What makes you weird enough to put Weird Illinois together?
A lifetime of being “weird” — I have always been fascinated with this kind of stuff and while most people only know of my obsession with ghosts, hauntings and history, I have long been collecting the strange and unusual as well. Most people grow out of this sort of thing when they are still kids but I have simply never grown up. I have long stated that I have the heart of a young boy — in a jar that I keep on my desk!
Is this book only about ghosts and haunted locales in Illinois?
Not at all — there are chapters on ghost stories and plenty of sections in the “Cemetery Safari” chapter that deals with haunted graveyards but really this book was sort of a breath of fresh air for me. After writing 34 books on ghosts (and my next one coming out in June), I was ready to do something really entertaining and irrelevant that would still appeal to those who like my other books.
What was one of your favorite Illinois entries from the book?
Truthfully, one of the funniest stories is the two-story outhouse in Gays, Illinois. I mean, who in their right mind would want to use the downstairs of a two-story outhouse? It’s a great story about how this place came to be and definitely one of the weirdest. Aside from that, I have always been fascinated with Vishnu Springs, the abandoned town in western Illinois. It was a short-lived utopian community that was centered around this healing spring. It died many years ago but parts of the town, including the old hotel, still remain. It’s also a haunted spot, which gave it an added appeal to me.
Did you get to meet some weird people in doing your research for this book?
After meeting scores of ghost hunters over the years, my bar is set pretty high on who is weird and who isn’t! Seriously though, I did meet some strange folks and the guy who collects sandwiches that are half-eaten by celebrities is pretty high on the list.
What do you think draws people to the weird and strange — especially the weird and strange that may be very close to their own backyards?
People are fascinated with just about anything that takes them away from their mundane life. They love to travel around and see anything that gets them out of their living room. When it’s close to home, that’s even better.
What’s your favorite junk food?
Chips Ahoy cookies — can’t get enough of them!
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