We hear every day how Elmhurst is a quaint community with excellent schools, entertainment, and great proximity to major highways and public transportation.
It is. But there's another side to Elmhurst that most people don't hear about.
Elmhurst is delightfully creepy.
We have a mausoleum in the center of town, for cryin' out loud. And let's not forget that the old Fischer Crane house was a sanitarium at one time. We have not one, but two historic mansions: the Glos Mansion (built in 1892) and Wilder Mansion (1868). These two buildings alone, have some pretty interesting stories behind them. They were owned by Elmhurst's original settlers, who would be quite unsettled, no doubt, to see how modern the city has become.
Wouldn't you like to meet them? Or, some version of them, anyway?
Well, a paranormal investigator has taken an interest in our little burg, elevating (or levitating) Elmhurst to the rank of premium ghost-tour city.
Ray Johnson, the Haunt Detective, was a gang investigator for DuPage County until he retired in 2005. He's always been a history buff, and he loves folklore and unsolved murders. His day job, so to speak, is conducting genealogical research for people.
But by night, his love for hauntings takes over. He's been interested in the supernatural since he was a kid—and there are supernatural reasons for that.
When Johnson was around 14 or 15, he and his brother both saw an apparition of a woman in their Cicero kitchen. They didn't pay much attention to the figure, subconsciously assuming it was their mother standing at the stove, stirring a pot.
But then their mom came down the stairs. She hadn't been in the kitchen at all. The boys were in disbelief.
He also had a premonition when he was in fifth grade—a dream that came to life down to the last detail the next day in his classroom. A girl in the class even colored the exact same picture she did in his dream.
"It was weird because it wasn't really anything significant; there wasn't a purpose behind it, like saving people from a plane crash or something," he said. "To me, it was fascinating. I was afraid to tell anyone because people would think I was crazy."
Ever since, he's been intrigued by things that defy explanation. And lately, Johnson has been looking into things that go "bump" in Elmhurst.
Beginning this Saturday, and continuing every Saturday through Halloween (that's, like, 19 Saturdays) Johnson will lead a ghost tour through Elmhurst's creepiest haunts. The tour begins at 7:30 p.m. at Elmhurst College's Mill Theatre, 251 Walter St. (Cue scary music.)
The Mill is haunted by a technical director named David Payne, a young man in his 20s who was hired during the J-term in around 1968 to work on scenery and props before a performance of The Marriage of Figero. The students and Payne left the school over Christmas break, then came back to pick up where they'd left off in their preparation for the play.
The students all went into the theater area, Johnson said, except one student, who went to the second floor to meet with Payne to go over the plans. He came downstairs and told everyone he had met with Payne and showed them the blueprints for what they were supposed to do.
"Everyone stared at him," Johnson said. "They were like, 'You didn't hear what happened to David?' He was killed. He was hit by a car.' "
The student just stood there in stunned silence.
The story checks out, Johnson said. He's also talked to several students who say the theater's "haunted like you wouldn't believe."
"Students contact me and say the scene shop is messed up, especially the second floor," Johnson said. "They're like, 'Oh, yeah, you do not want to be in there at night. You hear all sorts of footsteps.' "
From The Mill, the tour heads over to St. Peter's and St. Mary's cemeteries on campus. A walk alone at night near the Elmhurst College cemeteries can make the little hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
"Students in the dorms overlooking the cemetery swear they see a woman in a white dress wandering the cemetery at night," Johnson said.
The next stop will be , formerly Seth Wadham's "White Birch" mansion. The building served as the Elmhurst Public Library from 1922 to 2003. Before the library moved out of there, librarians would tell of strange happenings, like books falling off shelves and things unexplainably being moved.
Could it have been the ghost of a precocious child? The Wadhams lost a 6-year-old son, Johnson said.
"There are some really interesting stories concerning Seth Wadhams," he said. "I could talk forever on that."
The tour will then head over to the site of the old Fischer-Crane house, 203 S. York, which was a sanitarium in the early 1900s, then a hotel in the '40s. It was torn down in 2003 despite preservation efforts.
"We got some strange recordings over there," Johnson said. "Obviously people died in there."
The tour will wind up at the Glos Mausoleum, creepy all on its own, and Glos Mansion, where workers had reported seeing apparitions in the hallways back when the historical museum shared the building with the courthouse.
Historic Elmhurst Voices from Beyond is a 1 1/4-mile walking tour, so wear comfortable shoes. Cost is $20, and tickets can be purchased by calling 877-766-TOMB (8662) or at the start of the tour.
As Johnson says on his website, he's not here to debunk ghosts or hauntings, nor advocate for their existence.
"In fact, that may be something that we, as mortals, were never meant to fully understand," he says.
As a serious investigator he wants to try and get a little closer to an answer, but "if we don't, then maybe we can just have a little fun."
Who doesn't like a good ghost story?
Originally published June 29, 2012.