Spooky! Lookee!

For $25 you can sign up and feel the drafts creep up your shorts, hear the ghastly moanings and croon along with some of Jacksonville’s deader spirits. It’s called Haunted Jacksonville (hauntedjacksonville.com) and they’ll soon start their fall tours of the town’s departed spirits.

Believe in such things or not, our fascination with the paranormal extends way behind Congress and why our cousins married the people they did. Jacksonville has its own ghostly gallivant and if you’re into such things, you can sign on for what will no doubt be an interesting evening with like-minded “souls.” 

But it seems a shame that we limit our ghosts to only those who’ve kicked the bucket. Judging by the current crop of personalities in Jacksonville today, I can envision some astute guide giving ghost tours some time in the future, and since it’s a good idea to do your research ahead of time, I’d make a few suggestions.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is Jacksonville’s old city hall. Listen carefully. Hear that snip, snip, snip? That’s the ghost of Andy Ezard cutting ribbons. He replaced the ghost of former city planners who turned the town square into a sterile mall before the square was opened up again.  Ezard presided over the town’s awakening. Please watch where you’re standing. Mayor Andy used to cut quite a swath around here.”

A quick trip down South Main brings them to Community Park. “This is the Ferris wheel, still here after all these years.  Yes, there’s no wind but it continues to turn slowly. Look! Up there at the top! That specter is the ghost of Jay Jamison. Late at night he climbs to the very top bucket and moans, ‘Ride my wheel! Ride my wheel!””

“Let’s move down Morton. See that building? Used to be a place called County Market. One of the best grocery stores in town before the drones started making home food deliveries. People actually walked into the store and touched the produce before they bought it. Hush! Listen! Hear that voice in the back? It’s the filmy figure of Tom Glossop walking up and down the meat section saying, ‘Fresher. . .fresher. . we’ve got to have the freshest meat in town.’ When the moon is full you can hear the thud of dated cabbages being tossed out the back door.’”

The group shuffles its ghostly way back east on Morton and the guide pauses to reflect, “This whole park once belonged to the state then town. Long ago there was a state hospital then a theatre, then eventually a park for the entire community before they built the Ginny Fanning Memorial Fun Park. You wouldn’t think a kids’ park would be haunted, but Ms. Fanning set the world record for the number of community events attended and the number of baked chicken dinners consumed. When the moon goes dark the residents of South Main have seen her ghostly figure walking back and forth across the Big Toy murmuring, ‘I need a napkin. I need a napkin.’” 

One of the ghost walk participants asks, “But what about Bruce Surratt, the former head of the parks department. From what I’ve read he made a significant contribution to the city of Jacksonville. Isn’t there some sort of shrine built to Bruce?” The guide consults her notebook. “No.”

The tour continues as the narrator points out the location of the old Steak and Shake with the elderly waitress who could handle ten tables at once while juggling a coffee pot, six orders of fries and a handful of clean ashtrays, the manager at Hardees who’d call you by name when you entered his restaurant, the ghosts of the loafers at the donut shop, and reeling off a list of names from the town’s spectral past . . . Big Boy, Sandys, Mother Tucker, Jacks, and Pizzans. 

The tour concludes at city hall where the group’s mystic mentor tells them that this was once the noisiest place in town and it takes no special hearing or ESP to pick up traces of long-past debates over new water plants, redistricting, and who gets which Boy Scout on Scout Day. The group then meanders up the square where their spirit walk began. 

A small boy in the back raises his hand, “Are all the ghosts still here?” Of course the guide’s job being dependent upon the spooks hanging around, she smiles and says, “Of course. You just have to listen.”

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About the author

Ken Bradbury is an adjunct instructor of theatre at LLLC after retiring from Triopia. He entertains on the Spirit of Peoria riverboat and is the author of over 300 published plays. Website: creativeideas.com

View all articles by Ken Bradbury

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