Shelby County’s own fearful attraction

John Enright, Reporter

For many years now, small towns and rural areas during the Halloween season have been popular settings for horror stories in film and literature. Perhaps that is why the state of Illinois is absolutely brimming with terrifying tales of haunted destinations. Not the least of which are stories that herald from the highest point in Central Illinois; that point being Williamsburg Hill. But, what makes “Will Hill” so special?

Driving on Illinois 16 between Shelbyville and Tower Hill, turning south on Road 100 East would eventually lead one to this haunting hotspot. When approaching the hill from this angle, its impressive size and dense forest canopy are intimidating. As the road enters this forest and begins the climb up the hill, it almost feels like going into the mouth of a massive beast. However, this feeling of uneasiness gives way to a sense of awe at this area’s natural beauty. Even on the gloomiest days, there is something majestic about Williamsburg Hill, especially nearing Ridge Cemetery: the epicenter of the area’s paranormal activity. Not a sound can be heard here, save for the leaves rustling in the howling wind.

There was a time when I would frequently visit that place when I needed peace and quiet. While I never bore witness to anything that could be considered to be in the realm of the paranormal, there are many stories of strange happenings in this place. Troy Taylor highlights some of these stories in his Prairie Ghosts web article: “Williamsburg Hill: Ridge Cemetery and an Illinois Anomaly”. A few examples from the article include rumors of cultist rituals, specters that disappear when approached, a little girl telling her parents that she was talking to the people “under the ground”, and mysterious lights circling around the radio tower atop of the hill. Another article, “Haunted Graveyards: The Ghosts of Williamsburg, Illinois and Ridge Cemetery,” from Gothic Horror, displays even wilder stories about 19th Century style funerals appearing and disappearing and even bigfoot sightings. Is the validity of these claims backed by their bulk and variation?

It is all too well known that human perception is inherently flawed. Most ghost stories, whether or not they hold any truth, are based on the premise that whatever is happening can only be vaguely perceived in the physical universe. This makes a scientific discussion for each case more or less tentative. Science has not proven nor disproven the existence of ghosts; it has only been able to point out that, given what we know about the universe, the existence of ghosts and spirits is unlikely. The inconsistency of the observations on Will Hill serve to limit what conjectures we can make. I cannot say for sure whether or not I believe that there is something out there that is beyond our current understanding. However, I think I can determine what exactly makes Williamsburg Hill infamous.

As a former resident of Shelbyville, I heard the subject of “Will Hill” come up frequently amongst the other youth. There were few people who hadn’t ventured there, yet most stories of ghosts and apparitions were second hand. The most common first-hand accounts revolved around the idea that it just felt creepy being there. Its reputation needs only a steady trickling stream of rumors to keep itself fueled as the members every new generation seek to rediscover the mysteries of Will Hill for themselves.

Perhaps the strongest presence at Will Hill is not the ghostly spirits that may or may not wander the land, but rather the spirit of its own reputation.

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