Legends & Lore of Southern Illinois: Lakey’s Ghost



Lakey’s ghost had a definite location, and its story is associated with an actual event. This ghost that once made appearances in the southeastern part of the present city of McLeansboro has a story that even yet is heard in the vicinity.

It centers about a man named Lakey, one of the early settlers in the McLeansboro vicinity. His first name is forgotten. Perhaps it does not matter. For this story it is enough to know his last name and that it was given to the small creek that crosses the highway near the eastern limits of the city.

Lakey was building a cabin on the west side of the stream a short distance south of the ford where the present street – then an old trail leading from the Carmi vicinity toward Mt. Vernon – crossed the creek. He had practically completed the log structure and on his last day alive had felled a large oak tree to make clapboards for the roof. At the close of day, he was bolting this timber.

The next morning an early traveler saw a gruesome sight. Beside a large stump was a human body and near by a severed head – they were Lakey’s. A broadax sticking in the stump indicated the manner in which the head and body had been separated.

News of the tragedy spread, and settlers came to look and wonder. Lakey was a quiet and inoffensive man. So far as anyone knew, he had no wealth that would tempt anyone to commit such a crime, nor did he have any known enemies. There was no evidence of a struggle. There seemed then to be no explanation for the murder that had evidently been committed about nightfall the day before. Indeed, no solution to the murder has ever come to light. Lakey was buried near the site of his uncompleted cabin, and his story was added to the local lore, but this was not the end of the incident.

On the day following Lakey’s burial and just at nightfall, two men living west of McLeansboro were passing the Lakey cabin site as they returned from a trip to the Wabash. A few rods east of Lakey’s Creek they were joined by a strange and fearful companion. A headless horseman on a large black steed, on the left hand or downstream side, moved along toward the creek with them.

Neither of the awed men spoke. The new rider also was silent. All rode along together down the gently sloping bank and into the water. As they neared the center of the stream, the phantom horseman turned to the left, passed downstream and appeared to melt into the waters of a deep pool just below the crossing. It must be remembered that no ghost can cross running water.

The two men, happy to be rid of the ghostly horseman, rode onward to their homes. They hesitated to tell the story of the unbelievable incident, but they soon had corroborating testimony. The same apparition appeared a few evenings later to other men approaching the stream from the east at nightfall. The story rapidly gained circulation.

Always the rider, on a large black horse, joined travelers approaching the stream from the east, and always on the downstream side. Each time and just before reaching the center of the creek, the mistlike figure would turn downstream and disappear. For a generation or more an occasional traveler would report the strange horseman; but no living witness of the strange rider has been found.

Very old persons still tell of those who declared they saw him. Perhaps he has completely disappeared. Perhaps it is because there is no longer a ford over Lakey’s Creek but instead a concrete bridge. It may even be that automobiles move too rapidly for the slow pace o£ the large black steed. Again, their noise and strange appearance may have frightened him away. Who knows?

“Legends & Lore of Southern Illinois” – John W. Allen

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