Estimated reading time — 14 minutes
Every town has its own set of urban legends, or “ghost stories,” if you will; alligators in the sewers, crop circles, cave spirits, the like. I, personally, never believed them. They all seemed highly unrealistic. They were just myths created by adults to scare kids away from certain areas, or created by teens for the fun of it, I told myself. My town, like any other, has its own myths and stories. But the tales surrounding the local forest preserve (the ones I shall now relate to you) seem pretty far out there. Looking back, however, I can’t help thinking how stupid I was not to believe the old stories.
The myths really started to grow only recently, mainly when the Forest Preserve District took over the house of Old Man Peabody. However, the real history of the house has been known around the area for much longer. The true history (the accurate, non-supernatural history) of Peabody Estate goes something like this…
Old Man Peabody (as the locals call him now) was in the coal business. He was a rich man, and rich men need somewhere to live. So, of course, in the early 1920’s he built himself a nice house near a forest and a pond. It was a large house, with many rooms and big gardens and yards for his kids and family to use.
However, his “kids” (or at least one of them) were dead, as was his wife, and they were both named May. No one really knows how they died, but they were dead before Peabody moved in. It was sad for him, to lose his daughter and his wife. Anyway, he named his estate in honor of them; Mayslake.
However, only a year or so after the coal baron built his mansion, he died of a heart attack while foxhunting. He was only 63. Foul play? Greedy relatives? Not likely. His family moved out soon after, and didn’t even keep the house. They sold it.
Of course, the fact that his family didn’t want to stay in thirty-nine room mansion on an estate of over 800 acres is suspicious, but I’ll ignore that for the sake of accuracy. So, anyway, his family left, and they sold the estate to a Franciscan order of monks; the monks used it as a retreat. Now, here’s the interesting part; the monks made quite a few additions to the house once they owned it. They added other wings, away from the main building, which were connected to the house by a labyrinth of underground passages. They also added a memorial chapel for Peabody, which was erected on the other side of the lake.
Now, all these additions gave the monks quite a bit of space. Interesting as the new architecture was, the monks decided to put it to use. As religious men, they chose to use the extra space to help the less fortunate. The main house became an orphanage, and the monks moved into the outer wings.
Over the years, the monks had to sell off acres of the land, eventually leaving them with only eighty-seven of the original 800 or so acres. This was disappointing to everybody, especially because in 1991 the monks finally had to sell the final acres to a contracting and landscaping company, who were planning to tear it down and build a new neighborhood. The townsfolk, hearing about this, decided to band together in order to save the historic house. Together, they got enough support that the village hall granted the Forest Preserve District the money to buy the house from the monks. And so the house passed from another hand to a new one. The monks had certainly left their marks, and now it was the Forest Preserve’s turn.
Things slowed down, now. No big changes, no big improvements, no suspicious deaths or chapels. The house and the 87 acres became Mayslake Forest Preserve, and Peabody Estate remained as it was, per the wishes of the townsfolk. But now the myths started rolling in, full force.
Quite a few of the myths has been in the area for many years, but the change of hands brought the tales back to life. The Rangers working at the preserve especially began to report odd sightings.
There were four main tales surrounding the estate of Old Man Peabody. The oldest tale had to do with Peabody’s memorial chapel. The legend went that anyone who touched the glass of Peabody’s coffin (yes, it was a glass coffin) would have immense luck and fortune for years to come. This tale was actually far older than the Forest Preserve’s ownership of the land; it extended even into the early time of the monks’ ownership. Of course, the promise of luck attracted many teenagers and ne’er-do-wells to property, so this ties right in to the next myth.
The monks were not happy to have a bunch of teens sneaking around and eventually vandalizing their prized chapel, so they hired guards to protect it. At night, as the legend goes, these big, burly guards would prowl the grounds of the estate, looking for teenagers and anyone else who shouldn’t have been there. The thing was, though, the guards wore monk habits, so they were very hard to see at night, and very hard to distinguish as guards. Furthermore, they had dogs. Big, vicious dogs. One encounter with a hooded man and a snapping, snarling, dog, and the crowd heads for the hills. The monks were satisfied, but the guards were not. Legend states that the ghosts of the guards still walk the grounds at night, waiting for their next victim…
But what about the big, hulking, Tudor Revival-style house? Well, of course there are stories about that, too. Stories I still didn’t believe. The tales surrounding the house involved the orphanage era and the monks themselves, but they sounded about as accurate and true as the last few.
