GHOSTS OF THE PRAIRIE
The Elusive Mystery of Diamond Island
The land along the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, in west Central Illinois, have long been plagued with weird stories and incidents that defy imagination. One of these strange tales involves the "fiery phantom" of Diamond Island, which was reported in 1888 on a tiny island near Hardin, a small town between the two rivers.
The first report of the spook actually came in 1885 when two young men were fishing along the river one night. Shortly after midnight, a bright ball of light suddenly appeared on the small island, which was directly in front of them on the river. The ball of light, which was described as a "fire ball" shot through the trees and then flew up into the air, where it hung suspended over the island. The two boys ran home and awakened their parents to tell them about the eerie event. They insisted that they had actually seen a face within the ball of fire!
Needless to say, their story was dismissed around town until other people, including a number of reputable town citizens, began to also report the strange light. "It was about the size of a barrel and there were definite features in it," said one local businessman. "I could see the shape of something fuzzy inside the fire."
Finally, in September 1888, a group of skeptical locals banded together for an all-night hunt for the island phantom. Armed with guns, knives, clubs and pitchforks, they rowed out to the island in secrecy. They stayed as quiet as possible with the idea that if someone was hoaxing the weird events, they didnít want him to know they were there. The boats were hidden in the weeds along the riverbank and the men quickly took cover at the edge of the trees. They were nervous, tense and alert for any sign of the ghostly manifestation.
Suddenly, the entire end of the island where they were hidden was bathed in a glowing red-orange light! An inexplicable ball of flame rose out of the trees, swooped into the air and then simply hung above the menís heads. Their frightened cries echoed out over the water and they raised their weapons and began to fire at the glowing object.
The shotguns and rifles had no effect on the strange light and instead of fleeing, it moved even closer to the men. Finally, one of them shouted to "run" and all of them scrambled for the boats. What happened next was even more terrifying!
Before the men could get to their boats, the fiery ball of light arced into the sky and landed inside of the closest skiff. The boat plunged backward into the river and moved away from island. As it did so, the glowing light suddenly transformed into the shape of a small old man who was wearing a pair of denim overalls! He simply stood there in the boat for a few moments, as it drifted out into the river, then he was gone. The apparition seemed to catch fire and then, as a ball of light once again, it took off into the sky. It vanished quickly above the trees on the island.
The would-be "ghost hunters" were terrified and trembling. They could not believe what they had seen. Some of them shouted to the shore for help while others fell to their knees and prayed. The cries from the island awakened a local farmer, who managed to rescue them, even though one of their boats still remained moored on the island. "They were just too frightened to move," he later said. "One of the boys had to be carried on and off my rowboat."
The bizarre happenings continued on Diamond Island for several more months, much to the dismay of the local people. Then, like many other mysteries, the weird phenomena suddenly ceased without explanation. And Hardinís fiery phantom was never heard from again.
(C) Copyright 2002 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.
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