Chapter 2: Peoria State Hospital

Haunted Central Illinois

BARTONVILLE, Ill. — One of the most historic local areas is also one of the most haunted.

The Peoria State Hospital is home to a handful of legends, and is often referred to as “the old state hospital.” The hospital opened in 1902 and was originally called the Illinois Asylum for the Incurable Insane before being renamed in 1909.

The asylum, actually located in Bartonville, housed those who were deemed “insane,” but also those with disabilities or handicaps too.

“It was a cutting edge institution for its time,” said Christina Morris, a curator for the hospital’s museum.

While many buildings of the hospital have since been torn down, several buildings part of its “cottage plan,” designed for communal living, remain. A nearby graveyard does as well.

“The hospital is known for being haunted due to the fact that there have been so many different paranormalists that have come to the hilltop,” Morris said. “They’ve documented several EVPs [electronic voice phemoneon] of patients and doctors still saying things years later.”

One of the most well-documented legends is of “Old Book.”

Manuel A. Bookbinder “Old Book“, was a patient who worked with the burial crew at the hospital until he died of tuberculosis in 1910. Dr. George Zeller, the hospital’s administrator at the time, had Bookbinder work with the hospital’s burial crew throughout the four nearby graveyards. Legend has it, Bookbinder would cry under an elm tree for each person that was buried.

Zeller’s medical book “Befriending the Bereft” that was later published, documents that at Bookbinder’s funeral, the hundreds of mourners and hospital staff that attended reportedly saw Old Book’s physical form standing under the same tree, which became known as “the Graveyard Elm” and “the Crying Tree.”

Funeral-goers even opened the coffin to confirm that his body was actually inside of it. Since then, the tree began to die, and several have claimed to hear it wail and cry.

“The end of the story is fiction,” Morris said. “Dr. Zeller wanted people to feel that his patients here in the hilltop were special people, and they were worth being remembered. But not as something bad, or evil, but as something special.”

Morris said Zeller wrote about Old Book so people would remember the old man who had so much compassion that he cried at every funeral.

The hospital ultimately closed down in 1973. Over the years, locals turned the hospital’s old tuberculosis ward into a spooky attraction, the Haunted Infirmary, that has been voted one of the best-haunted attractions in the state by visitors in different online rankings and tourist websites. The Haunted Infirmary is an annual fundraiser for Limestone’s JFL and is held every October.

Over the years and to this day, ghostly footsteps, eerie knocks, and muffled wails are heard on the property and in the surrounding graveyards, where Old Book remains.

Next week: Take a trip to Galesburg for some tricks and treats.

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