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Opera House’s ghost featured in new book

A new book explores the ghost tales and legends surrounding locations throughout Northern Illinois, including the Woodstock Opera House.

Written by Stephen Osborne of Oregon, Ill., “Ghosts of Northern Illinois” features more than a dozen places.

It tells the story of Elvira, believed to haunt the opera house since the early 1900s.

As various legends go, the distraught actress claims Seat 113 in the theater, which often is found in the down position despite the fact all the seats are spring-loaded to remain upright.

In his research, Osborne said he was surprised to find out about the connection between the Opera House, and even Elvira, and legendary actor and director Orson Welles.

Welles went to a former school for boys in Woodstock and performed in several plays at the Opera House as a young man.

“One person I talked to was quite convinced that Orson Welles came up with the idea of Elvira or perpetrated the myth,” Osborne said. “He certainly liked to give his castmates a little scare.

“Orson Welles may have had some part in playing up the Elvira legend.”

Osborne, also the author of “South Bend Ghosts,” decided to explore Northern Illinois’ ghost stories after moving to rural Oregon several years ago.

He had visited an event at The Roadhouse restaurant in Oregon and heard stories of its haunting. Through interviews and actual visits to locations, he found and researched numerous other tales in the area.

Another location featured in the book – Willow Creek Farm in rural Cherry Grove Township, southeast of Galena – is one of the top 10 haunted houses in Illinois. Osborne spent the night at the farm.

“That’s the place where the weirdest things happened,” he said.

He had tagged along with a group that investigates the paranormal. As they were getting ready to go out to eat, putting coats on while standing around the kitchen table, a chair flew backward and hit the ground, Osborne said.

No one had touched it, he said.

“We examined the chair. The legs were fine. It was a sturdy chair. There was no reason it should have fallen like that,” he said.

Other locations in the book include the Coronado Performing Arts Center in Rockford, Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery just northwest of Midlothian and Oak Forest and the Biograph Theater near Lincoln Park in Chicago.

At the Coronado, Osborne said he was among a tour group when he heard voices coming from the men’s restroom. He and another group member went to investigate.

“The voices kept getting further and further away,” he said.

Touring the Swiss Cottage Museum in Rockford, again, a voice was heard, he said. This time, it came from an empty hallway.

“It was like somebody yelling down the hall for someone,” he said.

Osborne found so many stories in Northern Illinois he plans to write another book about the area, and likely include another McHenry County landmark – the Stickney House in Bull Valley. Originally built with rounded corners by its owner, Goerge Stickney, a spiritualist, the house was designed to allow spirits to roam.

It now serves as the village hall and police department.

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