Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Haunted Naperville by Diane Ladley
Do you remember a few posts ago (Will Grayson, Will Grayson) when I mentioned I was from Naperville, Illinois? Well, something awesome happened between now and then: My mom let me borrow her copy of Haunted Naperville.
Haunted Naperville is exactly what it sounds like: A collection of ghost stories and folklore from Naperville. It delves into some incredible history of the town, from the train wreck of 1946 to the manhunt for two small children who disappeared with virtually no trace just before Christmas in 1952 (I am sorry to say this story does not end happily). There is mention of Otto Klein, one of the most famous trick riders of his day who was friends with people such as Annie Oakley and Will Rogers. His life ended tragically at Madison Square Garden when a stunt went wrong and his head got in the way of his horse's hoof as it galloped.
These stories were ones I knew about growing up. I spent about a year or so living just a few blocks away from the train tracks where the train accident occurred (for some truly incredible photography of this event, click here. But I will warn you: It is devastating to look at, thus why I will not post the photos directly on the blog).
In addition to these stories, there are also some lesser-known stories. I had a wonderful time reading about ghost stories that I never knew about, but occurring in places that I frequented constantly. For example, one story told about mystery hoof beats inexplicably heard traveling down School Street. I lived a few houses down from School Street, and I would walk about seven blocks down it to school every day. It's so fun to hear about these legends and to be able to say, "I know that place!"
I always knew that Naperville had to have some ghostly activity aside from the popular "Lady in White" story (which is incidentally included in the book). The town was founded in 1830, and for some wonderful reason many old buildings are still in tact and SO well preserved. There's a living museum called Naper Settlement, where a handful of houses from various areas of town were moved to and now stand, each one a glimpse back in time. I spent a few months volunteering there as a tour guide (a gig that required me to wear this completely heinous 1830s-style dress), and even then I knew there had to be some stories that were being hushed up. That was always the problem with Naperville: Despite this history, and despite ghost stories being an important part of folklore, these things were hushed up because the town became so utterly yuppie. God forbid anything gets out that talks about the town in a less-than-perfect light.
And so, I heartily applaud Diane Ladley for creating this book. I applaud those who made the Naperville Ghost Tour a reality. The yuppies may hate you for saying that ghosts actually exist in Naperville's pristine and perfect shell, or that people have actually (gasp) committed suicide in our town, but guess what: It's life. It happens. It sucks, but there's no avoiding tragedy. It's a part of the town's history, and this history and the people involved need to be remembered.
It's amazing how few people know that two children in 1952 went missing, only to be found almost two months later underneath the ice in the DuPage River, right where today's Riverwalk is. In fact, the manhunt for these children was so intense that paths were carved to get machinery to the area to drain a quarry to search for their bodies. And some of these carved paths are now paved and part of the Riverwalk. So yuppies, your blissful walks along the DuPage River, days spent at Centennial Beach, and your paddle boats in the other quarry... well, you can thank a tragic accident for all of that. History is so, so important, and yet so often it is simply brushed under a rug.
I also will let you know that I am actually mentioned in this book! I don't believe my name is ever used, but I am in there, and I had no knowledge of this mention until I read an excerpt of the book recently. If anyone ever cares to pick this up, I'll tell you where you can find me if you don't figure it out immediately.