A frightening good time

Spirits in the Night Ghost Walk to include Cheney Mansion, high school

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Lacey Sikora

Contributing Reporter

Halloween season doesn't stop when the trick or treating ends on Oct. 31st. This year, the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest keeps the spirit going with their ghost-filled fundraiser, Spirits in the Night Ghost Walk, to be held on Nov. 1. The ghostly walk begins at 7 p.m. and will cover some of Oak Park's historic locations.

Historical Society President Kelli Kline notes that this year's event will take place in central Oak Park.

"We'll be going to three different spots, but the Cheney Mansion will be the highlight of the tour." The two-hour outing will feature costumed interpreters telling the stories of former villagers who supposedly still roam the halls they once inhabited. Local ghost-busters will provide insight into the spiritual world, and the night will culminate with an authentic Edwardian wake.

Geppetto's Toy Box

During the day, Geppetto's Toy Box is a well-loved local institution, offering toys and games to children of all ages. But unbeknownst to most, the store also hosts a paranormal past. According to Kline, a ghost has been making its presence known at the store for years.

"It used to be a woman's clothing store for about 40 years, and there were many stories about encounters with a spirit who was connected to one of the businesses that used to be in the building."

Current owners Eric and Brandy Masoncoup, have never seen a ghost, but according to Kline, they have heard strange noises. "Two of their former employees claimed to have seen a ghost in the basement," she says.

Cheney Mansion

Since the Park District of Oak Park gained ownership of Cheney Mansion in the 1980s, the rumors of paranormal activity in the home have been rampant. It's named after Elizabeth Cheney, who inherited the home from an aunt and uncle in the 1940s and left the house to the park district when she died in The property first belonged to Caswell Sharpe, who with his wife Adeline, lived in a Victorian home on the land in the 1880s. They tore down that home to build the Tudor Revival which was completed in 1913.

At the beginning of the ghost walk, participants will meet in Cheney Mansion's library with real ghost-busters who have confirmed the presence of several spirits in the home. At this first stop, the ghost-busters will explain what they do.

Kline says that many visitors to the mansion have felt the presence of spirits. "From event coordinators to foreign tourists, people often feel ghosts in the house. Caterers have seen a ghost in the butler's pantry, and people across the street have reported seeing a woman in white walk down the staircase," she says. "Again, it's mischievous activity, like all the lights being turned on after the house has been closed up for the night."

The high school

Next up on the tour will be the sprawling Oak Park and River Forest High School. Kline doesn't want to give away all the secrets that will be revealed on the tour, but a school of this age has its share of mysterious activities.

Over the years, security and maintenance workers have had numerous sightings of ghosts, and tour participants will hear the stories while keeping an eye out for evidence of the paranormal.

The Edwardian wake

The tour ends with a return visit to Cheney Mansion for an Edwardian wake hosted by a local reverend.

Local undertaker W.S. Postlewait will also be on hand to give a history of funeral customs at the turn of the century. The cceremony will re-enact the wake of Adeline Sharpe, wife of the home's first owner, who had a difficult past, according to Kline.

"Adeline was an invalid in a wheelchair for over 20 years," she explains. "The mansion's elevator is original to the home, and was included to help her get around the house, but at the time in history, her life was very limited to her home. After moving into the home in 1913, she died in 1915 of pulmonary disease.

"We'll hear about the history of her life and family and find out whether she is one of the ghosts still in the home."

During this portion of the tour, participants will be encouraged to tour the rest of Cheney Mansion and perhaps have a few spiritual sighting of their own.

Kline emphasizes that the ghost stories she has heard about all three locations contain a common theme. "It seems to me, from the stories I've heard, that the ghosts are trying to get people's attention. They are not mean spirited, just attention seeking."

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