Bunny here at the keyboard to share a ghost story with you on this fine All Hallow’s Eve.
There are a lot of colleges and universities that are famous, sometimes around the world. This isn’t a story about one of those colleges, but it is a true story about a college that used to exist long ago. Beware, this tale will give you chills, so young puppies, proceed with caution. I will give you the tale of haunted Jubilee College, a place that we have actually visited.
So, here’s the story…
In 1834, Philander Chase arrived in Peoria, Illinois. Back then, most of the area was vast prairie land. Peoria was just a small settlement with about 80 houses and there was only one church, St. Jude’s Church. There were four to five hundred people living in the area.
Philander Chase was the first Episcopal minister in Illinois and he was 60 years old. While he’d been a minister in Ohio, he’d gone to Europe and raised $30,000 to start a seminary twenty years earlier. When he was appointed to the Episcopate of Illinois, he went back to England where one of his patrons gave him the money he needed to start a college in Illinois. It was his dream to help educate young men and women as well as strengthen their faith.
Mr. Chase built a log house called Robin’s Nest out in the country for his school. He wanted it far from the city so the students would not be tempted by the sins and vice of city life. It also allowed him to maintain strict control over his school. By 1838, he’d purchased 2,500 acres of land for the new college. He named it Jubilee College in honor of God, who he felt had helped him through his struggles in Ohio. By 1841, there was a schoolroom and chapel standing on the top of Jubilee Hill, a mile from Robin’s Nest. There was a dormitory over the schoolroom and a balcony in the chapel. Workers hauled lime, stone, sand, and other building materials in with the help of oxen.
He was a bit unusual in that he embraced life on the frontier. He often criticized others who he felt were lazy or didn’t help out financially when he felt that they were able to do so. At that time, members of the clergy were discouraged from doing menial or physical labor, but Mr. Chase often did so. He admitted that he did jobs that clergymen in the East would never dream of doing, but he felt that it was the right and necessary thing to do. He was a large man often seen around the college in his skullcap and clergy robes.
The college became its own community with sharecropping, livestock and farming bringing in revenue. It also had a sawmill, a print shop and a grain mill. These things all helped to bring in revenue so they could work on building the college. They didn’t just teach theology. There was a preparatory school that taught Greek, Latin, reading, writing and arithmetic for $100 a term as well as a finishing school for girls. It was one of the earliest educational institutions in the state of Illinois.
While all of this progress was being made on the college, Mr. Chase was suffering some personal struggles. His son, George, was known to live a wild and wanton lifestyle. He was often seen looking sad as he held a letter he’d received telling him about his son’s latest debauchery. When he wrote personal letters, he often expressed his grief and shame over his son’s behavior.
On top of his personal sadness, there were also some serious financial challenges that arose. In the early 1840s, hoof-and-mouth disease killed almost all of the livestock. The Kickapoo Creek also flooded, taking out almost all of the crops. On top of that, the grain mill burned down. Most of the revenue for the year was gone. On top of that, other educational institutions began to open and the competition drew away a lot of their students.
By the end of his life, Philander Chase had to face the fact that his big dream hadn’t come to fruition. His peers in the east had managed to set up thriving educational institutions, but Jubilee College was struggling. In 1852, there was an accident where the horses pulling his carriage bolted and he was pulled to the ground. He was taken back to his room at the college, but he never recovered and died there a few days later. In 1857, the west wing dormitory was destroyed by fire. 1860 was the start of the Civil War and Mr. Chase’s financial supporters on New Orleans and Charleston stopped sending money as they supported the war effort. In 1862, the college closed its doors for good.
The college still stands and was part of the Illinois State Park system, but they shut it down a few years ago. They used to hold a Renaissance Fair there that my humans went to a few times, but now, it’s rare that the college grounds are open to the public. We have gone hiking there and we’ve gone to see the cemetery there, but we couldn’t get in for pictures.
They say the college is haunted in several places. The entire grounds have a sad and austere quality to them. We can attest to that. Even on a sunny day, the college seems like a depressing place. Many people have reported feeling cold spots at various spots in the college that appear for no reason. People used to often look up at the second story of the college and see a man in dark robes and a tight cap looking down at them with a sad face. When they’d look back, the man would be gone.
If you go through the cemetery, fog rises from the grave site of Philander Chase and dissipates into the sunlight on a clear day. It seems that even in death, his spirit can’t find the happiness of the sunshine. He is buried in God’s Acre Cemetery there on the college grounds.
Perhaps the most haunting part of all is how even the building is fading into the ether as time goes by. There’s no money to provide upkeep for it anymore and it seems that it may simply fade back into the prairie that it was built from. When you walk through the grounds, it’s hard to believe that it was once a thriving community, but the graves in the cemetery tell other sad tales. We remember seeing a section of children’s graves who all seemed to have died at the same time, probably from some illness. The longer that time marches on, the farther back into the mists of history they’ll all fade away.
It’s a lovely place to hike and we can only hope that it continues to be preserved. Biking groups take care of the grounds now and maintain the trails. On occasion, they open the grounds of the college for people to go in and look, but it’s not open very often. We consider ourselves lucky that we’ve been able to see it.