History of Halloween and Paranormal Activity in DeKalb


By Jordan Radloff

The onset of autumn weather in the Midwest brings with it the season of spooky shenanigans. From trick-or-treating to exploring haunted locales, Halloween has a rich history of activities. There are even some scary stories that originate in DeKalb.

The holiday originates from the Celtic festival of Samhain, which started over 2,000 years ago in western Europe, according to History.com. This festival occurred at the beginning of the fall harvest, and celebrators used the event as an opportunity to honor their deceased relatives by creating bonfires to burn sacrificial crops while wearing costumes.

This fascination of the dead and wearing costumes is what ties this ancient festival to the roots of Halloween and its association with the paranormal.

When the Roman Empire conquered the Celtic region around 42 A.D., they continued most of the same Samhain traditions through All Saints’ Day with costumes of saints, angels and devils, according to History.com. This holiday took place on Nov. 1 and eventually became known as All Hallows’ Day. The evening before that day, Oct. 31, evolved from Hallows Eve to Halloween. The holiday was popularized in America when large numbers of Irish immigrants fled Europe to travel to America during the potato famine that began in 1845.

While many Americans may celebrate Halloween with the annual routine of passing out candy for trick-or-treaters and watching horror movies such as Friday the 13th, there are some paranormal enthusiasts who take their interests in spooky traditions to another level.

There are many groups that believe in the existence of ghosts that haunt certain locations. DeKalb is home to some of these myths, and the organizations that are at the helm of investigating them are Ghost Head Soup of DeKalb and the DeKalb County Ghost Society.

The mission statement of Ghost Head Soup is “to bring understanding by means of collecting unbiased data and/or experiences no matter if it proves or disproves paranormal claims. Contribute to peaceful existence for both living and not living and therefore removing the fear of the unknown.”

The DeKalb County Ghost Society website includes accounts of paranormal activity in various locations around DeKalb, with the most prominent location being the Ellwood House. It is said that the ghost of Ann Ellwood, former resident of the house, has been seen around the property wearing a long fashioned dress.

These sightings have also been shared by local historian, Steve Bigolin, which gives more traction to the theories that the Ellwood House is haunted. The house has been turned into a museum and is open to guided tours, but the ghost sightings have taken place after hours.

Another location that is popular for scary rumors is the Egyptian Theatre. Former NIU professor, Irv Kummerfeldt, died in the auditorium of the theater in 1988, according to the website of the Egyptian Theatre. The staff of the building have reported hearing footsteps on the empty stage and seeing objects move on their own. People who attend the theater have also reported seeing a man who looks like Irv Kummerfeldt, but then he mysteriously disappears without a trace.

These stories of local paranormal activity, along with Halloween, have a long history of interactions with the deceased, make October in DeKalb a perfect place for lovers of all things weird and scary.