4 Forgotten Folklore Tales of Madison County

If you’ve lived in Madison County for any amount of time, you might have heard about some of the famous folklore surrounding our great county. You’ve probably heard all about the Piasa Bird that had once terrorized Alton near the bluffs of the Great River Road, the Seven Gates of Hell between Troy and Collinsville, and the towering, spooky McPike Mansion in Alton.

There are plenty of other interesting stories and folklore originating from Madison County that not many know about, though! Here are 4 of our favorites. See if you’ve heard them before!

UFOs Seem to Love Us – Illinois as a whole has had hundreds of UFO sightings throughout its history, and there have been many that have come from Madison County. For 3 hours on July 4, 1997, hundreds of residents witnessed a blue-green UFO or a group of UFOs flying between towns amongst the fireworks. A group of people in Granite City, a traveling family driving through Fairview Heights in St. Clair County, spectators in Collinsville, and a family in East Alton all saw the same object within a few hours of each other.

Later on January 5, 2000, a strange, elongated, triangular object with three bright lights visited Madison and St. Clair Counties. Melvern Noll, the owner of a mini golf course in Highland, was the first to witness it when he stopped to check on his course. He noticed a bright star in the northeast and didn’t give it much thought until he saw it moving toward him. After watching it move across the sky for 5 minutes, he drove to the Highland Police to relay what he saw. While they were skeptical, they put a call out to nearby Lebanon in St. Clair County to keep an eye out for anything strange in the sky. Sure enough, an officer witnessed the same object heading south near Route 4, and an officer from the Shiloh Police Department radioed in saying that he saw the same object in the sky!

Bigfoot’s Vacation Home? We’ve all heard of Bigfoot sightings. Is he real? Is he a figment of our imagination? Is he a random person who gets a kick out of spooking people by dressing up like an oversized hairy ape? We may never know. While the earliest sighting of Bigfoot was recorded in 1912 in Effingham, there were brief reports of Bigfoot sightings in Alton in 1925. The reports detailed a large manlike beast with the face of an ape, all covered head to foot in brown hair. Could Alton be Bigfoot’s vacation home?

Thunderbird Sightings in Alton – We all know about the mighty, terrifying Piasa bird, but there have also been multiple sightings of huge birds described as thunderbirds (since their flapping wings sound like rolling thunder). With wingspans of 20 feet or more, hooked talons, and incredibly sharp beaks, thunderbirds had been spotted in Alton multiple times in 1948. Witnesses described a gigantic bird with a body shaped like a naval torpedo. The sightings came to an end until late 2003 when a hunter claimed to have spotted a thunderbird along the Mississippi River in Alton. Whenever you travel through Alton, be sure to keep your eye to the sky – maybe you’ll see a thunderbird, too!

The Legend of the Hartford Castle – Near the small town of Hartford, there once stood a magnificent home known as Lakeview. A French immigrant named Benjamin Biszant constructed this expansive dream home in 1897 for his English bride to enjoy. Decked out with 14 rooms, red-capped turrets, floors made of imported cypress wood, and dazzling chandeliers, the home was a stunning work of art. The grounds surrounding the home were also beyond beautiful, featuring gazebos, gorgeous statuary, and Biszant’s own concrete animal creations.

Unfortunately, Biszant’s wife died in the early 1900s. Heartbroken, he returned her body to England, lost interest in the castle, sold it, and moved to California. Of course, ghost stories about the wife’s spirit lingering around the property began to crop up. Throughout the years, the property was bought and sold amongst owners until the last owner moved back to Wood River after her husband died, leaving the building in ruin.

Throughout the years, the castle had problems with intruders, wanting to know if the legends were true, even when the property was occupied. Once the property was abandoned, intruders gutted the residence and caused an unprecedented amount of damage to the home in 1972, leading to the mansion’s official condemnation by county inspectors. On March 21, 1973, the property burned to the ground. Today, crumbling foundations, some broken statuary, and a decaying stone gazebo are all that remain.

If we’ve inspired you to conduct your own searches, please make sure that you go on a tour and don’t go by yourself, especially if the areas are non-trespassing zones. You’ll be putting yourself in physical danger and also breaking the law. Besides, we feel that tours are much better anyway!

Which Madison County legend is your favorite?