A Publication of WTVP

Part of Dr. Zeller’s plan for the Bartonville hospital was to allow patients
who were able to work to be given jobs within their abilities. One
patient known as A. Bookbinder, a bigger guy named after the job he
held before he was admitted, was put on graveyard duty by Zeller.
Those are the historical facts. From here, the truth becomes an elusive thing.

They say that Ol’ Book, as he was called, used to lean up against an old elm
tree in the nearby graveyard and sob uncontrollably at each funeral, whether
he knew the patient or not. After a family member of deceased patient told
Zeller of Book’s apparent care for her relative,Book was put on every burial
after that, as Rob Conover tells it, because he was a “PR man.”

When Book died, it’s said that more than 300 people attended his funeral,
including over 100 nurses and Zeller himself, who delivered the eulogy. During
the eulogy, the casket was set on boards across the empty grave. Because
Book was a heavy man, when the time came, the men pulled very hard on the
ropes holding the casket so they could remove the boards and lower it into
the ground. But when they did, the casket flew up in the air as if nothing was
inside, and all those present heard crying coming from the graveyard elm.
Looking over, they saw Ol’ Book standing against the elm. Zeller instructed the men
to open the casket, and there Book was, no longer by the tree.

Save the Bowen, Inc. is a
nonprofit organization recently
created by Richard Weiss to purchase
the historic Bowen building of the
Peoria State Hospital with the hope
of restoring it. While many ideas of
paranormal tours have come up,
Weiss emphasized that the building “is
not being purchased to establish ghost
hunting tours; this is merely an idea
discussed to generate funds for the
building to be stabilized.” Such tours
would only be offered after work on
the structure was completed, assuring
safety to all who would enter. Not all
tours would be centered on hauntings,
but the historic nature of the facility as
well, which had tremendous impact
on mental health care in the State
of Illinois and the country. For more
information, visit

About a year later, the graveyard elm began to rot, and Zeller sent someone to cut it
down. But after awhile, he returned to Zeller and said he couldn’t cut the tree down because
every time he hit it with the ax, he heard someone crying. Then the fire department was sent
to burn the tree down, but that didn’t work either. The fire chief went back to Zeller, saying
they lit the tree on fire but had to put it out because they saw someone standing in the smoke
crying. Zeller gave up on his efforts to remove the tree, and about a year later, it fell over on
its own. Ever since, people who went by the graveyard at night would say they heard Ol’ Book
crying by the graveyard elm.

That’s how the story goes. Is it true? The fact that it was witnessed by over 300 people
makes it seem credible, but to his credit, Gary L. Lisman, author of Bittersweet Memories: A
History of the Peoria State Hospital
, makes a good point: If the story about Book’s burial is true,
and if it was witnessed by so many people, why did only one of them write it down? Zeller’s
medical journal is the only source of the story. Not a single nurse or staff member, visitor or
patient told the same story that George Zeller did. Fact or fiction, we don’t know, but that’s how
the story goes. a&s