American Folklore

American Folklore: Illinois

American Folklore: Illinois

Illinois is home to quite a few interesting legends and folklore stories. It has had centuries of human habitation to develop them. Some tales are old and some are newer, but all are uniquely Illinois. Here are some of the highlights of the folklore of the 21st state in the United States.

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The 21st state admitted to the union, Illinois is also the sixth most populous and the twenty-fifth largest in geographical size. It also borders one of the Great Lakes and is the home of the famous city of Chicago. It has centuries of human habitation, both Native American and European. There were even French fur trappers in the area before other European settlers arrived. It has had ample opportunity and abundant cultures living in it to develop some interesting and uniquely Illinois folklore. Here are some of the highlights of it.

The Gooseville Bear

This is a relatively recent bit of local folklore, beginning in 1949 in the area of Bethalto. It was said this creature mangled a local calf. Shortly after that, the people in the town reported hearing growling at night and seeing bright eyes staring at them in the dark. A posse of around one hundred and fifty men were assembled to track down the monstrous bear, but it was never found, even after several nights of hunting. The legend of the bear in the area lives on, however, and some think it is still out there, waiting to mutilate local livestock once more.

The Tale of the Big Muddy Monster

Even more recent than the Gooseville bear is the Big Muddy Monster, which was first sighted in June of 1973. That is when sightings of a towering creature with white hair were reported to the police. One couple got an especially good look at it, when they were parked in their car by a boat dock. They said the creature was covered in mud and came toward them with obvious ill intent when it saw them. They got away. A child later noticed it around the edge of the woods. The police responded to the scene and reported smelling an awful stench left behind by the monster. Their police dog unit tracked the scent to a nearby barn but then refused to go inside the barn. When the dog refused to enter, so did the police.

The Thunderbirds

Not to be confused with the TV show of the same name, this legend originated in the 1940s when giant “monster” birds were spotted around Alton, Illinois by several people on a few different occasions. A police officer was among those who reported seeing the birds, as was a retired Army colonel. The birds were supposedly so big that the people who saw them thought at first that they were airplanes. One of the birds actually almost crashed into an airplane but moved out of the way at the last moment, which averted what would have almost certainly been an air disaster.

The Seven Gates to Hell Apparently Exist in Illinois

The town of Collinsville has several tunnels and bridges on its back roads. Legend has it that there are seven gates to hell located along these tunnels and bridges. The story goes that if someone drives through all seven gates, while passing through the seventh gate at midnight, the unknowing driver or hiker would travel to hell. There have been reports of people, usually teenagers and students, who have driven around the back roads of Collinsville looking for the seven gates. In one story, a group of students looking for the gates crashed their car before finding the seventh gate, and they were all killed and their car demolished, but by doing so, they unknowingly saved themselves from a worse fate.

The Legend of Resurrection Mary

This is one of the most famous ghosts in Illinois history. The ghost, called Resurrection Mary, is a girl who wears a circa 1930s party dress and walks around the Resurrection Cemetery, which is where she was buried seven or eight decades ago. The story goes that Mary was hit by a car when walking home from a ballroom where she had been attending a party. Not only does Mary walk the Resurrection Cemetery, there are many reports of drivers who have picked her up when she was hitchhiking, only to find she disappears after getting into their cars. Other drivers have reported hitting her on the road, and hearing and feeling a “thud” as they did so, only to get out of their cars and find no one there. Once in a while, a driver near the cemetery reports seeing her and driving right through her, as she is not always in solid, physical form when she is spotted.

The Serpent of Stump Pond

This is an older legend, dating back to 1879 when fisherman reported encounters with a creature in Stump Pond that was large with a green body and inky black fins. It was reportedly large enough to rock the boats of the fishermen, almost tipping them (but not quite). No one ever caught the monster, and some assumed it was merely a giant catfish, but no one ever knew for sure. The last reported sighting of it was in 1968.

The Devil Baby of Hull House

Hull House, which was started by Jane Addams, has been known for the good works it does for years and years, but it is also considered to be the sight of a famous haunting. It is said that a woman gave birth to a baby that was demonic, and took him to Hull House. Jane Addams supposedly took the baby in and raised him, keeping him in the attic of Hull House for as long as he lived. Sometimes, people have said they saw the devil baby’s face through different windows in the house.

The Haunting of McPike Mansion

This building is considered one of the most haunted ones in Illinois. It is a building designed in Victorian times in the Italian style, and it overlooks the town of Alton. It is currently being used as a bed and breakfast. However, the owners and several guests have said the ghosts of the original owners and servant girl roam the property and have been seen by quite a few people who live and/or visit there.



Will founded Ancestral Findings in 1995 and has been assisting researchers for over 25 years to reunite them with their ancestors.