darkroom session and a big bonfire. The night famously ends with everyone dancing the electric slide to the song, “Ghostbusters.” A kid-friendly Meet and Greet campout September 14 includes similar offerings as well as a few guest speakers.
More than 80 eerie exhibits are at Alton’s Curiosity Museum (formerly the Historic Museum of Torture Devices). Ages 18 and up can peruse the owner’s collection of macabre items, like the Dreaded Chinese Death Cage, a vampire killing kit, and an actual meteorite that you can touch. Hours are limited to noon to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
There’s an unsettling feeling to the Old Joliet Prison’s abandoned neo-Gothic buildings, surrounded by gates with razor wire. A prison from 1858 to 2002, it’s housed mass murderer Richard Speck along with Leopold and Loeb, the two wealthy University of Chicago friends who murdered a 14-year-old boy in 1924.
The dark things that happened behind these walls are shared in the prison’s tours from May through October. Because of the dark nature of the stories, the tours are recommended for ages 16 and up. The 90-minute Your Guard tour is led by two former prison guards, who give their personal take on what they saw. The Haunted History tour walks you through the prison at dusk, adding eerie lighting to everything. Stops include the former medical room, which is still filled with decrepit equipment and curling ceiling paint; a chapel vandalized with satanic graffiti; and rusty prison cells. A photography tour, and a more generic history tour, are also among the offerings.
New this year, the prison will offer A Night Behind Bars the weekend of October 25-27. A portion of the jail will be converted into a walk-through, interactive theater where visitors meet the characters and watch them as they tell stories.