OAK BROOK – For teenagers growing up in the late ’60s, early ’70s, it was a rite of passage in a way to sneak onto the grounds of the Mayslake Peabody Estate, find the glass coffin containing the body of Francis Stuyvesant Peabody and grow some hair on their chest.
David Rice, executive director at the Mayslake Estate, grew up in Glen Ellyn and went to high school there during a time when kids always wanted to sneak over to the estate, which was a Franciscan Monastery retreat center at the time, and see for themselves if the legend of Peabody’s tomb in the glass coffin was real.
“As far as we can tell, and we’ve done a great deal of research, as with most legends, it was based on a couple kernels of fact that got pushed together, twisted around and exaggerated,” Rice said.
Rice said there’s nobody buried anywhere on the grounds today, but that doesn’t make for good stories. Instead, the good stories have led the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, in association with First Folio Theatre, to present “Searching for Peabody’s Tomb,” written by Chrissie Howorth.
The interactive experience takes audiences from room to room as they encounter the spirits of Peabody’s family, the mansion, staff and the specters of the Franciscan monks who inhabited the mansion.
“There’s no blood, there’s no screaming, there’s nobody jumping out at you, so it’s not a haunted house in the way that most haunted houses are,” he said. “It’s more of an eerie, creepy, atmospheric experience.”
F.S. Peabody was a coal millionaire who built the 39-room mansion in 1921, but it was his death on the property that spurred a whirlwind of legends and stories around the campfire.
The legend of Peabody’s tomb and Mayslake Estate being haunted is something that goes back well over 50 years, Rice said. F.S. Peabody did die on the property in a fox hunt back in 1922 from what was an apparent heart attack. At one point, Rice said he was buried on the grounds at the Mayslake Peabody Estate, however, his body was reentered into Queen of Heaven Cemetery.
At the same time, there was a saint relic in the church that used to be on the Mayslake property containing a mummified corpse of a martyred baby called “Baby Innocent” that was in a glass coffin tucked away in a portion of the church.
“As best we can tell what happened of course was that the story of the little saints relic baby in the glass coffin got conflated with the story of Mr. Peabody being buried on the grounds underneath the chapel and it turned into Mr. Peabody is in a glass coffin inside the chapel,” Rice said.
The legend eventually grew to where Peabody’s ghost was haunting the property.
“Of course anytime you have a big old mansion there has to be a story about ghosts,” he said.