SPOOKY STORIES: Ghost of A. Bookbinder

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In a cemetery in Bartonville, Illinois, there is a grave marked 713. These number-marked graves are not uncommon in this cemetery, once the grounds of the Peoria State Hospital. The reason? The hospital was an asylum. Patients were admitted in troubled mental states, and many were incapable of providing a name.

One such patient suffered a breakdown while working as a bookbinder, possibly at a printing house in Chicago. The patient was mute and could not communicate his name. The court clerk who sent the man to Peoria State Hospital recorded his name as “A. Bookbinder.” He was also given the nickname “Old Book.”

Mr. A. Bookbinder spent his time at the hospital working as a gravedigger. Burials at the hospital cemetery were usually quiet and unattended events, with no relatives or close friends to mourn the passing. Stories describe each funeral ending in Mr. Bookbinder’s great outpouring of emotion, weeping by a large elm tree at the conclusion of every service.

In 1910, A. Bookbinder himself was called to the hereafter. After seeing Old Book mourn for so many others, nurses, doctors, staff members, and patients attended his funeral. The total number of spectators of the dramatic events to follow may have been near 300.

Four men slowly lowered Old Book’s coffin into the freshly dug grave while a choir sang “Rock of Ages”. Suddenly, the four men slipped and fell backwards, and the coffin sprung up in the air… as if it had lost all of its weight. The details are vividly narrated at prairieghost.com:

“In the midst of the commotion,” Dr. Zeller continued, “a wailing voice was heard and every eye turned toward the Graveyard Elm whence it emanated. Every man and woman stood transfixed, for there, just as had always been the case, stood Old Book, weeping and moaning with an earnestness that outrivaled anything he had ever shown before.

After a few moments of this, Dr. Zeller summoned some men to remove the lid of the coffin, convinced that Old Book could not be inside of it. The lid was lifted and as soon as it was, the wailing sound completely stopped. Inside of the coffin lay the body of Old Book…. unquestionably dead. It was said that every eye looked upon the still corpse and then over to the Graveyard Elm. The apparition had vanished.

“It was awful, but it was real,” Dr. Zeller wrote. “I saw it; 100 nurses saw it and 300 spectators saw it.”

Within days of A. Bookbinder’s funeral, the elm itself began to die. Workers attempted to remove the dying tree with axe and later fire, but each time, they heard a loud sobbing sound, and fled the task.

The story of A. Bookbinder’s ghost continues to be retold around Illinois. In 2009, an independent film was made titled “Bookbinder”, reality tv ghost hunters have visited the grounds, and locally made videos telling the tale.

-Rachel Elliott

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