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by David Youngquist, guest contributor  [June 3, 2013]





[]  The ice ages that flattened most of Illinois left behind more than fertile soil in their retreat -- rocks of all sizes and shapes. For years they clattered against plows, were dug up in the construction of roads, or were grazed around by livestock. On occasion, erosion exposes huge slabs that must be dealt with for human endeavors to progress.



One such vein of rock, Saint Peter Sandstone, was exposed between Utica and LaSalle. How far into the earth it descends is a mystery. When builders from the Illinois and Michigan Canal came to the sandstone cliff, they assumed the canal could be rerouted. They assumed wrong. The cliff was too massive. The farm ground too soft to support a canal bed.

The engineers decided to go through the rock and continue on the original path. Months of drilling and blasting carved a notch through the sandstone. A tunnel was drilled through the south side of the rock, to allow cranes and equipment to be brought into the canal bed more easily.

Split Rock is a landmark today. The tunnel is open to anyone brave enough to crawl into it. Such as Jim Hanson.

Jim was on a Saturday fishing trip with his buddy Ray Watts, and their girlfriends, Jill and Tammy. Jim, being from Bettendorf, Iowa, wasn't familiar with the area. The other three had been to Split Rock a number of times.

They parked in Utica and hiked down to the canal. It was a nice spring day, with leaves starting to bud on the trees. Ahead of them, Split Rock reared up out of the ground like a silent sentinel.

"Cool," Jim said. "I wonder if you can climb up on it?"

"Sandstone," said Tammy, dropping her gear on the trail. "It's crumbly and slick. Seems like every year someone breaks his neck trying to climb it."

"Makes you realize how tough them old Irish boys were," said Ray. "Dig this ditch by hand, then blast through this rock."

They set up their poles and wet their lines. The fish were biting after their long winter fast. Soon their basket was brimming with fish. The four hikers took a break.

Jim ran his hand around the smooth edge of the tunnel's mouth.

"Creepy place," said Jill.

"Oh, please!" Jim snorted. "Nothin' in there that shouldn't be. Just bats and other animals."

Tammy shivered in the warm spring sun. "Bats are enough to keep me out."

"Some say it’s haunted." Ray stood at the entrance, thumbs hooked in his jeans' front pockets.

Jim chuckled. "Haunted by what? Skunks?"

"Don’t know," said Ray. "I've never been in it."

“You guys lived here all your lives, and you've never been in that thing?"

All three nodded.

"Well, I'm going in." Jim rummaged in his tackle box and brought out a flashlight. With a grin and a wink, he stepped into the darkness.

"Jim, get out of there," Tammy said.

"You come in."



With a frustrated sigh, Tammy stepped inside. Ray and Jill followed. The four poked around for a few minutes. They found the normal detritus of nearly two hundred years: broken tools, rusted beer cans, cigarette butts. Tucked in one corner was a pair of panties some girl had lost. Tammy and Jill wondered how anyone could fool around in such a place.

Jim shined his light onto the ceiling. Bats clung to the sandstone and fluttered nervously as the beam touched them. Some scattered from their perches to fly about the tunnel.

"Come on." said Tammy. "Let's get out of here now."

"Yeah, okay." Jim swung the flashlight beam back the way they had entered. It fell on the form of a man. With a gasp, everyone jumped. They had thought they were alone in the tunnel.

"You scared us, Mister," said Ray.

The man didn't move. He stood there staring into the light. He didn't lift a hand. On his head was an old-fashioned derby, with a tattered silk band, and chunks missing from the brim. He wore a faded flannel shirt. His pants were brown canvas, held up by a pair of thick suspenders.

"You okay, Mister?" asked Jim.

The man didn't move. He whispered, "Fire in the hole."

"What?" said Tammy.

"Fire in the hole," the man repeated. He opened wide his mouth -- and screamed!

His voice rose like a fire whistle. One long note that never wavered in pitch. The couples covered their ears, vainly trying to block the pain. Then the man exploded in a flash of light! They saw his body torn apart by a blast. They expected to be hit by body parts -- but the man simply vanished!

They looked at one another for a split second. Jill crossed herself.

"Christ on the cross," Jim whispered.

They raced for the mouth of the tunnel. They packed their gear, collected the fish, and ran back down the canal to their car.

Jim threw his gear in the back of the truck. "Guess the place is haunted."

"I think you could say that," Tammy agreed.

"You guys ever seen anything like that before?" Jill asked.

Everyone shook their heads. They climbed into the truck and headed home. They would fish the canal again, but they had seen all they wanted to of the tunnel.


The above true ghost story is excerpted from David Youngquist's Ghosts of the Illinois Canal System.

"This is my second book on ghosts," says Youngquist. "Many of these stories have not been heard outside of family members or close friends. Others have gotten to be well known in the community.

"When I talk to folks about this subject, they ask me if I believe in ghosts. I do. I have had too many personal experiences with them not too. Some of these first hand experiences are in this book".


Copyright 2013 by David Youngquist.

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