Spirits lingering in suburban haunts
Spirits lingering in suburban haunts
October 16, 2009
By Amanda Marrazzo
Some believe Gertrude Ludford Shopen roams freely about the opulent five-bedroom Victorian on Hill Avenue in Elgin, reorganizing artwork and surprising male visitors, even though she has been dead since June 26, 1903.
As the air chills, the leaves fall and Halloween approaches, ghost activity is at its highest because the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest, said Greg Stout, a partner in Elgin Paranormal Investigators, a group of self-proclaimed skeptics who use audio and video equipment to investigate suspicious activity.
Though the investigators did not investigate the home on Hill Avenue, they have investigated about 20 homes in Elgin, South Elgin, Rockford and Wisconsin.
Stout said ghost activity often is reported in older houses because more people have lived there. The more people who have lived in a home, he said, the more likely it is that energy was left behind and attached itself. Elgin, known for its century-old homes and historic neighborhoods, is ripe for such activity, experts said.
On Hill Avenue, homeowner Catherine McDonald said she welcomes her playful roommate, Shopen.
"If guys are around she usually comes out," she said. "She is very flirtatious."
McDonald said Shopen makes herself known by walking up and down hallways in the middle of the night, repeatedly opening a closet door at the end of the staircase, taking artwork off the wall in the middle of the night and stacking the pieces neatly on the landing.
Skeptics argue that spooky incidents can be easily explained. Strange noises and creaks are heard in every aging home. Items moving from one spot to another are simply misplaced by the homeowner. Glimpses of shadowy figures or the sound of voices are tricks of the imagination.
McDonald said the walls of her house are plaster and each time the pictures have been moved, the nails were intact with no evidence of the plaster cracking, she said. One time, McDonald said, she and a friend witnessed a picture literally fly off the wall. McDonald figures Shopen simply doesn't like the way she arranges artwork.
Born in 1879, Shopen was married to Frank Shopen, a Kane County judge. She is said to have been a beautiful woman 10 years his junior. The socialite couple met while she worked for him as a secretary. The couple's doings were mentioned frequently in society pages of the local newspapers, and the building of their lavish home was well-documented. She died unexpectedly at age 24 in a home on Chicago Street in Elgin about two months before she would have moved into the home on Hill Avenue. She is buried at Bluff City Cemetery in Elgin.
"I believe in reincarnation, and I think she may have not been done yet and has not yet chosen to move into a new life, and is just hanging around here," McDonald said.
Mary Aguilar "met" one of the spirits who lives in her two-story house built in 1885 on Gifford Street when she was looking with a real estate agent at the home that was built for employees of the Elgin Watch Factory, she said.
"One of the windows slammed in the living room and (the real estate agent) almost jumped out of her skin, and I just laughed," Aguilar said. "I thought it was just this little boy spirit playing around, and I felt I was supposed to live there."
Aguilar invited paranormal investigators to her house and, she said, they confirmed the spirit of a 10-year-old boy was in the house. They also believed she is living with two female spirits, former owners of the house.
"Right after I moved in, I heard a voice upstairs in my bedroom saying, 'God bless all of you,' " Aguilar said. "It is very strange to hear that when I just live with cats. It was very audible, like somebody was standing in the staircase."
In October 2007, Elgin Paranormal Investigators inspected Aguilar's home and with video cameras captured unexplained lights moving around the house, Aguilar and investigators said.
"We entered into a room in the back of her basement and got a strong old-time, musky cologne smell," said Mike Rohr, co-founder of Elgin Paranormal Investigators, which does not solicit business or charge for investigative services. "We couldn't explain where it was coming from. None of us wears cologne."
Rohr said his audio and video recordings have captured voices and quick-moving "shadow people" on film in various places. Investigator Dave Umbach said that while investigating a house in South Elgin, something or someone tugged at his shirt. When Stout entered that same home he heard a voice say, "Greg is here." Stout also said that he heard a voice say, "Meet me downhill."
Investigators said that while alleged spirits can be unnerving, there is nothing to fear.
"The spirit is not trying to hurt you; it is just trying to get your attention," Rohr said.