In October, nightfall comes earlier, the large orange harvest moon glows eerily and ghosts and goblins lurk in the dark shadows. But in Galena, a town of nearly 3,500 residents in far northwestern Illinois, the dark side is present all year long.
According to local lore, the combination of tragedy that befell many residents, from lead mining accidents and cholera outbreaks, and its location and rich history has created the perfect recipe for significant paranormal activity in Galena. This draws the curious and adventuresome there hoping to connect with the underworld. One path is through ghost hunting tours.
Ghost hunting tours
Throughout the year, ghost hunting tours take visitors on foot or by bus to Galena’s most interesting, historically significant and haunted sites. To enhance the experience, high- and low-tech equipment is provided to aid in establishing contact with the spirits.
Dowsing rods, such as those used in years past to “witch for water,” i.e., find a well, are used to establish contact with spirits. The rods are held straight and cross when spirits answer questions. Spirit boxes are devices used to speak to spirits using radio frequency. Electromagnetic field sensors (EMF) are used to detect changes in the electromagnetic field around the device, signaling the presence of a spirit. Even the most adamant skeptics can be at a loss to explain what they see and hear while using the equipment.
Amelia Wilson, owner of Amelia’s Ghost Tours, has held a lifelong fascination with the paranormal and has conducted extensive research to ensure authenticity of information shared on the tours. She has also seen and had contact with many spirits over the years.
During her 14-mile tour, experienced storytellers share information about local landmarks, legends and documented ghost stories from the area. Every night, guests depart on shuttle buses to visit the Ryan Mansion and the Greenwood Cemetery, both of which often yield spirit contacts.
Wilson recently added Amelia’s Old Tyme Séance Shows to her offerings. During séances, mediums use their abilities to communicate with those in the afterlife. Wilson explains, “You come to the Ryan Mansion, and you’re ushered into the parlors where everything is by candlelight. You get the history of séances, the history of the medium who is present and the history of the Ryan family in the home.” She says because nothing is staged, every night offers a different experience. Clients have reported making contact with loved ones and even some members of the Ryan family during séances. If the tours and séances don’t sate your spirit-hunting appetite, Wilson provides additional touring and event opportunities.
On weekends, Matthew’s Haunted Pub Crawl offers visitors the opportunity to hunt spirits while enjoying spirits. Owner Matthew Knauntz, a master story-teller, is the tour’s guide. Walking tours include three drinking establishments, which can vary from night to night. His passion is people – sharing local lore, history and ghost stories with them and helping them connect with the underworld.
Tours often include non-believers who Knauntz says often have the most contact with spirits. He explains, “They aren’t trying so hard. Patience is the hardest part of all ghost hunting. When they have a contact, they are like ‘Who’s doing that. Why is this happening?’ It’s fun to change their opinion as the tour goes on.”
Cameras are allowed on Knauntz’s tours, and the photos can yield eerie results. Spirits presenting themselves as perfectly round “orbs” can be visible in photos. In some photos of Knauntz, the apparition of a woman, who he believes is his late mother, can be seen standing at his side. In other photos, his image appears to be in motion, broken into pieces, while other photos taken before or after them appear normal.
Additional ghost tours in the area include All about a Ghost and the Haunted Galena Ghost Tour company. Chris Hamilton, president/CEO of VisitGalena, forewarns, “Make sure your kids know this is not hokey, corny stuff. These are genuine, bonified tours with authentic stories and history. The realism is what makes them creepier than what some people do with Halloween or supernatural activities.”
Ghosts around town
Hamilton has also experienced spirit activity. The Old Market House on Main Street, where the Galena welcome center and VisitGalena are located, once housed two jail cells and is home to one of Galena’s nastier spirits. Legend states that many years ago Mary Miller, the town drunk, had been arrested and was in one of the cells. As flood waters quickly rose, she refused to leave and drowned there. It’s believed her presence is still felt in the building. According to Hamilton, Miller doesn’t like change, and when employees move items in the building, they often hear unexplained loud noises coming from the basement. Hamilton admits that he limits his time in the basement.
Once, when Hamilton was talking with a group of people upstairs in eatery One Eleven Main, they all heard a “plink” of a piano key and turned to look, but no one was near the piano. A fluke, maybe, but there have been other documented cases of the piano playing for seemingly no reason.
Other ways to celebrate the spirits
Those who enjoy a more “manufactured” spirit experience can head to CarnEvil, a haunted house at the Jo-Daviess fairgrounds in nearby Warren. Hamilton says, “CarnEvil’s intent is to scare the daylights out of you. It’s meant to be more disturbing. It’s for people who are more daring and really like scary stuff.”
For something more family-friendly, the Galena Area Chamber of Commerce will host its 39th Annual Galena Halloween Parade and Festival on Saturday, Oct. 28. The two-hour parade will kick off at 6:30 p.m., and feature sensational floats, many with mechanical parts, and characters in elaborate costumes who will interact with the crowd. The glow of hot air balloons will add to the evening’s ambiance. Drawing nearly 10,000 visitors annually, the parade is the largest in the tri-state area.
Throughout the fall, Galena will also offer a variety of fairs, festivals, vineyard tours, music, art and craft fairs, and more.
Regardless of how the spirit moves you, be sure to include Galena in your upcoming travel plans.
For dates and more information about upcoming events and tours, contact VisitGalena at visitgalena.org, or call 815-776-9200.