A Butler Ghost

Excerpt from Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Montgomery County Volume II


During the summer of 1916 Perry Williamson while working for a neighbor, a quarter of a mile away, saw what he supposed to be his daughter standing in one window of his home looking toward him apparently with an open book in her hands. Thinking she might be watching in order to get his attention for some purpose, he in turn watched the window, only to see that the woman in the window remained there during the entire time he worked with his neighbor. When he went home he asked her purpose in staying in the window all afternoon, to be informed that she had not been in the window at all. This led to an investigation resulting in ascertaining that from a distance of a few hundred yards from the house the apparition could be seen by any one at any time during day or any other time when there was light enough to create a shadow, provided the person was the proper distance from the house. The ghostly apparition seemed to be a woman, with head, arms and chest in proper proportions, holding in her hands an open book, described as appearing to be a black morocco bound Bible, and the book would appear to move from time to time without the body moving, and when one approached the house the apparition would gradually disappear, becoming less distinct the nearer one came to the house. The circumstance was so remarkable, that the people began coming there to see it, and the local papers gave it notoriety by describing it in their columns until the people came there in vast crowds.

It was on Sundays that the crowds numbered 1,000 during a day, many coming from considerable distances. All sorts of wild and superstitious reports were set in motion, and repeated by those who were ever ready to accept such vagarious and dolorous stories. Fortunately there were a few men of practical judgment in the community and while no systematic efforts were made to analyze the cause of the apparition, yet various little facts became known which on being put together seemed to pretty fully explain the phenomenon. Mr. Williamson’s explanation is as follows as reported: “In front of the window is a large tree which has branches and leaves extending down nearly to the ground. The woman dressed in white standing square in the window is formed by the twigs of the tree to allow the white light from the sky to reflect into the window pane. The book or bible apparently in her hands is formed by heavy spray of leaves which hang down about the center of the opening in the foliage which forms the woman. This spray of leaves being lighter and more flexible than the heavier branches, is blown by the wind more readily, hence it moves slightly when the heavier branches do not, thus giving the appearance of a lady turning the leaves. When the wind moves pretty hard, the whole of the white dressed woman appears to move. To see the apparition one must be about an eighth of a mile away. When Mr. Williamson holds up a sack on a pole exactly in line and so as to exclude the rays that come through the opening in the foliage, the apparition disappears, retreating in the opposite direction from the side on which the sack comes over the opening.”

That the phenomenon is a very curious one must be admitted, yet the evidence of superstition aroused in the minds, and expressions of the callers is to be deplored. No one in this enlightened age would have thought that such, for the while, unexplainable sight, would have aroused such a flood of dormant superstitious impulses as this did. Some wanted to shoot at it; some wanted to drive it away by prayer and bible reading; and some advocated burning or tearing down the house. When will the animal instincts of man give way entirely to the mental powers of mind? After three or four weeks with a constant stream of visitors actuated by curiosity and even superstitious forebodings, Mr. Williamson grew tired of the throngs about his home, and climbing into the trees that stood between his house and the point where the ghost was best seen, with his little hatchet cut away the limbs letting the light through, and dispelling the mystical woman with her black morocco bible. Fair ghost we bid thee adieu.

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Jeff Dunn

Vice President

Historical Society of

Montgomery County

Advisory Board

Illinois State

Historical Society