A curious smile crept across Kelly Meagher's face. She turned, and then took a few careful steps trying not to disturb the graves beneath her feet.

"She keeps yelling ‘Babushka! Babushka!' and tugging on my ear," Meagher said.

David Youngquist nodded as cold rain drops fell from the rim of his black fedora.

"She's angry," Youngquist said.

"Very angry," Meagher replied. "I think she just slapped me upside my head."

The pair of paranormal researchers followed the feeling on which both were picking up. It led them to the back of the century-old Lithuanian cemetery. Near a fence, half covered in poison ivy, fallen leaves and other wild vegetation was an unmarked, polished stone - the kind that perhaps once served as the footing of a much larger memorial.

"No wonder she's angry," Meagher said. "Look behind the fence."

On the other side, perhaps a couple hundred feet away, was a very large and obviously expensive, newly-built home.

"It must be disturbing her," Meagher said.

The Illinois Valley is a hotbed of activity for people like Youngquist and Meagher who say they are in tune with the paranormal. Its long history of Indian wars and European settlers exploring the Illinois River system has created an area rich with haunted places.

The Lithuanian Liberty Cemetery, established in 1914 in Spring Valley, is one place for such activity. A favorite among paranormal investigators, it's located north of town in a heavily-wooden area. If you drive too fast, you might just miss it.

Its featured attraction is the Massock Mausoleum that serves as the final resting place of the three Massock family brothers. Its old stone makeup and rather smaller-than-expected size is enough to give anyone the creeps.

But there are plenty of other areas that you may or may not realize could be haunted.

Esther Funk, president of the Reddick Mansion Association, has a family history with the Reddicks. The Reddicks adopted daughter is Funk's husband's great-aunt.

Funk denies whether the mansion may be haunted, although it was used in the Underground Railroad. Aside from the "unfriendly sounds" made when it rains real hard, she doesn't think there's anything paranormal with the mansion.

"People always like to say there's ghosts there but there's not," she said. "I will say this, when the heat gets going and the pipes start banging, you wonder."

The investigators

For investigators like Youngquist and Meagher, both take scientific approaches in determining what is or isn't paranormal. And they are both well aware of how some would like them to determine a place is haunted in order to gain financially.

"We do a lot of research to debunk the urban legends," Youngquist said.

Added Meagher: "I can't tell you how many times I've gone to a haunted mound or train tracks and found nothing but some unleveled ground."

Both take a scientific approach to their paranormal research. This was the first time they have worked together, and usually, when doing research, Meagher will take a third person to act as the control in the experiment - a person who knows no history of the place being explored.

"Being a biologist and history teacher, I like to have a lot more to work with," Youngquist said. "I like to debunk as much as I can until I find something that's worth investigating."

They also use equipment to determine temperature differences and electric readings to discover any abnormal fluctuations. And one such device actually got a hit in downtown La Salle, Meagher said.

The places

Stories of the Hotel Kaskaskia having paranormal activity are common among paranormal researchers. About a decade ago, Meagher and her colleagues in a paranormal investigation team visited Kaskaskia before it was purchased by the Carus Family Trust.

Meagher said the hotel has a lot of paranormal activity. She recalled a story about being hit in the lobby with a 1932 Wheat stock penny. She said in the 1930s hotel patrons sometimes tipped the workers by throwing them a penny.

"We had a lot of activity in the bar where glasses moved, and the elevator would only take us to the sublevel of the basement," Meagher said.

Just recently, while the NewsTribune was touring some places with Youngquist and Meagher, we stopped at the Kaskaskia. We could not make arrangements to go inside, but the pair said they found some activity on the second floor when Meagher's milligauss meter - a device used to measure magnetic fields - got a substantial reading.

"To me, it's some indication that some activity is in there, but it's not complete," Youngquist said.

One area he is certain is haunted is Starved Rock State Park. Almost every time he even drives by the park or walks through it he feels paranormal activity.

"There have been so many accidental deaths, suicides and murders on the rock itself and throughout its canyons that I always hear women hollering, ‘please, don't hurt us,' or catch other things when I walk through there," he said.

But some of the most stunningly haunted experiences that have happened to Meagher were in or near Ottawa.

Meagher would not offer specifics, but described when she and her team performed an exorcism on a residence in Ottawa. To protect the identities of the people who owned the home, Meagher would not provide information that might identify the residents.

"That's one of the times I came across an angry spirit," she said. "Death doesn't change you. If you were a nasty person when you were alive, you're a nasty person when you cross over."

Meagher said during the exorcism the entity pushed her around, even shoving her down a flight of stairs. She broke her ankle during the incident.

But most are innocuous enough encounters whether they are people arguing in the basement of the old First Presbyterian Church in Grand Ridge or a fantastic experience Meagher described on an often over-looked stretch of Dee Bennett Road.

When she was 18, Meagher said she was driving along Dee Bennett Road. Across from the old Half-Way House is an empty field that stretches a mile or two to a line of trees with the Illinois and Michigan Canal behind it.

Meagher said she saw thousands of spirits in this field milling about. She could see tents and teepees, various hides being dried and could smell the scent of camp fire.

"I was overcome and started to cry," she said. "I thought I was just exhausted and had no idea what I was really seeing."

Whether you believe, disbelieve, or aren't sure. You don't have to go very far to find potentially haunted places throughout the Illinois Valley. Sometimes they can be five-year old homes or 100-year-old structures and mausoleums.

What really matters says Youngquist is the age and significance of the ground. And given the history of the Illinois Valley, you don't have to go far to find a piece of historical land that just may be hanging on to some psychic energy.

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