When you think of Gothic places to visit, a military base might not be the first place you consider. However, one trip to Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, IL will change that. At one time, the base was a hub of activity with its peak during WWII. The government had difficulty keeping it in good repair when it was an active base, so it didn’t take long for things to fall apart once it was shut down in 1993. There is a museum on the grounds dedicated to the history of the base and some of the old officer quarters have become private residences. But most of it is abandoned and the buildings reflect that. None more so than White Hall. One look at it and you can’t help thinking the place must be haunted.
Like any good, potentially haunted place, White Hall almost dares you to try to find your way around. As long as you stay in the hallway, which separates the courtyard from the various rooms that once provided living, work, and school quarters, which despite the peeling paint and debris covered floors, hints at function and order, you have a sense that navigating will be rather easy. And it is, until you step into the inner rooms.
These rooms were disconcerting for a number of reasons. There were couches, photo albums, toys, dressers still filled with clothes, and an odd amount of telephones randomly left about the rooms. It was as if the people leaving the base had only been given minutes to vacate, meaning they couldn’t take anymore than they could carry. Even though that wasn’t the case, the appearance of such added to the unsettling quality of the place. These signs of life only reinforced its absence, adding to the spookiness. As did going from rooms with windows, many of them broken, into long stretches of dark spaces. Zipping our flashlights around the debris and the sharp angles of half opened doors did nothing to dispel the idea that we might stumble across something ghostly. And then there were the sounds. It was raining on the day we visited, so, as you might imagine, we heard water dripping all around us. We also heard what sounded like footsteps shuffling down the hall. They never got any closer or more distant. Perhaps it was the acoustics of the building, the sounds of the dripping water pinging off the walls or just noises of an unfamiliar building.
Here’s the thing about White Hall: there are no ghost stories, no local legends about horrible things that befell people you dared to enter, which is kind of odd for a place that looks so ready made for a horror movie.
As we ventured up to the second floor we noticed the sound of the shuffling feet had gone away. There were classrooms with the chalkboards still intact. You could make out some of the last things written on them, circles and formulas for a geometry problem. Except for the ever present telephones and a couple of desk chairs, these rooms were empty unlike the debris filled ones on the lower floor. Yet, things felt just as uneasy up there. There were more windowless rooms, staircases that only lead to more darkness, and rooms that opened to other rooms that opened to other hallways making it difficult to keep track of where you had just been. It made you wonder how the people who used to live there kept it all straight.
White Hall does pose many mysteries. Did the final residents of the base leave behind the photo albums, clothes, and all the other things that might have been mementos of their lives there, or did squatters? Either seems possible, probable. A more confusing question is who left a boat in the courtyard? And what’s with all the telephones? We’re still left to consider if the shuffling we heard were actually caused by the rain and the design of the building playing tricks on us or if White Hall is truly haunted by what has been left behind.
Learn more about the Chanute Air Museum and Air Force Base here.