Naperthrill—Seeking out the biggest scares in haunted Chicagoland

October 2017 View more

All Hallows Eve photo courtesy Naper Settlement,

October is all about confronting our greatest fears.

For parents, those fears may come in the form of the realization that, having not worked with enough of a seasonal lead time back in July or August, the must-have costume of the year is now long-gone from retailers’ shelves. For kids, it may be the rough calculation that there simply aren’t enough hours in the designated trick-or-treat window to build up a stockpile of sugar sufficient enough to hold out until the next major candy-harvesting period in late December.      

For many, however, October is all about embracing the darkness of ghosts, goblins and the undead, for taking a holiday from the comfortable and safe world of everyday life to willingly indulge their deepest feelings of dread and terror—all in the name of good fun, of course.

The afterlife

“People are curious about why we’re here and whether there’s something afterward,” explains Kevin Frantz, a historian, author and paranormal investigator who leads groups to some of the city’s most notorious sites on his Ghost Tour of Naperville. “Ghost stories are just one way that people try to find some sort of footing in those questions, and very few towns have the number of fascinating true tales that Naperville does. This tour is an easily accessible experience to help show us that there’s more to the world than what we see with our eyes.”

Diane Ladley agrees that those signing up for the Naperville tours offered by her company Haunted Hometowns are looking for a safe, accessible environment in which to satisfy their curiosity and enjoy a controlled thrill.

“People love to be scared,” she says. “Fear feels good when we know we’re under safe conditions, and our fear is deliciously heightened when we learn that there are scary ghosts lurking right in our own backyards. Every town has its own unique ghost stories, and Naperville is no different—it just takes time, patience and a passion for the topic to discover them.”

With decades of research and storytelling under each of their respective belts, both Frantz and Ladley count themselves among those with the patience and passion to seek out those haunted tales of Naperville’s past. Frantz has found over the years that the stories with which tour guests have most connected are those that not only spin a good yarn, but also have the backing of multiple witnesses, years of folklore or a host of difficult-to-explain phenomena.

Paranormal pride

Among these are the haunting of Central Park by the ghost of convicted murderer Patrick Doyle (who was hanged in 1863), the tale of grave robber Charles Hillegas (who dug up his wife and brought her back home in 1912), and the oft-reported phantom horse clops on the streets surrounding Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church that punctuate the sad story of a stood-up bride. Ladley, too, has found that certain stories have particular resonance for her audiences, most notably the Loomis Street train disaster of 1946, with the ghosts of those victims said to still haunt the area around East 4th Avenue where their bodies were laid out. Reactions to these stories range from the true believers—who cover their ears when things get a little too intense—to the skeptics who mostly seem to be along for an evening of tall-tale entertainment.

“People respond in all different ways,” Frantz says. “Some people are really freaked out by what they’re hearing, while others are rolling their eyes. It runs the gamut.”

Regardless of their level of belief or the particular story they favor, however, almost all of these amateur ghost hunters tend to have one thing in common, Ladley says: a curiosity about the unknown and a desire to get up close and personal with their fears at the spookiest time of the year. “The favorite emotion I like to see in my tour guests is that breathless moment of silence right after a good story, when the ice creeps up their spines and raises the tiny hairs on the back of their necks.”

All Hallows Eve at Naper Settlement,

October Itinescary
Looking to get your thrills in and around Naperville during this sinister season? Pack your courage—and maybe an extra pair of underwear—and head out into the night (or afternoon) for one of these terrifically terrifying temptations.

The Ghost Tour of Naperville
If you think searching for a parking spot is the scariest thing about downtown Naperville, wait until you hear the chilling true tales of paranormal investigator Kevin Frantz, as he leads thrill-seekers (ages 16+) on a walking tour of notorious sites to reveal the chilling stories and legends of the city’s past.   

Fridays, Saturdays and select Sundays in October
Tours begin at 50 South Washington Street

Haunted Hometowns
Diane Ladley’s company also runs spooky walking tours of Aurora and Elgin, but the veteran ghost hunter says there’s just something about Naperville that really seems to attract an inordinate share of spirits (as noted on the provided EMF ghost meters)—maybe it’s the terrific school system.

Fridays and Saturdays in October
Tours begin at 43 East Jefferson Avenue

All Hallows Eve
A Victorian insane asylum? A torture dungeon? Isn’t Naper Settlement the place where they churn butter and demonstrate blacksmithing? Yes, but on one weekend in October, this living museum focuses on the dead (or nearly so) as it transforms into twelve acres of suburban scares and harrowing, history-inspired happenings.     

October 20 to 21
523 South Webster Street

Halloween on the Riverwalk
If you’re afraid of little kids, this Naperville Public Library gathering has the potential to scare the living daylights out of you; for everyone else, this family-friendly, costume-clad afternoon of songs, puppet shows and not-so-scary stories is the mild salsa of haunted activities.

October 30
Riverwalk Ampitheater