Everybody’s got a creep story to tell. I come from a small, once-famous town, where there are endless tales and legends. It’s got a rep for grisly stories. I read that there was only one official hanging in Galena and five thousand people showed up. Of course, there are accounts of unofficial hangings.
If you do a search of Galena, you won’t need the Illinois part. “Ghost stories” pops up right away. There are ghost tours and cemetery walks. Most of the buildings on Main Street creak and crunch. They were built in the late eighteen-forties, and those that haven’t been gutted inside for the excellent woods, don’t like to be messed with when renovation occurs. The One Eleven Main restaurant got a raft of surprises when the place was spiffed up. A photo of the building’s façade at the time of renovation was blurred by swirling, white images. The picture made national headlines and the ghostly images were said to have been verified as not doctored.
Servers and patrons in the many excellent restaurants on “Main drag” tell of unexpected people showing up where they shouldn’t, sometimes in clothes from long ago. As a kid, I never liked walking alone in the dark anywhere in Galena. It felt “crowded” and as if I were being watched and followed. I moved back for a few years and noticed that it didn’t feel as creepy as it used to. Maybe I grew up or the spirits got bored with hanging around and went Home.
Some creaks and wood groans aren’t bad. I still get nostalgic and melty inside whenever I climb the steps just beyond the Galena Library’s entry door. The crunchy squeaks sweep me back to childhood and teen years, when I loaded my arms with books and carried them for blocks and blocks, then up a steep hill to home. Those are the good-squeaks memories. Then there are the other kind.
Pieces have been written about Turner Hall, where a ghostly argument occurs in the balcony. I didn’t sit up there often, not because I heard anything, but because it had an occupied feeling. I never stayed in the building alone or after dark. No way. Did it once and that was the last. Had to stifle the urge to run, girly-screaming, from the building. What I recall best about Turner Hall was not the performances I acted in and watched there, but the history that has been destroyed. As a youth, I loved to read the back wall of the theater. Performers over the decades had written their names and the dates of their performances everywhere. It broke my heart when I saw that they’d been painted over—a legacy discarded.
Aunt Marie told a sad tale of a little girl who skimmed her sled down the hillside of Grant Park and was killed on the railroad tracks. I remember reading a poem about a prostitute, who was arrested one spring night and held in a shack overnight on the Galena River levee. Nobody thought about her, but the river rose, as it always does at that time of year, and she drowned, locked in the submerged shack.
It’s good to know that so many people nowadays talk and write about the weird feelings and sounds of Galena. I never said a word to anyone, other than good friend Suzie. She didn’t laugh at me. Others would have thought I was nuts, and I was already a bit on the not-like-everyone-else side.
If you can’t make a trip to Galena, there’s a lot written about it on the web. It’s a gorgeous place to visit and walk from end to end, but think twice about bringing your bike. It’s all hills and valleys. And ghosts.
Next time: You Can’t Make Me Wear That Corset