The myth about the orphanage went something like this. During the time of the orphanage, the children slept on the uppermost floor of the house. The stairs leading downward had no railing, and dropped off about thirty feet to the floor of the main room. So, predictably, one night a young boy was bouncing a ball down the hall of the sleeping quarters, when the ball started to roll down the stairs. The boy chased after the ball, but he tripped, fell thirty feet off the stairs, broke his neck, and died. Although there are actual records of the event, the legend is that, on some nights, one can hear a ball bouncing down the stairs, and the laughter of children.
The final big story of Mayslake Estate is one about the tunnels under the ground. You remember the tunnels, right? They connect the house to the outlying wings where the monks slept. They’re cement, bare-wire-lighting tunnels, with single bulbs every thirty feet or so. It is said that if you go down into the tunnels alone, you can hear the monks walking around, or even see apparitions and other strange sights.
Interesting tales, huh? Creepy to think about, but not really scary. Like I’ve said many times now, I never believed them. And that was my mistake.
I rode my bike up the road to Mayslake Forest Preserve. The forest on either side of the road was dark, and cars only drove by once in a while. It was past midnight, and there was no visible moon out. I wasn’t scared, though. It was just an old house with a pond and a chapel. No biggie.
Earlier that day, our Social Studies teacher had brought up the topic of local legends in class. I knew about Old Man Peabody and his estate, and although I didn’t believe the stories, I brought it up anyway. My teacher was rather impressed with my knowledge on the subject, but then a few other kids brought up other topics, and I was forgotten. C’est la vie.
But my friends didn’t forget. Later at lunch, one of the jokingly said,
“I bet I could get to Peabody’s coffin and touch it without freaking!”
“Nuh uh!” I exclaimed, laughing. “You couldn’t if you tried!”
The conversation slowly turned from joking to angry, after a while. We almost had a row, but we decided to settle it with a bet in order to avoid trouble from the teachers. I bet my friend that I could go to Peabody Estate, get into the house, use the tunnels, and make it to Peabody’s coffin, taking pictures all the way. If I failed (I was fairly certain I wouldn’t), I had to pay up and give my friend my snack money for a week, and then my friend could take a shot at the same challenge. If he succeeded at the bet, he got my snack money for two weeks. If I won, I got his for a week. It was no big challenge, really. I was fairly certain I could succeed with flying colors.
And that lead me to the Forest Preserve at one in the morning. I noticed that as I entered the parking lot, there was a sign that read, “No entrance after dark.” Too bad for them, because I just did.
I parked my bike in the lot closest to the house. Off to one side, I could see the chapel across the lake. On the other side, there was one of the wings that the monks had slept in. The mansion stood in front of me. I took a deep breath, readied my camera, and walked towards the house.
The field surrounding the house was dark, all the windows of the house were dark, and the parking lot was dark. The only light came from the stars overhead, and the streetlights back by the road, but those were farther away. If I had brought a flashlight, however, I probably could have been seen by the neighbors across the road. I couldn’t risk that. I crossed the field to the house’s entrance.
Finally, after what felt like an eternity of walking, I reached the door. I had never realized how far apart the buildings on the estate were. I grabbed for the handle, but I stopped short. I got the odd feeling that I was being watched. I turned to my left and my right, but saw nothing. I steeled my nerves, and turned around. But there was nothing. The field was empty.
I could hear, though, faint footsteps, like a man in heavy boots walking over pavement. It was probably a man back by the road where I had come from. I shivered, though. The walking continued, but slowly faded away.
I reached again for the door, and grabbed the handle. It was locked. Why wasn’t I surprised? Well, I should take a picture now, I thought to myself. Might as well. So, I raised my camera to the door, and snapped a shot.
Damn it! I had left the flash on! I was temporarily blinded, and I feared that someone might have seen me, but I still heard nothing. Once I got my sight back, I checked the camera. Everything seemed in place. Wait, what was that in the window? Better zoom in…
I nearly screamed. In the picture, in the window next to the door, I could clearly see a child’s face. It was lit up by the flash. But that was impossible! The house was deserted once the preserve closed for the night! It must have been a trick of the light. I shuddered again, and put the camera in my pocket. There was no one at the window.
“Trick of the light, trick of the light…” I muttered to myself. I began to walk around to the back of the house. I knew there was a large backdoor that opened to the huge, main room of the mansion. The house was sometimes used to host parties, but more often than not the backdoor was the one used. I figured that might be open.
When I got around to the back, I saw that there was, in fact, a door, just as I knew there would be. It was mostly glass, and it allowed me to see into the large, main room of the house. Off to one side of the room was a set of stairs leading up, still without railings. Gee, that had to be a liability!
