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The Ghostly Tale of Old Book

Photo: Jean-Pol GRANDMONT, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>

A young man leaned against an old elm tree and wept for the man whose grave he had just dug. This was his habit upon each interment at the Peoria State Hospital, a mental institution in Bartonville, Illinois.

The young man was an inmate at the hospital and its resident gravedigger. He had been born in Austria. He was either mute or did not speak English. No one seemed to know his real name; he was called Manual [sic] Bookbinder after his trade before his hospitalization. He was also called “Old Book,” although he was not old. He was about 31 when he died in 1910.

The ghostly part of the tale of Old Book began at his death. It seems there were many people at his funeral, due to his popularity among patients and staff. Witnesses, including the hospital’s superintendent, swore they heard crying coming from the elm tree; some claim they saw Old Book standing by the tree. So convinced were they, that they opened his coffin to check if he was there. (He was.)

Further embellishments to the tale center on attempts to remove the elm tree from the property; efforts which caused the tree to weep and wail scaring off the groundskeepers. (Perhaps it was a weeping elm.)

Old Book’s grave can be seen at the Peoria State Hospital Cemetery, Marker No. 713. Unlike many inmates, he was given a full headstone with a recent plaque that reads:

IN EACH DEATH HE FOUND GREAT SORROW.

HE WEPT AT EACH PASSING TEARS FOR THE UNLOVED AND FORGOTTEN.

NOW, “OLD BOOK,” WE WEEP FOR YOU.

 

Eleanor Boba