Campus / News / October 29, 2009

Ghosts on the prairie

Institutions of higher learning, especially those as old as Knox, tend to collect rumors and legends that thrill students and baffle researchers.

In Shelton Hall at Boston University, disembodied whispers are often heard in empty hallways. At Loyola University in New Orleans, the spirits of the cadavers once dissected by medical students are said to roam the science department. Closer to home, students at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign claim to see the ghost of a woman who killed herself after being jilted by a lover in the English Building.

Students contend that Knox too is prone to spooky occurrences. The spectral figure of a girl is said to be visible some nights in a window of Alumni Hall facing Seymour, the spirit of a janitor purportedly haunts the basement of the Auxiliary Gymnasium, and many people working in SMC late at night assert that they hear voices outside the labs.

Beside the unsettling campus rumors, many students say that they have experienced the supernatural at Knox first-hand.

Junior Trevor Sorenson, a former resident of 270 W. Tompkins, reports that “occasionally the door to my room would open in the middle of the night, and there would be a tall, ominous figure of a man standing in the doorway. I would check to see if it could have been anybody I lived with, but everybody would be in bed. It was terrifying.”

Senior David Gilmer’s brush with the paranormal occurred on the second floor of the TKE house his sophomore year.

“I saw a white flash out of the corner of my eye dart across the room and disturb some papers that were on the ground. My roommate saw it, too. We tried to figure out what it was, but there was no explanation. The closet of the room we were in is haunted, supposedly,” said Gilmer.

TKE is just one of the Greek organizations on campus whose house is believed to be host to the otherworldly. Members of Tri-Delta claim that the Delta lodge is haunted by the ghost of a small boy, and some Betas report feeling a sort of peculiar energy within the Beta house.

In addition, nearly every classroom building on campus is the scene of some grisly rumor perpetuated by the student body. The most haunted building seems to be the Old Jail, which several students claim to be filled with particularly noisy ghosts.

Often these accounts are dismissed as being a part of the campus lore, no truer than the story of the student who contracted scurvy after going a term living exclusively off Ramen and beer or claims that women are legally unable to live in sorority houses because of non-existent “brothel laws.” As Halloween draws near, however, even a sudden bump in the radio station or inexplicable chill in the library seems more like an eerie omen than mere coincidence.

In recent years, Knox has been host to projects intended to investigate paranormal activity. As a part of the Death and Dying senior preceptorial, last offered in 2003, Diana Beck and Tim Kasser took a group of students on a paranormal investigation with ghost hunters from Monmouth. Last year, Union Board brought to campus Carmen Snedeker, whose experience had been the basis for the movie The Haunting in Connecticut. Neither project offered much evidence for or against paranormal activity on Knox campus. The Death and Dying investigation focused mainly on the greater Galesburg area, rather than on Knox itself, and most students were underwhelmed by Snedeker’s visit, as she relied on her psychic sensitivities rather than scientific instruments.

In order to investigate the various claims of paranormal activity alleged at Knox itself, TKS asked a team of paranormal investigators based in Aledo, Illinois to come to campus on Monday night.

The Mercer County Paranormal Investigators (MCPI) brought their video cameras, thermometers, electro-magnetic field meters, and other equipment to the Old Jail at 7:30 p.m. and set out to determine whether the inexplicable activity on our campus might have paranormal origins.

“We look for things like abnormal electrical charges, temperature changes, anything that shouldn’t be the way it is,” said Brenda Boney, lead investigator of the team.

“It’s good to collect as much evidence with these tools as possible. One odd thing doesn’t tell you very much, but a lot of odd things add up,” said Jeff Lukaszeweski.

With the help of Campus Safety, the MCPI, TKS photographers John Williams and Evan Temchin, TKS reporter Sarah Colangelo, and I explored the basements of GDH and the Auxiliary Gymnasium, as well as the Old Jail.

Neither of the basements offered much evidence of paranormal activity. While there are rumors among the student body of people having hung themselves both in the basement of GDH and in the basement of the Auxiliary Gym, neither of those rumors have any documentation in the Knox historical records. The MCPI also found very little abnormal activity in both places.

“There are a lot of electrical wires running through the ceiling here. Those all emit a lot of energy that can make people feel uneasy,” said Michelle Hilligoss, MCPI investigator and historian, as we walked through the Aux Gym.

As to the uneasy feelings reported by students in the basement of GDH, many of them might be explained by the fact that students are often in the basement when they aren’t supposed to be.

As we investigated the Old Jail, however, things became eerie. The Old Jail served as the Knox County Jail from 1874 until 1976. It was in its time declared unfit for purposes of imprisonment. The cells are small, the heating system was inadequate, and poorly behaved prisoners were punished in the solitary confinement room in the basement, a 3 by 4 foot room in the basement attached to the ventilation systems so that other prisoners could hear the screams of those locked inside. In 1973, after attempting and failing to escape, a prisoner named Dallas Lawes hung himself from his cell.

The MCPI conducted an extensive search of both the main cellblocks and the solitary confinement room in the basement. After testing for abnormalities in the cells and asking any beings in the Jail to make their presence known, the MCPI drew their preliminary conclusions about the site. The investigators felt that the Jail exhibited some signs of paranormal activity, “but it takes a few days to sift through all the evidence,” said Boney. The MCPI took an hour’s worth of recordings in the basement of the jail, as well as several photographs. As the MCPI report the findings, TKS will keep its readers updated.

Thus the question still remains: Is our campus haunted? Most of Knox is hesitant to give a definite opinion. As rational, college-aged adults, it seems, we are more willing to talk about the festivities planned for Halloween than the possibilities of Prairie Fire ghosts. But while you are constructing your elaborate costume and contemplating which of the numerous parties to attend this Saturday, you could experience a ghostly encounter of your own. And for students who have experienced such encounters at Knox, the paranormal seems too obvious to ignore.



– MCPI is holding its fourth annual Haunted History Walk in historic downtown Aledo through November 7.

Tickets are $17.

– For more information on the team, their equipment and their schedule visit their web-site at

or contact them at

or 309-582-2735

Rachel Perez

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