I reached for the doorknob on the back door, and to my surprise, it swung open easily. Almost as if I was expected. Nah, that’s insane! I thought to myself. Who would be here to expect me? It’s completely emp-
I stopped mid-thought. I could clearly hear a bouncing sound from inside the house, like a toy ball falling down stairs. I wasn’t even in the house yet, and I was already hearing things! At least, that was what I wanted to believe. Come on, ghosts don’t exist! I thought. They can’t! Right?
I snapped a quick picture of the door I used, with the flash off, but I refused to look at the image. I was still a bit jittery after the first time. It couldn’t possibly have been a kid, but it sure looked close enough. I would look over my camera later.
I walked into the house, quiet as possible. The bouncing had stopped now. I looked around the mansion’s interior.
“This isn’t so bad!” I said aloud. It was certainly nicer in daytime, but still. It really wasn’t too bad.
I whirled around as fast as possible, but there was no one there. It was a very faint whisper, almost like it was said at the top of the stairs in a quiet voice, but I distinctly heard it. It was so quiet, so airy, though, that it could have come from just about anywhere. I was sure I heard it! I mean, hearing bouncing is understandable, but hearing voices? This was getting freaky.
I snapped some images of the inside, but one particular picture I decided to look at. It was a picture I had taken of the stairs. Nothing is going to show up! It’s just stairs! That was where I was wrong. Again. And I wish I had never taken the picture.
In the picture, on the floor in front of me, was a kid, with his neck at an odd, twisted angle. I quickly looked up from the camera, but the floor in front of me was empty. The dead kid was only in the photo. It was clear he had snapped his neck when he fell from the top of the stairs. In the corner of the photo at the bottom of the stairs was a blue, toy ball. This couldn’t possibly have been a trick of the light. Now there was something seriously wrong.
“What a sad way to go,” I said aloud, not even thinking. It was a waste of life, the kid, but I had to find the tunnels now. So I moved on, trying to erase the image of the young boy’s lifeless body from my mind. It was all in my imagination, after all. It had to be.
I should have left then. But I was stubborn. I had to win the bet.
I knew by heart where the entrance to the monks’ tunnels was. I had taken countless tours around the house with my dad (he’s a bit of a history buff). It was in the basement, around the corner. Down the dark stairs, in the dark cellar. Thankfully, I knew where the light switches were. I could turn them on in the mansion, and turn them off in the monks’ wing.
Once I had turned the basement lights on, I worked my way through the network of old storage and pipes until I found the door leading to the tunnels. I reached for the door, and stopped, because I half expected there to be something terrifying behind the door. But that’s when I heard the rustling of robes. Like a monk walking towards me, through the basement.
That sound, even if I convinced myself it was my imagination, forced my hand. I turned the handle of the door, and shut it behind me. I breathed a sigh of relief when nothing tried to open the door behind me. But now I had the tunnels to face.
Ahead of me was a straight, narrow cement tunnel. It was completely bare of anything except for light bulbs and wires hanging from the ceiling. It was dark in some spots, and light in others. It was quite terrifying to look upon, really. But there was nothing in this old house! Nothing! There couldn’t be!
I walked along quickly, taking a few pictures along the way, and I was nearly to the end of the tunnel when I heard a sound that chilled me to the core. It was the sound of a pop can being kicked over.
Now, I know that sounds really stupid. But that sound singlehandedly convinced me that there was something wrong with this place. I turned around, and saw nothing, once again. Until I looked down. About halfway back to the basement of the house, there was a pop can, knocked over. I was positive it hadn’t been there when I first entered the tunnel. And what’s worse was that it was a really old pop can, too. It was rusted, and the design that I could make out was practically ancient in style. My brain worked fast, and to my dismay, it concluded that these ghosts (if they exist! I countered) could, one, interact with objects, and therefore people, and two, they were following me.
I ran down the rest of the tunnel. I barely stopped to turn the light switch off, and I snapped a very hurried picture of the monks’ quarters. I didn’t bother to see what it looked like, because I could have sworn I heard a group of people praying as I left the building.
I should really head home! I thought. I was either really tired, or I had passed out completely in some corner, and this was all just a dream. Well, I sure hoped it was a dream. It all seemed very, very real, though. I could feel the earth beneath my feet, and if I reached my arm out I could feel the wall of the monks’ quarters as I leaned against it, catching my breath.
But I was so close to winning the bet! But does the bet matter that much? I asked myself. Well, no, not really. What, so I lose cookies for a week or two. So? If this is all real, I got some pretty good trick-of-the-light photos. Those would easily make up for the cookies.
