Central Illinois Paranormal Association

Bringing the things that go bump in the night into the light of day...

Grape Creek, Illinois

        The small town of Grape Creek, IL, located about 6 miles south of Danville, was incorporated in 1890 and is subject to a number of ghost stories, many of which are associated with the wilderness bordering the town and among the few winding roadways that tie this rural community to the rest of the world.

      The most popular sightings seem to be ghost lights that appear in the distance and approach unsuspecting onlookers.   There have also been a number of reports indicating apparitions that lurk about the wooded areas.  But why Grape Creek?  Why such a small town seemingly in the middle of nowhere?  Perhaps the answer lies not in the happenings of today, but events that occurred many years ago.

      Grape Creek was named after an adjacent winding stream that was lined with wild grape vines.  It was an area rich with coal deposits, which led to the area’s first and foremost industry - coal mining.  Once the first settlers arrived and the mines were opened, Grape Creek became a boom town of sorts and the population began to grow. 

      Along with coal mining, Grape Creek had also become known for its wheat and flower mill just outside of town,  and a road-grade brick foundry that became renowned nation wide for its quality product.

      Grape Creek stands along what was once the north-south route for the Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad (C&EI). In May of 1894, workers from Chicago-based rail car producer Pullman Palace Car Company conducted a major walk-out and went on strike to protest  pay cuts and hazardous working conditions.  Pullman workers appealed to and received backing from the American Railway Union (ARU), which in turn announced that beginning June 26th  of that year, ARU members would no longer operate trains that included Pullman produced rail cars. 

      The strike led to lock-outs and over 100,000 railroad workers from nearly 30 railroad companies to quit their jobs rather than operate trains that included Pullman rail cars.  With no other option, the rail companies began to hire non-union workers, and it was not uncommon for those crossing picket lines to be threatened or even attacked. 

       Though most of the problems during the Pullman Strike were relegated to the Chicagoland area, several downstate unions, including Grape Creek area mine workers, backed the strike.  Local union members would assemble picket lines at various depots and junctions along local railroad routes. Some union members even went as far as blocking the paths of  passing trains by building makeshift barricades or even standing en masse across the tracks.

       In the late morning hours of July 9th word had been sent that a mob was at Grape Creek blocking the path of a northbound C&EI passenger train bound from Shelbyville.   Two companies of National Guardsmen from Decatur and Champaign were dispatched to handle the crowd and get the train moving again.   Upon their arrival, however, the crowd became hostile, gunfire erupted and within a matter of minutes three people were dead.

      The militia members claimed they were fired upon first, but striking union member's accounts were of the contrary.  Among the dead was union member Jonah James.  He was shot and killed when a group of union members confronted the Guardsmen.  The two others killed during the siege of violence were innocent bystanders struck by stray bullets.  The first was a 62-year-old Mary Glennon, who was struck down while in front of her residence, a short distance away from the violence.  The other was 15-year-old Clara James, coincidentally the daughter of slain union member Jonah James.  She was killed while in the privacy of her own home.

       Though that pulse of violence ended rather quickly, it wasn’t the end for C&EI’s troubles in Vermilion county that day.  Later in the evening, a C&EI freight train from Terre Haute, Indiana made a stop at the Danville Junction.  A fairly sizable crowd awaited its arrival, and trouble began almost immediately. 

      When non-union brakeman H.M. Zanley stepped off the train, he was quickly surrounded by strikers who verbally assaulted him.  Within minutes Zanley lay dead on the ground - the result of a bullet wound to the neck.  Those in attendance claimed Zanley fired three shots into the crowd before the fatal shot was returned, but there was no evidence to support this accusation.

      No one was ever arrested or charged for any of those killed that day.

         Most of the unfortunate occurrences throughout the existence of Grape Creek center around the local coal mines.   By 1907, Vermilion County alone played host to fifty-nine mines, five of which were located in and around Grape Creek.

      By that time the number of mining workers killed as the result of their hazardous occupation averaged about ten per year throughout the county, most the result of cave-ins and falling rock.      

      The mines at Grape Creek were certainly no exception.  During the nearly seventy years the coal mines were in operation, numerous workers were lost as the result of various accidents. Often times multiple workers were killed during the same incident.

      Grape Creek thrived, though on varying levels of success, until the later part of the 1960’s when the coal mines became dry and the railroad changed its route.

      The tracks of the old C&EI railroad are long gone today, though remnants can be seen in the terrain at various locations.  In fact, an aerial view of the area reveals the scars of the old C&EI route, and can be followed as far north as Danville.

      Modern day Grape Creek is by no means viewed as an unsuccessful village.  There are still many residents who are proud to call Grape Creek home.  It just so happens that those residents include the living and the dead.

      Are the spirits that are believed to roam the countryside surrounding this community any number of the workers killed in the mines?  Could they include any of the three killed by the military during the coal mine strike?  Perhaps, but one thing is for sure, there are many in the area who know something is out there and what ever it is is not afraid to make itself known.

 

Sources:

History of Vermilion County by Lottie E Jones (1911)

Annual Coal Report of The Illinois Bureau of Labor Statistics (varied yearly reports)

New York Times

Personal Interviews

 

 

 

 


Do these woods harbor spirits of the past?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Though many view this as the current state of Grape Creek, the truth is quite the contrary.