Weeping Ghost: The Creepy Story of A Man Named ‘Old Book’
The image of an insane asylum from the turn of the 20th century conjures pictures of screaming patients in restraints, inhumane treatment and the torture of those least able to defend themselves. The mental health practices of the day are brutal to a modern observer. It was only thanks to the efforts of people like Dr. George A. Zeller that patients came to be treated with kindness and decency. It should come as no surprise, then, that at a facility run by Dr. Zeller, even the ghosts should be of a gentle nature.
The first iteration of the Peoria State Hospital in central Illinois was forbiddingly dark and grim. Built in 1895, it rose out of the prairie like a medieval castle. However in less than two years, it was closed due to structural issues, and this is where Dr. Zeller entered the picture. In 1902, he had it renovated, creating a system of cottages where the patients could live comfortably. There were no bars on the doors or windows, and the patients were unrestrained, something that was unheard of at the time.
Under Dr. Zellar’s stewardship, patients were given respect, responsibilities and chores, and one such patient was a man known in Dr. Zeller’s journals as “Old Book.” The story goes that he was entered into the hospital’s records as A. Bookbinder, because the only knowledge to be had was that he was a bookbinder who had been rendered mute by stress or trauma. On his gravestone, he is listed as Manuel Bookbinder.
Old Book was a man much beloved during his tenure at the Peoria State Hospital. He was assigned to grave digging duty, and he also oversaw the care of the graveyards that were adjacent to the grounds. During that time, many mentally ill people were abandoned by their families or had families who could not claim the bodies, and so their final resting place was at the hospital.
During ceremonies for the deceased, Old Book would lean against an old elm tree nearby and weep for the deceased. He mourned even the people he did not known, and his sympathy for those who had passed on was real and moving.
In 1910, Old Book died, and because he was popular with staff and patients, his funeral was attended by close to 400 people. What happened next has been noted in Dr. Zeller’s own journal, and witnessed by all present.
Book’s coffin was seated on crossbeams over the empty grave. Men stood on either side holding ropes running the coffin and ready to pull them taut on the signal. When another man pulled the crossbeams away, the coffin could be lowered.
The signal was given and the ropes pulled taut, but the coffin bounced up and the men fell down. Dr. Zeller wrote in his journal, it “bounded into the air, like an eggshell, as if it were empty.”
Some of the nurses ran away in fear, but those who remained were suddenly frozen by a very familiar sound. It was the weeping of Old Book, coming from the nearby elm.
“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 out-rivaled anything he had ever shown before. We could not be mistaken. It was the same Old Book.”
These words, taken from Dr. Zeller’s journal, states firmly that no mistake could be made. Close to 400 people saw the dead man in broad daylight, and no one spoke or moved.
When the coffin was opened, Old Book’s body was present, and the weeping stopped, never to be heard again.