Then I heard growling. Deep-throated, animalistic growling. But there was a wall behind me! Where could it be coming from? I turned to my left, and saw nothing. I turned to my right, and saw noth- no. There was something, way out by the woods. I saw a figure move, I swear! I could feel my heart beat faster as the shadow returned to darkness. I would have to run over that way eventually to reach my bike, though.
No! There was nothing there! This was crazy! Now I really was seeing things! I could still finish this, though. I just have to visit Old Man Peabody! I thought. If I touched his coffin, maybe it will all go away! So, thinking this, I ran towards the chapel at the far end of the lake, away from the house and the monks’ quarters. I ran as fast as my legs would carry me.
It was a good one-hundred yard sprint at least, maybe more, to the chapel. I had never run so fast in my life. Now, though, as I calmed down, I wasn’t even sure why I was running. Sure, I heard some things, and saw a shadow move, snapped some pictures, but that was all part of my imagination! Right? RIGHT?
I sprinted to the chapel. I was right there! RIGHT THERE! I was by the door when I decided to take a breather. I was running from nothing. There was nothing here at all except for an old house and a pond. I was sure of it now; there was nothing scary about this place. But then I heard the footsteps.
They were quiet, treading silently, much quieter than they should have been, for a man that big. I turned, half knowing what I would see, but dreading it all the same. My fear overcame me as the dog leapt at my throat. I tried to scream, but the weight of the dog on my chest as it knocked me over cut out the sound. Then it bit into my throat, cutting my windpipe and spilling my blood on the ground. I felt nothing. I said nothing. I did nothing. The last thing I saw, though, before everything went dark, was a very large man in a monk’s habit, with the hood pulled over his head. But there were no guards on the Estate! Not anymore! There hadn’t been for over twenty-five years! This was… This was… imp… imposs…
I don’t quite recall what happened after that. I know I woke up, exactly where the dog had pushed me over, but now the sun was shining and someone was telling me “In God’s name, get up or I’ll call the cops!” My eye flickered open, and I saw a forest preserve ranger standing over me, a scowl on his face. He offered me his hand, and then yanked me up forcefully. He had short, black curly hair on his head, but very little facial hair. He was easily half a foot taller than me, maybe more.
“Do you know how much trouble you should be in? I know why you’re here. Try to spot some ghosts, would you? Pf, haven’t seen ghosts here in a long time. Not since… Well, not for ten years, now. But that’s none of your business. Ghosts don’t exist. But you know what does exist? Cops. And your parents. And let me tell you…” The park ranger rambled on for a bit about how my parents ought to chew me out over this and he could report me to the authorities. I zoned out while he talked, mostly, but finally he said, “Well? You have anything to say for yourself?”
I did, actually. “Will you let me off the hook if I show you some real ghosts?”
The man took a step back. “Are you crazy? Did you not hear what I just said? Ghosts aren’t real! What, you’re trying to convince me that you had a right to be here after hours?”
I shrugged. “My friends made me come here on a bet. They bet I couldn’t stay here overnight, but if I did, I had to get pictures to prove it.” I widened my eyes for effect. “But boy, did I get some great pictures! I’ve got proof of ghosts!”
The ranger rubbed his stubble in thought. “You’re either delusional from thirst or you’re just seeing things.” He seemed to change his mind, then, and he stopped rubbing his face. “You know what? Let me see these pictures. Then I’ll make up my mind.”
I gleefully, maybe a little too gleefully, pulled my camera out of my pocket and hurriedly flipped to the pictures I had taken. The man looked at them and sighed.
“You got yourself a faulty camera, man,” he said to me with a hint of disdain. My eyebrow twitched quietly at what I saw, and I nearly dropped my camera. All my pictures were white.
Not like the white you get from overexposure or too much flash or something, but white as in photographed-some-paper white. Blank. Not a change anywhere to be found. Of every picture I took of the house.
I knew for a fact that those pictures had turned out perfectly fine when I took them. Heck, I checked half of them over myself after I took them! How could they possibly be whi-
I nearly jumped out of my skin when I heard the child’s laughter. I looked past the park ranger, towards Peabody’s house, and saw, through the glass door, a small child, waving at me. He smiled a ridiculously large grin, and then turned away, into the house. Was it just coincidence, or could it have been…
“Hey, what time does the park open?” I asked.
“Nine o’clock. Why?” the ranger responded.
“What time is it now?” I asked.
The ranger checked his watch. “Seven thirty. What, you got a hot date or something?”
Great. So all my pictures were crap, I would lose the bet, and to top it off, even if I told the truth, nobody, absolutely nobody, would believe. Except that kid in the window.
I almost swore aloud.
Credit To – Andrew Sova