So far the week that I have spent in Peoria, I really love it here. There has been a lot to see and do. I have been keeping busy with checking out everything. One of the places I was most excited to check out was the Peoria State Hospital and not just because of the paranormal aspect.
Originally, the first building was built 1897 but the building would eventually be closed without ever being used. Some reports state that this was because of the empty mine shafts that dotted the property caused the property to be deemed unsafe. Other reports say that the current hospital superintendent at the time, Dr. Frederick Howard Wines, didn’t feel that the building style was compatible with the type of care he wanted to provide the patients that would be at the hospital. The hospital was originally designed to look like a feudal castle complete with battlements and turrets. That building was torn down and in 1901, under the direction of the new superintendent, Dr. George Zeller, had a series of cottages built instead. The hospital began operations on February 10, 1902. While originally named Illinois Hospital for the Incurable Insane, in 1907 the name would be changed to Illinois General Hospital for the Insane, and finally in 1909 to Peoria State Hospital. In 1906, a training school for nurses was established at the hospital. At the hospital’s peak, it had 2,800 patients. By the time the hospital was shut down in 1973, there were only 600 patients left. In 1949, Pollack Hospital was built on the grounds as a tuberculosis hospital to help the many patients and staff that became infected with tuberculosis while at the main hospital.
Under the direction of Dr. Zeller, a kinder form of care was implemented in the hospital. He was the first superintendent to do away with the use of restraints, drugs, and straight jackets. This gentler type of care had the highest rate of cure and highest rate of reintegration back into society. The hospital became known worldwide for its practices and rate of cure. This standard of care lasted through 1938 when Dr. Zeller passed away from heart disease in his apartment on the hospital grounds. After his death, the new doctors began using electro convulsive therapy, lobotomies and insulin shock therapy on the patients. They also brought back the restraints, drugs, and straight jackets that Dr. Zeller was very much against. These harsher methods did not yield the same results that Dr. Zeller had achieved.
One the things that Dr. Zeller did while the superintendent was to create a burial crew to help with the burial of the patients that died over the years at the hospital. The burial crew consisted of a few staff members and a half dozen patients that Dr. Zeller thought was mental competent enough to handle the work as well as strong enough to do the digging and carrying of the caskets to cemeteries. One of the patients that he hired to be a part of the crew was a gentleman called “Old Book”.
Not much is known about Old Book’s back story. It is said that he had a mental breakdown while working at a publishing house in Chicago. The officer that took him into custody put down in his report that the gentleman’s profession was as a bookbinder. A clerk at the court mistakenly put Manual A. Bookbinder down as his name on a form and the name stuck. Since Old Book was mute, he wasn’t able to correct them.
Old Book took his role on the burial crew very seriously. Whenever there was a funeral for someone, Old Book could be seen crying at every funeral for the deceased person even he didn’t really know the person. Most often he would wail by an elm in the cemetery. This continued until Old Book’s own death in 1910. Because of how beloved Old Book was at the hospital for his compassion towards those he helped bury, his funeral was quite large. According to Dr. Zeller, there were over 300 patients in attendance to the funeral as well as over 100 nurses. His funeral was going normally until it was time to lower his casket into the ground. Members of the burial crew grabbed the ends of rope that were under the casket in order to lift it up a little bit so that another crew member could move the crossbars out from underneath the casket which would allow the casket to be lowered into the ground. As they pulled on the ropes, the casket “bounded into the air, like an eggshell, as if it were empty” according to Dr. Zeller and the men fell backwards onto the ground. As the funeral attendees rushed forward to see what had happened, a loud wailing could be heard. Dr. Zeller noted in his book, Befriending The Bereft, that standing by the elm tree that he would always cry under during previous funerals was Old Book. Dr. Zeller and the other funeral attendees were so surprised to see him that Dr. Zeller ordered the casket to be opened immediately to see if Old Book’s body was in the casket. The burial crew quickly unscrewed the casket lid off which caused the wailing from the elm tree to stop. Inside the casket was Old Book’s body with a peaceful look upon his face and his arms still crossed over his chest.
A few days after Old Book’s funeral, the elm tree he was known to lean on and cry under during funerals began to die. Dr. Zeller noted in his book that as the tree died, the branches caused to the tree to begin to look like a skeleton. A worker was instructed to cut the tree down but after being hit once with an axe, the tree started wailing loudly as if in pain. The worker ran off and refused to come back to the cemetery. A few months later, Dr. Zeller had a workers try to burn the tree down. As the fire started to grow around the base of the tree, the workers reported hearing a loud wailing coming from the tree. Dr. Zeller said that one worker reported to see “in the clouds of smoke that curled upwards, he could plainly see teh features of our departed mourner”. Scared of what was going on, the workers quickly put out the fire and left the cemetery. A few years later the tree was hit by lighning and was evetually removed.
In 2010, after realizing that Old Book’s headstone was missing from the cemetery, a person who use to work at the hospital had a new one installed with a plaque on it. The plaque reads:
a.k.a A. Bookbinder
IN EACH DEATH HE FOUND GREAT SORROW.
HE WEPT AT EACH PASSING TEARS FOR
THE UNLOVED AND FORGOTTEN
NOW, “OLD BOOK” WE WEEP FOR YOU.”
Old Book isn’t the only spirit reported to haunt the area where the hospital was. Before the buildings were torn down, a lady in white has been reported being seen and even photographed in one of the windows. People also reported hearing crying, people talking, laughter, banging, and footsteps. Apparitions have been seen walking the hallways. Many people visiting the buildings have reported being touched or pushed. The smell of pine could often be smelled in the hallways. Pine was an ingredient in some of the medicines used in the hospital. Sylvia Schultz, an author who has written about the hospital, said that many times when she would walk around Pollack Hospital, she would feel someone holding her hand. Some people feel that some of the spirits are there because of the kindness that was shown to them while they were there.
Since the buildings were torn down in 2017, many of the reports of the paranormal has decreased but there are still a few that come in occasionally. Most of them deal with the cemetery that Old Book is buried in. When Ghost Hunters (the original show) came out to film an episode (Season 9, Episode 3 Prescription For Fear), they caught an apparition walking through the woods in that cemetery. They were able to help prove that it was an apparition by showing how show crew members looked when recorded by the same camera. I won’t spoil the episode and say what else they experienced while there but I definitely recommend watching the episode.
On thing I forget to mention in this post is that there isn’t just one cemetery for this hospital. There are four different ones. Jeremy, John Paul and I visited two of them while trying to find Old Book’s headstone. I am trying to find the location of the other two. Only one is listed on Google Maps. I was able to find the second one just by luck. Hopefully I can visit the other two before we leave the area. There is also a fake haunted house that is set up around Halloween near the second cemetery that I plan to check out next month if it’s open. I did manage to find Dr. George Zeller’s grave but he isn’t buried with his patients in any of the hospital’s cemeteries. He is buried in Springdale Cemetery in Peoria. I will be discussing Springdale Cemetery and it’s ghosts and cryptid (yes a cryptid in a cemetry) in Friday’s post. Be sure to check back then to read all about it.