According to one tale from Jacksonville's colorful past, a gambler caught cheating at cards was lynched one night, his body left dangling from a noose on the front porch of the historic John Miller House.
Subsequent visitors to the house have reported odd incidents, such as footsteps heard in empty hallways and doors opening and closing when no one is there. A housekeeper who visits the home with her dog says his behavior changes.
"Her dog will stay by her side with his hackles raised, staring at the front door," says Carolyn Kingsnorth, president of Historic Jacksonville, Inc.
Docents costumed in Victorian dress will share tales of eerie events along with stories about the untimely deaths of early residents during the Jacksonville Haunted History Tours. The hour-long walking tours around town leave at 7 p.m. and again at 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 8, from the Jacksonville Visitors Center on the corner of North Oregon and C Streets.
The cost is $5 per person, with profits going toward Historic Jacksonville, Inc.'s historic preservation efforts. Due to the limited numbers of people allowed on each tour, registration is highly recommended. Call 541-245-3650 or email email@example.com.
The tours will repeat Friday, Aug. 12, and again in September and October, with dates for those months still to be determined.
Kingsnorth says the tours are both entertaining and educational. Rather than having people dressed as ghosts or zombies jumping out to scare people, the tours focus on storytelling and history.
"Our mission is to bring history alive," she says. "So many of us were taught growing up that history is names, dates and battles that you regurgitate to pass the test. That's not what history is about. It's about people's stories."
Tales from the tour will delve into Jacksonville's sordid past as well tragic events.
Jacksonville's fire station stands on the site of what was ostensibly a Chinese hotel. The hotel was actually a front for a brothel and opium den.
A woman named Laura White who worked in the brothel had likely been addicted to opium since her teenage years. She was reportedly purchased by Chinese hotel owner Jim Ling for $200 in San Fransisco and brought to Jacksonville to work as a prostitute.
The situation for White took an even more tragic turn when Ling stabbed her to death.
"He was convinced she was not turning over all the money she earned," Kingsnorth says.
The tour will also take in the locations of businesses run by legitimate Chinese entrepreneurs, as well as the shops and homes of settlers with European ancestry. One bustling business was the saw mill, factory and furniture shop of David Linn — who build houses and furniture, as well as selling adult-size coffins for $20 and child-size coffins for $10.
With no vaccinations or antibiotics available in the 1800s in Jacksonville, children and adults often fell victim to the ravages of infectious diseases. People living at locations along the tour route were struck by everything from small pox to tuberculosis.
The family of Herman von Helms, who ran a billiard saloon, was one of those hardest hit by tragedy. The family lived in the Italianate-style Helms House on the corner of South Oregon and Pine Streets.
Herman and his wife, Augusta, had nine children, but only five survived. Three daughters died in typhoid epidemics and another of their daughters was murdered by her estranged husband.
One of the daughters killed by typhoid fever was 22-month-old Minnie, who was buried beneath the front lawn of the house. When the original house was expanded over her grave site, her body was relocated to the Jacksonville cemetery.
"The ghost of Mrs. Helms has been reported walking the halls, weeping for her children," Kingsnorth says.
She says over the years tales of apparitions, glowing light orbs, objects moving from place to place and inexplicable smells and sounds have been reported all over Jacksonville.
Asked if she herself believes in ghosts, Kingsnorth responds,“Well, I have had a couple of experiences that I would put in the ‘woo-woo’ category. And science tells us that energy can be transformed into matter and matter can be transformed into energy. Most memories are associated with emotions, and I can certainly see where an event that generated strong emotions in a person’s life could transform into a lingering energy that might manifest as an essence or a spirit. And perhaps if the emotion was strong enough or the event was life-changing, the energy could even create an apparition.”
For more information, visit www.historicjacksonville.org.