Whether you believe in ghosts or are just along for the fun, Jo Daviess County is a great place to put your beliefs (and courage) to the test. The ghost tales are legendary, and there’s a reason for that.
Galena’s first documented “sightings” go back to the 1800s, when actual ghost stories were published in the local newspapers. Local historian Steve Repp, who also leads All About a Ghost tours in downtown Galena, told us, “Galena definitely has history with a little mystery.” Steve also helps run the historic archives room at the public library. It’s a great way to get your feet wet with stories of the county's hauntings.
Amelia Wilson-Roth of Amelia’s Ghost Tours has also matched up the stories with history. “I’ve spent days thumbing through the microfiche. The farthest back I can remember was in the late 1800s. I believe it was on Bench Street, across from Turner Hall. Very old homes are there so it doesn’t surprise me a bit. The story printed said a woman saw a black figure come to her window and apparently this wasn’t the first sighting.”
Other legends have also been told through the years. “Definitely several stories have been passed down like the Ably House murders in nearby Council Hill and the Lady in Black at the DeSoto House Hotel,” said Amelia. “That story has been told for over a hundred years.”
The Lady in Black is said to haunt the DeSoto House in downtown Galena. This popular tale gained notoriety when Galena had a flood a few years back. As they tore down the plaster for the first time in over 100 years to make repairs, a doorway was discovered behind a wall that the Lady in Black had been rumored to “walk" through. The DeSoto House kept the doorway open and is on display, covered with Plexiglas, for you to check out.
There’s also proof of the Lady in Black. “One of our guests caught a picture of her - a full apparition - and it is one of the best pictures I have ever seen that matched the story at the same time,” said Amelia. She has it on display at her store on Main Street. Check it out and while you’re at it, book a tour and see if you have any luck with the Lady in Black.
Almost nightly, people on our tours get a picture or something comes through on the dowsing rods. We do not guarantee anything because we are not faking anything… but a majority of the time, something happens,” says Amelia
“When you find evidence that matches a story you already had or vice versa,” Amelia said, “Or you go back to the files because you get a name on the SP7- which is a voice box that ghosts can actually speak through… and when you get a name so clearly that the whole group heard it and you can go back and match it up to someone that lived in the house, that’s the part that I love.”
Amelia’s Galena Ghost Tours and All About a Ghost Tours are great ways to tap into stories of Galena’s other side. Some of the top paranormal locations with unexplained experiences are: the Ryan Mansion, and the DeSoto House Hotel, One Eleven Main (located in Illinois’ first funeral home), Turner Hall, the Farmers' Guest House, and Vinny Vanucchi's. But there’s paranormal activity outside of Galena too. The Indian burial grounds, Effigy Mounds, Casper Bluff, and the old County Poor Farm to name just a few.
“I think TV gets it so pumped up that it’s this negative, demonic [experience]. I don’t believe in that at all. I believe that we’re just telling people’s story from when they lived, what they did, what their presence was, and what they left behind.”
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