On this spooky and historically fascinating episode of After Hours AM/America’s Most Haunted Radio — Thursdays 9-11pE with Joel Sturgis and Eric Olsen — we speak with author, storyteller, podcaster, paranormal investigator, and queen of the wildly haunted Peoria State Hospital, Sylvia Shults. We talk with Sylvia in the 10pE hour; at 9pE Joel and Eric review the week’s most confounding paranormal news and banter wittily.
Sylvia Shults has loved ghost stories ever since she was a kid growing up in the suburbs of Chicago. She was raised on tales of the ghosts of St-James-the-Sag, Archer Avenue, Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery, Resurrection Mary, and the screaming mummy of the Field Museum. Battling an intense, lifelong dread of the dark, she decided to face her fears head on and become a ghost hunter. She sits in dark, spooky, haunted places so you don’t have to, unless you want to, then join her. Sylvia has spent the last nineteen years working at a public library, slowly smuggling out enough words in her pockets, week after week, to build books of her own, and now she is the author of several books of paranormal fiction, and more recently, nonfiction, including 44 Years in Darkness, Fractured Spirits: Hauntings at the Peoria State Hospital, and Ghosts of the Illinois River.
Fractured Spirits was featured on an episode of the SyFy Channel’s hit show Ghost Hunters. It is the first book to examine the famously haunted Peoria State Hospital from both a historical and a supernatural perspective, and it was nominated for an award from the Illinois State Historical Society. She lives a short, ten-minute motorcycle ride away from that haunted asylum, and she spends much of her ghost hunting time there. Please feel free to visit her website for more info and episodes of her paranormal podcast, Lights Out.
44 Years In Darkness
In the later part of the nineteenth century, Rhoda Derry spent over forty years in the Adams County Poor Farm, curled in a fetal position in a box bed. She had clawed her own eyes out. She had beaten her front teeth in. Her legs had atrophied to the point where she could no longer stand on her own, or even sit in a wheelchair. She had been committed there by her own family when they could no longer care for her at home. She spent decades locked away from the world. Her crime? Falling in love.
Rhoda suffered a mental breakdown after being “cursed” by the mother of the boy she was engaged to marry. Committed to the almshouse for violent insanity, she was eventually rescued by Dr. George A. Zeller. She was transferred to the Peoria State Hospital in Bartonville, Illinois, where she spent the remainder of her days in peace and comfort. Rhoda died in 1906, but her spirit seems to live on …
Sylvia Shults returns to the hilltop to tell the story of Rhoda’s life, and her afterlife. She examines the social pressures that led to Rhoda’s breakdown and her eventual insanity. And she explores the stories that continue to be told about Rhoda, and her presence on the hilltop.
Fractured Spirits: Hauntings at the Peoria State Hospital
During the first half of the twentieth century, the Peoria State Hospital was the premiere mental health facility of its kind. Dr. George Zeller instituted the eight-hour workday for his staff, removed patient restraints, and made the asylum into a model for the care of the mentally ill. Today, there are only a few buildings of the hospital left. Some of them are still in use, others are inhabited only by ghosts. Your guide to these ghosts — and the history they represent — is Sylvia Shults.
In Fractured Spirits: Hauntings at the Peoria State Hospital, she brings a passion for paranormal investigation to her adventures at this haunted hotspot. The spirits come to life once more as Shults explores their former home. Other voices help her tell the story: this is a collection of people’s experiences at the Peoria State Hospital. Ghost hunting groups, sensitives, former nurses, and ordinary people share their stories with us, their voices resonating to create a panoramic view to rival the vista of the Illinois River. To visit the remaining buildings of the Peoria State Hospital today is to visit a small piece of history. A ghost story over a hundred years in the making, Fractured Spirits is narrative nonfiction at its finest.