Antioch history, including 'Ollie' the village hall ghost, packaged as a community event
Through the years, many who have worked at Antioch village hall say they have felt an unexplained presence, heard an unexpected noise or saw a fleeting image.
Could it be the spirit of a caretaker who lived and died in the apartment above the former Moose Lodge that was absorbed for use as a government center? Many are sure of it.
"We call him Ollie," said village Administrator Jim Keim, who grew up in town and has worked for 15 years amid the warren of spaces at 874 Main St.
Many buildings on Main Street have similar tales, he said. Benign but sometimes unnerving ghosts said to inhabit other buildings downtown are among the stories showcased in an interactive community scavenger hunt called Uncover Antioch.
The game is available on the Eventzee app and features trivia and other challenges. Participants can answer questions or find clues to score points.
Those with top tallies when the promotion ends Nov. 27 will win gift cards, village swag and other prizes.
When it debuted Oct. 15, the event was limited to 250 players. But the threshold has been reset to 400, and more trivia is being added as interest grows.
As of Tuesday, 306 had signed on.
The promotion emerged from a village-commissioned marketing plan that regards local history as an asset.
"It became clear there were so many stories that needed to be told," said Rachael Smith, principal with All Together, an Evanston firm that worked on the overall marketing plan and was hired to design Uncovering Antioch.
Simply describing a downtown as charming and historic isn't enough, Smith contended. In gathering background, Smith said it became evident how much people who lived in Antioch didn't know about their surroundings.
"Telling the story makes you more connected to the place," she said.
The game is for residents as well as visitors with the goal of passing the history down, attracting visitors and providing a boost for small businesses.
Many don't know, for example, that fire destroyed much of downtown Antioch three times, Antioch Township was a regular summer destination for Chicago gangsters, or that the village is home to Pickard China, the official china used at Camp David, on Air Force One and at many U.S. embassies.
"We've been trying to create momentum," Keim said. "I think it was a matter of time before people figured out Antioch was a really cool place."
Ghost stories are particularly interesting this time of year.
At village hall, Ollie isn't mean and doesn't break or steal things, Keim said.
"It's usually when you're in the building at night alone. You hear footsteps or see something out of the corner of your eye," Keim said.
"You just get creeped out when you know something doesn't feel right," he said. "There were several times I had to get out of that building in a hurry."
Debbie Winkler knew the history when she opened Vintage Mercantile in June in the former JJ Blinkers on Main Street. The 1910 building had two storefronts, one of which was a former funeral home.
While in the basement, Winkler said men's voices and steps are sometimes heard on the main floor. Thinking they are customers, she or an employee will run upstairs only to discover that no one is there.
"And things disappear all the time," she said. "We put it somewhere and then it's gone." Items falling for no reason also is common, she added.
"When something happens, I whisper a little prayer and go about my business."