Hospitals, perhaps more than any other building, witness the pains of human existence on a consistent basis. Birth, death, illness, despair, and even insanity are experienced by thousands of patients over many decades within their walls. Maybe this is why hospitals are some of the most haunted places in Illinois. But which is the most haunted of them all? At the Legends and Lore of Illinois, we have combed dozens of stories to bring you the top ten most haunted hospitals (past and present) in the state.
10. Sunnybrook Asylum (former)
In 1905, Jacob Beilhart moved his utopian commune known as the “Spirit Fruit Society” to a 90-acre site along Wooster Lake near the Chain O’Lakes. They valued hard work and free love as a road to salvation. Jacob died in 1908 and the group left after six more years at the farm. During the 1940s and ‘50s the property was converted into a health spa called Wooster Lake Health Resort. It was soon abandoned. “Urban explorers” took over the site and began to bring back stories about the abandoned camp. It became known as “Sunnybrook Asylum,” and visitors speculated that it closed down because the nurses went insane and burned the hospital down—patients and all. In 1995 the camp buildings really did burn down, and the site is currently being developed as a subdivision.
9. George A. Zeller Mental Health Center (former)
Originally known as the Zeller Zone, it was later renamed the George A. Zeller Mental Health Center after Dr. George Zeller, a former administrator of Peoria State Hospital. The hospital opened in 1965 and permanently closed in 2002. The Center consisted of ten buildings totaling over 250,000 square feet. It is currently being leased to Illinois Central College for $1/yr and called I.C.C. North Campus. According to some visitors, voices, noises, and apparitions have been seen and heard inside the buildings. Outside, the sounds of ambulance sirens and cars driving up to the entrance are sometimes heard.
8. St. Francis Medical Center
For more than 130 years, the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis have been caring for Peoria’s sick and infirm. Some say that a few of those dedicated women have remained at their posts long after passing from this world. The hospital began in 1877, when five Catholic nuns purchased a two-story framed house along the Illinois River to provide care for area residents. Today, their hospital has over 600 beds and employs more than 800 physicians. Over the years, patients and staff have reported encountering two nuns who appear to comfort the sick before mysteriously disappearing. No one knows who they were in life, but their presence is appreciated.
7. BroMenn Hospital (former)
This former hospital has a complicated history that no doubt contributes to its paranormal activity. Originally the Kelso Sanitarium, Mennonite Church leaders purchased that building in 1919 after their first hospital became overcrowded. The sanitarium was renamed Mennonite Hospital, and specialized in adult long-term care. In July 1984, Mennonite Hospital combined with two other area hospitals to create the BroMenn healthcare system. In 1998, the old Mennonite Hospital building was sold to a vacuum cleaner company called Electrolux. Something from its years as a hospital remained, however. Old photographs and writing on some of the walls left by former patients has not been removed. According to former employees, there is a haunted room on the 3rd floor. Odd noises, as well as the ever-present smell of death, prevent its use. This “death room” remains locked to this day.
6. Cook County Insane Asylum (former)
Like many poor farms and mental hospitals in Illinois, the Cook County Poor Farm (and the asylum built upon it) had a tragic history. This tragedy spawned a diaspora of ghost stories as the modern City of Chicago spread around it and, eventually, over the site itself. The original poor farm, established in 1851, occupied over 150 acres. The Cook County Insane Asylum was built there in 1858 and housed nearly 600 patients by 1885. When much of the complex was finally demolished a century later, the real estate developer who purchased the land was shocked to discover that her construction crews were digging up bodies. Archaeologists conducted an excavation and discovered three cemeteries on the property. The bodies were removed and reburied in a 3-acre park now called Read-Dunning Memorial Park. The Chicago-Read Mental Health Center is also located on land formerly belonging to the poor farm. Residents of the area have told author Ursula Bielski about various ghostly encounters in the stores and other buildings constructed over the original poor farm property, including sightings of a specter of an elderly woman in a hospital gown.