With this terrifying presidential election right around the corner, I was planning on doing a whole column with the least frightening building, feeling and latrine in all of Chambana. I quickly realized, however, that all buildings and all bathrooms become creepy if you’re there alone at night. Case in point, the entire city of Urbana. Neighborhoods in Urbana come in two main flavors, “quaint” and “quaint as fuck.” But when the sun goes down this time of year the whole town turns into Sleepy Hollow. Its stately 19th Century homes undergo an unspeakable transformation into… slightly SpOoKy 19th Century homes! Thus, I present to you, my not-at-all-exhaustive list of creepy things, places and stories from nighttime Urbana.
Apologies in advance for the crappy night photos. Maybe one day I’ll start a Kickstarter to get myself a real camera.
The Urbana Landmark Hotel
As a humor columnist, it’s my job to point out the weird in things that most people walk right past without noticing. Everybody notices the Urbana Landmark Hotel though. It’s massive. It’s gaudy. It’s disheveled and most likely haunted. It’s either straight out of a horror movie, or straight out of a horror movie parody. Do they ever even have guests?
Anyhow, everybody knows about the Landmark, so I’ll only give a few comments here (though maybe one day I’ll spend the night there and write a whole column about the experience). If you haven’t been inside the Landmark, it basically matches the outside, with lots of dust, dark wood, elaborate wallpaper, and a few suits of armor for good measure.
In the Landmark’s defense, I went to the bar there with a group of friends once a few years back and had a good time (the bartender seemed very surprised to have customers). Also my mom and sister stayed there for a bit and their only complaints were that everything smelled musty and that the front desk seemed to be staffed only 20 minutes per day.
Michigan Ave just West of Cottage Grove
One of the things I was looking for while I was biking around seeking out creepy Urbana stuff to write about was the spookiest block to go trick or treatin’ down. Contrary to what I wrote mere paragraphs ago, many of the neighborhoods I explored were actually quite well lit and inviting. Some had Halloween decorations on display, but not the scary kind, just the cartoony fun kind.
Then I found the block of Michigan Ave between Cottage Grove and Anderson St. Sure there was one house with festive inflatable Halloween stuff.
But the rest of the street was silent, inky darkness, punctuated by the occasional harsh driveway light.
That isn't some weird byproduct of my phone camera, that light was actually pallid green. What's hiding in that garage? Freddy Krueger? The Demogorgon? Some terrifying hybrid of the two? (the least scary of which would just be the Demogorgon wearing a red sweater)
Also, overgrown pines at the entrance to the street makes the whole block seem much more rural and remote than it is. If you’re out on a midnight stroll and want to be mildly unsettled, I recommend this block.
Secluded House near Oregon and McCullough
While looking for scary streets, I was also keeping an eye out for the most intimidating house. You know, the one all the kids shy away from during their annual candy grabbing excursions. I found one such house near Oregon and McCullough. It sits away from the street behind solid walls of foliage with only a narrow path through to the front porch which is dimly lit by sinister glows from the house’s many windows.
Conveniently though, the house is just feet away from the First Church of Christ, Scientist. So if the place turns out to be full of demons or such, perhaps you could run over and appeal to the Christian Scientists for aid.
I’ve spent more time than I care to admit in Carle Park after sundown (mostly tipsy heart-to-hearts with friends on the sweet rope jungle gym). It’s a great park, but it certainly has some eerie elements as well, such as:
This is the building on the East side of the park which is always lit up, but seems to serve no real purpose. The Park District website relates that the Pavilion was “rehabilitated in 2012 with the addition of wrought iron gates to protect the pavilion’s interior.” But what if... what if the gates weren’t there to keep us out, but to keep something in. *queue tense music* Honestly, I initially thought the pavilion was a mausoleum or something. Even though it purports to not hold dead bodies or captive spirits of any kind, the Carle Park Pavilion is still an undeniably ominous structure, and it would feature prominently in any Urbana-based horror film I may make in the future.
“Lincoln the Lawyer” Statue
Speaking of hypothetical horror films, were I to write a film about a local statue coming to life and murdering people, I’d pick this statue. Sure Lincoln is a historical figure without peer who changed this country for the better, but the thought of a 12 foot tall metal Lincoln running amok is just too great. It’d go like this: This state’s decades of constant tribute and praise for Lincoln just weren’t enough for this statue, so its vengeful spirit broke free of the wall behind it that it appears bound to. It issues its own Evisceration Proclamation and then starts karate chopping people to death with it’s mighty bronze hands. My screenplay isn’t done yet, but I’m thinking the Roger Ebert statue in front of the Virginia would show up and save the day.
A Scary Story to End On
Very early one foggy morning, I was walking home from downtown Urbana when I saw a shape moving towards me from across the street. “Holy shit, that’s a coyote!” I thought to myself. The coyote gave me a look as if to say “holy shit that’s a human!” The coyote then broke eye contact and trotted quickly away. I tell yah folks, it was a real Twilight Zone moment. Don’t tell your kids this story too late in the evening.
Well that's the end of this month's batch of drivel. Even if you didn't like what I had to say, you made it this far and that's three to four whole minutes that you weren't looking at election coverage. So you're welcome.
Editor's note: In case you missed last year's Halloween edition, check it out here.