Peoria State Hospital Cemetery, home to approximately 4,000 to 4,500 graves and is supposedly haunted by the ghost of A. Bookbinder (sometimes referred to as Old Book).
The story of “Old Book” as told in detail by PrairieGhosts.com:
Dr. Zeller described the man as being strong and healthy, although completely uncommunicative. Soon, the attendants enlisted him to assist in the burial corps. Strangely, “Old Book” as he began to be called was especially suited to the work. Ordinarily, when the coffin was being lowered, the gravediggers would stand back out of the way and wait silently for the funeral to end. At that point, they would set to filling the grave. Nearly every single patient at the hospital was a stranger and unknown to the staff, so the funeral services were mainly done out of respect, rather than because of personal attachment to the deceased. Because of this, everyone was a little surprised when, at his first internment, Old Book proceeded to remove his cap, wipe his eyes and begin weeping loudly for the patient who had died. He would do the same thing at each service…. first his sleeve would be used to wipe away his tears and then he would walk over and lean against the old elm that stood in the center of the cemetery and begin sobbing loudly. This tree, where Book would give vent to his grief, was known as the “Graveyard Elm”. It was a massive old tree which had been standing for many years.
Time passed and eventually Old Book too passed away. Word spread among the employees and as Book was well-liked, and noted for his peculiarities, everyone decided they would attend his funeral. Dr. Zeller wrote that more than 100 uniformed nurses attended, along with the male staff members and several hundred of the patients. Dr. Zeller officiated the service. Old BookÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s casket was placed on two cross beams above his empty grave and four men stood by to lower it into the ground at the end of the service. Dr. Zeller wrote, “Just as the choir finished the last lines of Ã¢â‚¬ËœRock of AgesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢, the men grasped the ropes, stooped forward, and with a powerful, muscular effort, prepared to lift the coffin, in order to permit the removal of the crossbeams and allow it to gently descend into the grave. “At a given signal, they heaved away the ropes and the next instant, all four lay on their backs. For the coffin, instead of offering resistance, bounded into the air like an eggshell, as if it were empty!”
Needless to say, the spectators were a little shocked at this turn of events and the nurses were to said to have shrieked, half of them running away and the other half coming closer to the grave to see what was going on.
“In the midst of the commotion,” Dr. Zeller continued, “a wailing voice was heard and every eye turned toward the Graveyard Elm whence it emanated. Every man and woman stood transfixed, for there, just as had always been the case, stood Old Book, weeping and moaning with an earnestness that outrivaled anything he had ever shown before.
After a few moments of this, Dr. Zeller summoned some men to remove the lid of the coffin, convinced that Old Book could not be inside of it. The lid was lifted and as soon as it was, the wailing sound completely stopped. Inside of the coffin lay the body of Old Book…. unquestionably dead. It was said that every eye looked upon the still corpse and then over to the Graveyard Elm. The apparition had vanished.
“It was awful, but it was real,” Dr. Zeller wrote. “I saw it; 100 nurses saw it and 300 spectators saw it.”
A few days later, the Graveyard Elm mysteriously began to wither and die. In spite of efforts to save it, the tree declined over the next year until it was completely dead. Later, after the dead limbs had dropped, workmen tried to remove the rest of the tree, but stopped working after the first cut of the ax caused the tree to emanate an “agonized, despairing cry of pain”. After that, Dr. Zeller suggested the tree be burned, however as soon as the flames started around the treeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s base, the workers quickly put them out. They later told Zeller that they heard a sobbing and crying sound coming from it.
“Today, Old BookÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s grave remains without headstone or monument,” Dr. Zeller wrote about his shared experience. “But if anyone asks where he is, those of us in the know point with a shudder to the remains of the Graveyard Elm.”
The cemetery is shrouded in secrecy, according to one reference I found: “Since the closing of the State Hospital, all records have been (and remain) closed. The last body laid to rest was in 1973. The State of Illinois decreed that historians and genealogists can not record the names, birth & death dates of any grave. Over 1500 are identified and those are recorded. But the remaining graves bear only a number & the State of Illinois will not release information even under a Court Order to do so.”
I finally made it out there to snap some photos on my own. There are supposedly four grave sites. I’m told this is number two. I don’t know if this site is subdivided into four sections or if there are three other sites. Any insight would be appreciated. To get here, go up the bluff into the “Bartonville Industrial Park” near the Keystone Plant and take a left at the nurses houses. Approximately 1/4 mile down, pull down the unmarked dirt and gravel road on your left.
A big thank you to Angie Walker for the original photo and to “nursypoo62″ calling it.