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Bartonville State Hospital

Updated on June 29, 2013

Bartonville State Hospital

Peoria State Hospital Historic District, also known as Bartonville State Hospital or Illinois Hospital for the Incurable Insane, was a mental health hospital operated by the State of Illinois. It was abandoned in 1973. The hospital grounds and its 47 buildings are listed as an historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. The hospital is located in Bartonville, Illinois, near the city of Peoria in Peoria County.

The Bowen Building and front entrance to Peoria State Hospital in the early 20th century.

The Bowen Building and front entrance to Peoria State Hospital in the early 20th century.
The Bowen Building and front entrance to Peoria State Hospital in the early 20th century.

Bartonville State Mental Hospital Ghosts

Peoria State Hospital maintains a reputation as a haunted spot. Claims are that the area is still inhabited by the ghosts of many former patients. The idea is probably perpetuated by the fact that there are four on-site cemeteries, because Zeller implemented a system for burying the hospital's unidentified deceased. One specific ghost yarn tells of the spirit of "Old Book," a patient who dug graves at the hospital until his own demise. It is said that upon his death he took over the physical form of a tree on the grounds dubbed the "Graveyard Elm". Locally it is known as the "crying tree." Though several attempts have been made at removing the tree it still stands at the hospital.

In the 1920s, Zeller penned a book titled, The Bereft, drawn from the mysterious experiences he had at the hospital during his two tenures as superintendent, 1902–1913 and 1921–1935. Included, among numerous other eerie stories, were Zeller's own account of Old Book and the Graveyard Elm

Old Book is the name given to a purported ghost or spirit which haunts a cemetery and tree on the grounds of the Peoria State Hospital in Bartonville, Illinois. While rumors of ghosts and ghost stories are highly speculative the Old Book tale has been documented many times. Included among those documenting the tale is the first director of the state insane asylum, George Zeller.

The crying tree

The superstitious tale surrounding Old Book is somewhat unique among ghost stories in that it was reportedly witnessed by hundreds of people. The story goes that when Old Book died his funeral was attended by hundreds of patients and staff members who became witnesses to the ghostly phenomena that was about to transpire. As workers were attempting to lower what should have been a heavy casket they discovered that it, in fact, felt empty. Suddenly a crying sound echoed from the Graveyard Elm and everyone in attendance turned and looked, including Dr. Zeller. They all claimed to have seen Old Book standing by the tree. They so believed it to be true that Zeller had the casket opened to ensure that Old Book still lay inside. As the lid was opened the crying ceased and Old Book's corpse did, in fact, lay inside the coffin. Days passed and the tree began to die. While several crews have tried to remove the Graveyard Elm or the "crying tree," as it is also known, none have been successful citing the weeping emanating from the tree

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      Tonya 6 years ago

      The BIG building was a nurses dorm. The infirmary building is where most of the ghosts are. They had 3-4 deaths there per week from TB. I went there this past Saturday for a tour and ghost hunt (Infimary Building) Only 2 people ever died in that big, cool building.. one being Dr Zeller, himself inside his own apartment in that large building and a nurse.

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      maddy 6 years ago

      hi im 11 my great grandmall worked in the haunted hospital but she died there was a man crying under this tree and then the next day he died he was still crying under the tree then they opened the cofen and he was not in there my grate grandmalll was there that's all i can say

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      Chelsea 6 years ago

      I really want them to have tours of this building so we can actually see the ghost and so they can show us where some of the patients were locked up. and where they died.

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      barb 6 years ago

      hi I am one of the frew members restoring the cemeteries out there we meet on fridays and sundays from 10am until around 2pm please feel free to come and help if you need more info please contact me through facebook Barb burger thanks

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      Madison 6 years ago

      I wantt to learn about this place soo badd!!!!

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      hunters 6 years ago

      I went threw there one night with my sister and we sat there for like 10 min and then we started seeing shadows and screams

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      MyzBhaven2 6 years ago

      Hey Debra

      I believe the state of Illinois has sealed all records...i know they have of the patients records anyway....until they receive a court order to release them..they will not.

      I have recently gone to Bartonville..and found the cemeteries...I truly believe one of the many cemeteries out there has had all the headstones removed. I have very recent pics up on the name I have here. I never felt so much sadness as i felt walking through the cemeteries. I have been to other cemeteries but these,on these grounds, i felt more sadness than ever. Many no name headstones..many with names...many turned over and destroyed..The 2 individuals i felt such grief for were Bookbinder and Rhoda!

    • profile image

      Debra 6 years ago

      Any ideas on how to find a nurse that once worked there? Around 1952?

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      Claudia 7 years ago

      Apparently not too many people have been to the larger cemetery. PA Storm, it seems you were at the smaller one by the church. If you take the lseft drive out of the church parking lot and then take your first left, you will drive past a couple of older buildings. Then on your left is what looks like an old gravel/dirt road. There is a chain across the drive up at the end of it. It is there you will find a very large cemetery that is very well kept. I was there just a couple days ago. It is very peaceful and well kept. Check it out next time you are there.

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      P. A . Storm  7 years ago

      Dear sirs, My neice took us to see the state hospital 07/23/10 today & ONE OF THE CEMERTYS It is such a shame that people have destroyed it with filthy words on the walls and other damage )( WE DIDN'T GO IN OR NEAR THE HOSPITAL I PULLED UP PICTURES ON THE INTERNET) !WE were in aw of it all ! The building it is truly a landmark & lots of history to be told .It is very interesting at what went on there at one time ! Please keep it if you can! it is historical !and very intreging We then went to the cemerty around where the church is and some cemerical places and toured the cemerty where the headstons just have a number like no 5or 25 on them so sad !and the veterens we toured also in the same cemerty it was mowed but very sloppy and nothing was trimed it was so sad old ugly flowers on them that were faded they had been there for a while!! why can't they get people to give there free time to help keep it up .The weeds were terriable around the little stones with numbers on them and the vets also it wasn't very pretty If i lived closer i would be so happy to help mow and keep the cemerty very nice but i live over 3 hours away Can't you get volentears to help ? This is a landmark please perserve the history and the buildings and the graves poor little things we will never know what they endured & went through everything is so entriging & interesting I hope some day there will be a time when we can see it all

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      backhom 8 years ago

      Born and raised just 2 blocks from the State Hospital I know it all too well. My grandmother was an inmate at this facility. She suffered from Alzheimers disease. In the early 60's they referred to it as Dementia. And locked them up. So very sad. I remember visiting her there. In the old dining area.

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      tessie 8 years ago

      i think they shoud have a hotel in it and so they can here sprits

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      ghosthunter 8 years ago

      dude ok, so i had a basketball game today and in between the games, we went to look at this place! omg! it is so cool but really creepy! we were like looking inside the windows and it was weird because someone had spraypainted 4:20 on one of the walls! omg! all three of us were like..whoa! haha!

    • miracles02 profile image

      miracles02 9 years ago from Canton, IL

      I grew up just across a ravine from the state hospital when it was still in operation. The old elm no longer stands. I lived in Bartonville from 1962 till 1977, my friends and I would have to walk beside the fence along Ricketts street to get to and from school everyday, Once a young black boy was running right toward the fence with an orderly right on his tail, you shopuld have seen us run across the street!! We were only about 7 or 8!! The state hospital whistle would blow at precisely 8pm every night, that was generally a sign for the neighborhood kids to head home for the night (our parents would say"come home when the whistle blows")

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      tessie 9 years ago

      are they going to tar it down

    • profile image

      JUSTEN WOLFE 9 years ago



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