44 Years in Darkness PDF Print E-mail

In the later part of the nineteenth century, Rhoda Derry spent over forty years at the Adams County Poor Farm, curled in a fetal position in a Utica crib. She had clawed her own eyes out. She had beaten her front teeth in. Her legs had atrophied to the point where she could no longer stand on her own, or even sit in a wheelchair. She had been committed there by her own family when they could no longer care for her at home. She spent decades locked away from the world.

Her crime? Falling in love.

Rhoda suffered a mental breakdown after being "cursed" by the mother of the boy she was engaged to marry. Committed to the almshouse for violent insanity, she was eventually rescued by Dr. George A. Zeller. She was transferred to the Peoria State Hospital, where she spent her remaining days in peace and comfort. Rhoda died in 1906, but her spirit seems to live on ...

The story of Rhoda Derry is one of the great tragedies of mental health care in the state of Illinois, and one of the great success stories of the Peoria State Hospital.


"Central Illinois folklorist and author Sylvia Shults has achieved something quite rare in her gripping new historical narrative, 44 YEARS IN DARKNESS -- a terrifying true story rendered with all the heartbreaking emotion of a novel but also steeped in fascinating historical minutiae.  The tragic figure of Rhoda Derry is destined to take her place beside all the great mythic martyrs from Lizzy Borden to Joan of Arc.  Highly recommended!"  -- Jay Bonansinga, the New York Times bestselling author of THE WALKING DEAD: SEARCH AND DESTROY and SELF STORAGE.

"Masterful ...I've never read anything that magnetic. The research is top notch. I loved it! (The) writing just flows!" -- Jerry Ayres, co-host of The Calling, Minnesota's premiere paranormal radio show

"This story will leave readers torn between rushing to the next page and pausing to savor the author’s distinct descriptions and vivid imagery. As a historian, author Sylvia Shults knows how to set the scene, and as an accomplished author, she executes this tale with shocking accuracy and true-to-life realism. This is a fantastic book."   -- Tamara Thorne & Alistair Cross, authors of MOTHER and THE GHOSTS OF RAVENCREST




44 Years CoverReader's Choice 5 Star Review

Fractured Spirits: Hauntings at the Peoria State Hospital PDF Print E-mail


During the first half of the twentieth century, the Peoria State Hospital was the premiere mental health facility of its day. Dr. George Zeller instituted the eight-hour workday for his staff, removed patient restraints, and made the asylum into a model for the care of the mentally ill. Today, there are only a few buildings of the hospital left. Some of them are still in use, others are inhabited only by ghosts. Our guide to these ghosts -- and the history they represent -- is Sylvia Shults. In Fractured Spirits: Hauntings at the Peoria State Hospital, she brings a passion for paranormal investigation to her adventures at this haunted hotspot. The spirits come to life once more as Shults explores their former home. Other voices help her tell the story: this is a collection of people's experiences at the Peoria State Hospital. Ghost hunting groups, sensitives, former nurses, and ordinary people share their stories with us, their voices resonating to create a panoramic view to rival the vista of the Illinois River. To visit the remaining buildings of the Peoria State Hospital today is to visit a small piece of history. A ghost story over a hundred years in the making, Fractured Spirits is narrative nonfiction at its finest.

Welcome to Sylvia's Page! PDF Print E-mail

Congratulations! You've turned over just the right rock on the Internet, and you've ended up here. Welcome!


This is my site. I put it up mainly to show people the sort of weird stuff that goes on inside my head -- at least the stuff that gets written down. You'll find stories; mostly horror fiction, but I've been known to work in other genres as well. So if you like variety, oh boy have you come to the right place.

I have other interests besides writing, too, so every once in a while, you might find blathering about my other activities somewhere on the site. It won't be a blog, because I won't be updating it that often. But hopefully it will always be interesting. That's where I'll put any exciting news, too. If a publisher accepts my newest novel, that's where I'll crow about it.

So come on in, cop a squat, put your feet up, and wander around for a while. (Sure, you can do all that at the same time. This is the Internet, after all.)


Genius flames and dies, but amiable competence can live forever.
-- James Lileks


"Sylvia Shults is the princess of darkness, a mistress of malevolent miracles. . . and her lean, mean prose will keep your nightlight on well past your bedtime.  Highly recommended." -- Jay Bonansinga, national bestselling author of TWISTED, FROZEN, and THE SINKING OF THE EASTLAND

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