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The Ghost of "Old Book"
Bartonville State Hospital for the Incurably Insane in Peoria, IL, was built in 1897, but there were structural problems caused by underlying mine shafts which collapsed. Therefore, no patients were ever admitted. It was torn down and a new hospital built in its stead. Dr. George Zeller, a mental health pioneer, oversaw the construction. The new insane asylum opened in 1902 boasting 33 buildings to house patients. Dr. Zeller became the director.
Zeller was a revolutionary in the mental health field. During the facility’s construction he ordered no bars were to be used. That was a concept unheard of at the time and one which no doubt left neighboring citizens somewhat unsettled.
It was to this institution a man everyone simply called “Old Book,” was eventually admitted. Nobody knew his real name, but then again, no one knew the names of most of the patients there. He was admitted under the name A. Bookbinder, since that had been his profession. He had had suffered a mental breakdown while working in a printing house and became mute. Some believe it was most likely in Chicago. Apparently, he had been found wandering about town without identification and having no knowledge of who he was. Authorities placed him under Dr. Zeller’s care.
Zeller decided the facility would provide burial services for unknown patients whose bodies remained unclaimed. Eventually there came to be four cemeteries and burials were performed by the more competent residents. Old Book was one of those. In fact, he was the most dedicated member of Zeller’s “Burial Corps.” He faithfully attended every burial. Following every service he would stand leaning against an old elm tree praying and weeping for the deceased.
When Old Book passed away he was laid to rest in the oldest of the four cemeteries. But, not before one of the most unusual paranormal experiences ever witnessed took place. It was reportedly witnessed by over 300 people, including Dr. Zeller and his staff.
As the casket was being lowered, the burial detail realized the coffin felt empty. At that moment the mournful sounds of a man crying came from the direction of the old elm tree. All in attendance turned to see who was in Old Book’s customary spot crying. It was none other than Old Book himself.
Not believing their eyes Dr. Zeller ordered the casket opened. When the lid was opened the crying immediately ceased and Old Book’s corpse was found inside. When everyone turned back to look at the elm tree Old Book’s apparition had vanished. The burial proceeded, but this time the weight of the corpse was felt as it was being lowered. Dr. Zeller wrote in his journal "It was awful, but it was real."I saw it, 100 nurses saw it and 300 spectators saw it."
Several days later the old elm began to wither and die. In spite of efforts to save it, the tree continued dying until it was completely dead. Later, maintenance crews tried to remove it, but fled when the tree issued a blood curdling scream of pain as it was struck by an axe. Dr. Zeller then ordered the tree burned. The results were the same. Years later the elm tree was struck by lightning and demolished.
After the death of Dr. Zeller, the hospital remained in use for many more years with new buildings and expanded services being added such as pediatrics and tuberculosis treatment facilities. The institution finally closed down in 1972.
During its final years of operations, after all patients had been transferred or discharged, staff members started reporting strange happenings, which in later years came to the attention of curiosity seekers and amateur as well as professional paranormal investigators.
One investigator who had long been interested in the old asylum visited the site several times. During one visit he experienced an unexplained force which refused to allow him to open doors. On another visit he captured an apparition on video tape when he accidently left a camera running.
Today the remaining hospital buildings are privately owned and trespassers are not allowed…although, that hasn’t kept vandals, ghost hunters and thrill seekers from going inside. Some claim it’s one of the most haunted places in America. Weeping, disembodied voices and even apparitions have been reported. Is the old hospital really haunted? Many think so.
Old Book is still buried in an unmarked grave there.