Marshall County

1940 Stories from Illinois History


On a summer day in 1878 an argument arose in a small Illinois community over the source of the Illinois River, "which sweeps past our town." According to historical research workers, the editor of the Lacon Home Journal, who was present at the discussion, took pains to look up the matter and published his findings,

"The Illinois," he wrote, "is formed by the union of the Kankakee and Des Plaines rivers at Dresden . . . The Des Plaines, or Aux Plains, the Indian appellation of which is She-shik-mah-o, rises in southwest Wisconsin, and is about 150 miles long. The Kankakee rises in northern Indiana. . . . At Ottawa the Fox empties into the Illinois, which further along receives the Vermilion, the Spoon, Mackinaw and the Sangamon."

Having thus settled the question, the editor then supplied his readers with some miscellaneous geographical and historical data about the Illinois, explaining that although most of his readers knew these facts, "others will be glad to have their memory refreshed."


Illinois has its share of "haunted house" stories but accounts of haunted bridges are rare. At Henry, residents still tell of a nearby bridge that townsfolk avoided for many years.

A citizen of Henry coming home one night in a somewhat merry but sleepy mood, it is related, stopped to rest on the river bank underneath the bridge over Cow Creek. About midnight a party of young people paused nearby to chat. The talk turned to ghost stories. After one especially gruesome tale, the lone citizen shouted, "It's all imagination!"

The terrified youths, panic stricken, ran home and the next day spread the word that the bridge was haunted. Their story was so convincing, it is said, that for years some townspeople would go miles out of their way to avoid crossing the bridge at night.


Back in 1897, a unique oil strike in Illinois at Varna, Marshall County, struck terror to the citizens. A newspaper writer reported that "water from the town well has tasted of oil for some time and it was thought that someone had thrown kerosene into it." When a resident who was determined to clean out the well lowered a lantern into it, a gas explosion blew the platform and pump from their foundations and shook the whole place.

Extracted 23 Oct 2019 by Norma Hass from Stories from Illinois History, compiled by the Workers of the Writers' Program of the Work Projects Administration in the State of Illinois, published in 1940, pages 64, 69, and 76.

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