When it comes to haunted houses, there are true believers and doubting skeptics. Some are convinced that every corner Victorian is harboring the spirits of former inhabitants, and some are equally positive that the only ghosts in Oak Park are the variety wearing cast-off sheets as costumes.
With its old housing stock and interesting history, Oak Park has its share of ghost stories floating around. Whether you choose to believe the lore or remain unconvinced, stories of Oak Park ghosts make for interesting legends on this of all days.
Years ago, when the Oak Park River Forest Historical Society held annual Spirits in the Night housewalks, then-Historical Society President Kelli Kline and other volunteers researched ghost stories, along with the history of local homes.
For years, Kline was a sympathetic ear to many residents who had stories to tell of hauntings in their own residences. Planted firmly in the believer camp, Kline found many credible stories of hauntings which are worth retelling.
Kline says several friends shared stories of ghosts in their Oak Park homes with her. One, who lived in an 1890s era home on Grove Avenue, reported seeing the ghost of an older woman wearing mourning clothing typical of the Victorian era, and her young daughter also reported seeing “an old lady” at the foot of her bed.
After some delving into the home’s history, Kline learned that the owners of the home at the turn of the century were a husband and wife, and the wife’s mother was a widow from Iowa.
“She came to live with them, and she died in the house and was waked in the house,” said Kline. “Her husband died in 1880, so the kind of clothing my friend said the ghost was wearing would have been the widow’s weeds that women wore in mourning at that time.”
At another home on Grove Avenue, Kline said that the owner invited in “ghost busters” and a clairvoyant to try to get rid of any unwelcome spirits.
“All three said there was a spirit of a man, and the clairvoyant said she saw a man smoking a pipe and sitting in the back parlor,” Kline said “They said he was very proud of the house.”
Kline says the owner of the home described waking up to the smell of pipe smoke in the house when she was home alone.
At a home on Clinton Avenue, Kline says owners described seeing two spirits. One was the figure of a man. The homeowner awoke to see him in the bedroom, wearing a suit and tying a tie.
He then walked through a wall, at a space that the homeowner later determined had originally been a doorway but that had been walled in during a remodel of the home. Another time, the homeowner walked into her baby’s room to see the spirit of a young girl rocking the baby’s cradle.
While she may be a believer herself, Kline understands that not everyone is willing, or perhaps able, to share the experience of the spirits.
“I truly believe that certain people can see them and certain cannot,” Kline said.
For her, Oak Park remains ripe for further tales of ghosts.
“We have so many old Victorian houses here,” she said. “The Victorians were really worried about and invested in the spirit world. They had so many customs around mourning, from having weepers at funerals to covering mirrors with black cloth to wearing black.”
Still not convinced? If Halloween doesn’t spark your interest in haunted houses, at least it’s an opportunity to get some good candy. Official trick or treating hours are 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. in Oak Park.
Ghosts in other places
Formerly a home, now owned by the Park District of Oak Park, the Cheney Mansion at 220 N. Euclid Ave. has long been the subject of ghost stories.
“Cheney Mansion is big haunted,” Kline said. “They’ve had all sorts of weird stuff going on.”
Some of the odd circumstances include caretakers receiving calls that all the lights are on at the house when the last one to leave the house turned them all off. Kline recalls hearing from one employee about holding an evening event in the home in which the fireplaces were filled with votive candles.
After extinguishing the candles and locking up for the night, the employee returned the next morning to find all of the candles lit.
“The point is that these were votive candles,” Kline said. “They were small and would have burnt out if they’d been left lit overnight.”
There are also stories of interns and workers feeling strange presences in the attic and basement spaces. Some claimed to have seen a woman in white standing at the window on the stair landing.
Kline says that through research they discovered that prior to the Cheneys living in the mansion, an occupant of the home died and was waked in the house.
“She was really sick and used a wheelchair before she died,” Kline said. “We were thinking that she was actually wearing nightgown when she was seen as a ghost.”
Geppetto’s Toy Box at 730 Lake St. in Oak Park for decades was the home of Quintero Ltd., a women’s clothing store.
Kline says that for years after it closed, business owners in the store reported seeing a ghost in the basement storage area who strongly resembled Mr. Quintero.
“He was a ladies’ man, and used to wear a cape and black hat,” Kline said. “People would see someone dressed like that floating in the basement.”