Manteno State Hospital is one of those locations that sticks with a town forever. Despite the hospital’s closure in 1985 and the demolishing of most of the original buildings, the small town of Manteno can’t seem to come out from the hospital’s shadow. Today, most Manteno residents refuse to talk about it.
This could be because of an incident in 1939 that forever tarnished not only the hospital’s reputation, but the town’s as well. A typhoid epidemic swept through the hospital’s grounds in the summer of 1939. At the time, Manteno State Hospital was the largest of it’s kind in Illinois with more than 4,000 patients and 700 employees. Due to denial and politics, isolated incidents of the fever spiraled out of control, infecting hundreds of patients and staff and ultimately killing 60.
As the legend goes, patients attempted to escape the hospital grounds when the epidemic hit. Surrounded by miles of cornfields, the patients had nowhere to go. A neighboring farmer reported that when harvest time came for his fields of corn, hundreds of bodies of the patients that tried to escape the hospital were found, having succumb to the elements. They say that during harvest time, you can still see the patients walking among the rows of corn along Diversatech Drive.
What surprised me the most about this location is that many of the original buildings are still standing. Manteno State Hospital originally claimed 1200 acres of rural farmland. That land now is home to an industrial park, a subdivision, and a Veteran’s home. The original buildings are in the middle of being repurposed.
I once lived in Manteno. In fact, I still have family in the area. Although I always knew the hospital was there (my great grandfather actually spent time at Manteno State), I had no idea that as many original structures are still there as there are. I’ve driven past millions of times and just never knew.
When you arrive at Diversatech Drive from E 4000 Road, it appears that you are turning into any other subdivision. Single family homes that line Diversatech Drive greet you. That is, until you look down the road ahead of you to a looming building that doesn’t quite seem to fit the otherwise picturesque, sleepy neighborhood. The was the Manteno State Hospital’s administration building.
Drive further back into the subdivision and the facade of quaint country homes falls away to reveal the crumbling edifices of what once was the hospital’s resident cottages. It is somewhat difficult to get to the original hospital buildings due to a confusing maze of one-way streets. It’s almost as if the town doesn’t want you to see what’s back there.
Once you manage to reach the original buildings, a feeling that you shouldn’t be there settles over you. You definitely don’t belong. You feel like you’re being watched from the broken, grimy windows of the old cottages. Take a picture of the cottages, and you just might catch a glimpse of someone staring out at you (See the picture below. What is that flash of light in the left window?)
Long-time Manteno residents are reluctant to talk about the hospital, I’ve tried. The moment I saw the administration building upon entering the subdivision, I wanted to leave. The sadness and loneliness I felt cannot be explained. Maybe it’s best to let the ghosts of this location rest.