From the 1874 DuPage Atlas – William Henry Hillegas
While William Henry Hillegas built an upstanding reputation in the Naperville community, it’s his son that the guides on the ghost tours talk about. We’ll get to that later, but first, let’s give William his due.
Joseph and Mary Hillegas arrived in Illinois in 1857 and started farming. The family experienced several tragedies including the deaths of two sons before the move, two daughters after the move, and the death of Mary just a few years after their arrival. William and his two sisters, however, settled comfortably into the Naperville community.
William worked downtown at the hardware store of Andrew Friedley. Friedley’s name pops up all over the early city council records for providing nails and similar items for community infrastructure maintenance. His Lemont store is a national landmark and he died in Lockport, but the family tomb, an impressive pyramid, is in the Naperville Cemetery.
In 1862, William married Maria Hartman. The Civil War was already underway and William joined the 156th Illinois Infantry in 1864, serving until the War’s end. Their first child, Ida, was born in 1863 before William enlisted, Charles was born in 1867, and Harvey in 1869.
Eventually, William took over Friedley’s hardware store, partnered with Louis Reiche. Their establishment was on Water Street, now part of Chicago Avenue, in the building that currently houses Features Bar & Grill and Frankie’s Blue Room. Their names and the date when their store was erected, 1882, are still visible at the roofline.
In addition to working at the hardware business, William was also elected Trustee of the Naperville Village Board, served as a Mason, and was extremely active both with his church and with the local G.A.R. organization. Apparently, he was of particularly strong character, even during trying times, as his obituary in The Naperville Clarion reported:
[He faced] financial trials which test men's courage and powers of endurance and frequently leave physical wrecks and shattered fortunes on the shores of time. That he weathered the storm, maintained his integrity and met every obligation was due to his faith in God, backed by an unconquerable determination to win. And when he did, maintaining to the last the unbounded respect and confidence of every man who knew him.
William suffered a heart attack in 1906 at the age of 65 and was buried in the Naperville Cemetery. His widow continued to live in the family home, which still stands across the street from Meiley-Swallow Hall. At the time, Meiley-Swallow was the Grace Evangelical Church, but it has since served as a theatre for North Central College.
So now let’s get back to William’s son, Charles. His gruesome story is a favorite ghostly legend, making it perfect for this time of year.
Charles was one of many who heeded the “go west, young man” advice during that era. During his travels, he met an English girl named Jessie Robateene Massey and married her in Montana in 1901.
Unfortunately, Jessie died in 1912, possibly from influenza. At the time, they were living in Seattle, but Charles decided to bring Jessie’s body back to be buried in the family plot in Naperville, a fact confirmed by a short paragraph in The Clarion.
Within days of the funeral, however, Charles became convinced that Jessie had been buried alive. He was restrained from digging her up several times, but finally giving his watchers the slip, Charles disinterred his wife and brought her back to the family home where he attempted to revive her.
The sheriff took Charles into custody and the newspaper says he was brought to Wheaton where he was “examined as to his sanity.” This no doubt refers to the DuPage County Home which started out as the County Poor Farm, a place for the old, sick, and mentally ill who could not be cared for elsewhere. The farm was established to be self-sustaining while also providing food for the county jail through the labor of its inhabitants. County Farm Road is a relic of this history. By the time Charles was admitted, however, the Home was evolving to be more like a hospital than a farm and today it’s known as the DuPage Care Center.
Apparently, Charles remained at the DuPage County Home until his death in 1940. His funeral was in the Beidelman chapel in town and he is buried in the Naperville Cemetery, along with his wife and his parents.
From the vantage point of time, this may be just a scary story to tell at Halloween, but it’s also a love story as well as a look at how society has historically treated mental illness. For all of those reasons, it’s a story worth retelling.