Perhaps the most notorious story to come out of the Peoria State Hospital is the story of a man known as, Manual Bookbinder, who was later nicknamed, “Old Book”. When Book first came to the asylum in 1902, he was a mute and was said to have worked in a printing house as a manual bookbinder. One day, he was no longer able to speak coherently and was deemed insane; as the experts at the asylum diagnosed him with “mental aberrations”. The story of Old Book is unlike any you have ever heard. In some unexplainable way, Old Book possessed a great plague of sorrow… a sadness no one could ever figure out.
He was a big man who could handle manual labor, so Dr. Zeller put him on the burial detail. Patients who were unclaimed by their loved ones when they passed were buried in the asylum cemeteries. In the early days of Peoria State Hospital, the poor health of the almshouse rescues kept the burial detail busy. When the ceremony would begin, Old Book would retreat back to the “Graveyard Elm” which became known as Old Book’s tree. He would lean against the elm, remove his hat, and begin to sob uncontrollably. Even in Old Book’s last days, when he would see a funeral procession working their way down to the cemeteries, his eyes would begin to swell as his nurses would quickly have to calm him before his inevitable common wail of sadness.
Upon Old Book’s passing in 1910, hundreds were in attendance for his funeral because Book was very well-liked. As Dr. Zeller was giving the eulogy, the attention in the crowd was being drawn elsewhere. People began to hear a cry, a sob back by the Graveyard Elm. As eyes and heads were turned, the people are said to have seen the apparition of Old Book leaning against the Graveyard Elm, crying. A cold silence came over the ceremony as Dr. Zeller yelled, “Open the casket!” Back in 1910, the coffins were made of wood and nailed shut. The burial detail opened the lid, the people saw Book’s corpse, looked back at the elm as his apparition had already disappeared.
A short time after Book’s death, the Graveyard Elm began to rot. The hospital staff tried many approaches to rid of the dying tree. First they tried to chop it down. The man came back to Dr. Zeller and said that he couldn’t do it because every time he hit the tree, he heard a man wailing. Dr. Zeller sent the fire department to burn it down. They came back to Zeller and said they couldn’t do it. They had started the fire but had to put it out because they had seen someone in the smoke standing there, crying. Dr. Zeller decided to leave it alone after their failed attempts and the elm eventually fell down on its own.
The legend proves to be just that still to this day. Since 1910, there’s been many reports of people hearing a man crying in Cemetery II at the old Peoria State Hospital, but there has been no reports within the last few decades.
Is it possible that Old Book had suffered from a trauma so great that it would cause him to quit talking for the rest of his days?
And what was he trying to say with making an appearance at his own funeral? Perhaps Book was overwhelmed with sadness as well as happiness in his passing. The sadness of his death, of leaving this world; the happiness of his death, of leaving his suffering. Being able to see all those he didn’t know who had loved him in this life… that has to be happiness.