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Phantoms in the Looking Glass: History and Hauntings of the Illinois Prairie by Len AdamsPhantoms in the Looking Glass: History and Hauntings of the Illinois Prairie
By Len Adams
Publisher: Whitechapel Press (October 2008)
Pages: 112 – Price: $13.00 review

Len Adams has been interested in ghosts since childhood, he’s a writer and ghost tour guide who knows his way around the history and haunts of the Illinois prairie. His new book, Phantoms in the Looking Glass is a guided ghost tour of Lebanon, one of the most haunted small towns in the state. caught up with Len to ask him about his new book.

I read in Phantoms in the Looking Glass that you were interested in ghosts from a young age. I also read you had quite a nickname for your younger sister, Robin, back then. Can you tell our readers what that name is and how it came about?

Len Adams: I called my sister “Monster bait.” I would drag her down the darkened hallways to feed her to the monsters I knew were lurking in the shadows. I was so afraid of the dark that my mother swore that I could flick the switch in my room and be on the other side of the house before the light went out.

How did you make the move from just having an interest in ghosts to making them your job investigating, giving tours, lectures, and writing books?

I had been a reader of Troy Taylor’s books for years before I met him. He wrote a book called, Haunted St. Louis, and in the book Troy wrote how a violent act often spawns a haunting. To illustrate his point, he wrote about the gang wars in St. Louis history. I’m talking the old time gangsters. One of the gangs he wrote about was the old Irish gangsters, the Hogan Gang, led by Edward “Jellyroll” Hogan and his brother, James. They just happen to be my great-great uncles. I figured that Troy knew as much about my family as I did. I had to meet him.

My wife, who we’ll call Kim, because that’s her name, and I, went on an Alton Hauntings Tour led by Troy Taylor. One thing led to another, and soon, Troy and I became good friends. I made my way through the ranks of The American Ghost Society to become the vice-president of the organization.

When Troy relocated to Decatur, Illinois, he needed someone to lead the tours in Alton. He told me that I was the logical candidate as I had been doing the tour from the back of the line for years. I would just show up and be the caboose at the back of Troys’ tours, just to help out. I was honored to be asked, as the tours were his baby.

When Troy asked me to co-write a book with him, I was floored. I told him that I was a public speaker, not a writer. He told me to speak to the page. So, There I Was: More Confessions of Ghost Hunters, has been out for a little over two years and has sold over 1,500 copies. The notice from the tours and the book led to many public speaking engagements.

The Alton Hauntings Tours have continued to grow, and have spawned a spin off. I started the Haunted Lebanon Tours in Lebanon, Illinois, to showcase a small town that is near and dear to me. This led to my second book,Phantoms in the Looking Glass. This book was scary as I was going solo. The 300 copies sold in the first two weeks has taken the fear away.

In Phantoms in the Looking Glass you take your readers through your research… like walking into a store and quickly turning the conversation to ghosts. Do you have any tricks for broaching the supernatural subject when you’re not sure a person will be receptive to the topic?

What can I say? I just have the gift of gab. I start out with the normal pleasantries, such as the weather, and so forth. If the person is tired because they’ve been so busy, I bring up the fact that I’m exhausted also, from doing tours. When they ask what kind of tours I do, I let them have it. I can tell by their expression whether they like the subject or not. If they don’t, I just highlight the historical aspect and leave out the ghosts.

What is your favorite Illinois Prairie haunt?

The Mermaid House in Lebanon. Built in 1830, this structure has seen the likes of Charles Dickens, and possibly Abraham Lincoln. Furniture and books move by themselves, cold spots are also frequently encountered. On rare occasions, full figure apparitions are seen wandering from room to room. It’s my own little paranormal sandbox.

What was one of your funnier moments during an investigation?

I was with Troy Taylor and several others in Villisca, Iowa. The Villisca Ax Murder House saw eight people, six of them children, murdered in the mid 1910s. Because most of the victims were children, visitors leave toys for their tortured spirits to play with. I kept being drawn to the downstairs bedroom where the Silinger girls were killed. They had just been visiting for the night. Talk about your bad timing. About 1 AM, I entered the house alone, as the others were taking a break in the back yard. As I sat on the bed in the back room, I just started talking to the little girls. If their spirits were there, I just wanted to let them know they weren’t alone. As I turned to leave I noticed something on the dresser. Someone had left the little wooden blocks that have numbers and letters on them for the children’s ghosts to play with. The blocks on the dresser were stacked up to send a message. They spelled out, “HI LEN.” Oh sweet Jesus, I had made a connection! After carefully making sure that I had not been set up, I now pronounced myself the king of the ghost-busters for the night. My joy was short lived. About an hour later a car pulled up to the house. A young lady got out of the vehicle and bid us a good evening. While we were wondering who the hell she was, she told us that she cleaned the house for the current owners. She just wanted to know that we found everything to our liking. The young lady then told us how she felt a connection with the children in the house and how she would leave little messages, such as HI LEN, spelled out with the blocks. One of the murdered girls was named LENA, but the cleaner couldn’t find the letter A. My connection and joy were shattered. In hindsight though, it was pretty funny with the timing of the evening.

You focused your new book entirely on the Illinois town of Lebanon. Have locals embraced their ghostly reputation? Have you been banned form town since your book came out? Given the key to the city? Inquiring minds want to know.

Most of the folks in town have embraced the concept that they are not alone. I believe that many of them have had experiences for years. They now have a person to talk to who won’t make fun of them and think they’re crazy. Every now and then I get the religious zealot who tells me I’m going to hell. At least I’ll know a lot of people there.

What’s the key to giving a great ghost tour?

I believe it’s eye contact. You have to involve the folks that come to the tour. If I’m not enjoying myself and am happy to be there, they’ll know right away. I love meeting new people and sharing such rich stories with them. I believe my enthusiasm rubs off on them.

What future projects are you working on?

I approached the publisher about doing a haunted road trip book. For three weeks in May, Kim and I took a road trip through the deep south. Not only did we soak up the culture and the history, we decide to look for a few ghosts along the way. We stayed at supposedly haunted B & B’s looking for their ghosts. Not to give it away, but, be careful what you wish for! I got the living s#*t scared out of me twice.

Do you have a Halloween tradition in your family?

I love to sit with a big bowl of candy and watch scary movies till I shake from fear, or sugar.

You can visit Len Adams’s MySpace page here:

Click here to buy this book now.

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