Illinois Genealogy Trails


by Raymond Null

Most people do not believe in ghosts, but the figure that was recently captured on film by Leroy Mills has the people in Zeigler, Illinois wondering if the friendly ex-coal miner turned "Goatman" has returned to haunt the woods around the Big Muddy River.

George Survel pix In an article that appeared in the May 13th, 1932 Zeigler News, the report stated that an Austrian native named George Survel had been arrested for illegal fish trapping at the Big Muddy River and placed in the Franklin County jail

Survel had been an underground miner and left his job to join the Austrian army and fight for his country, and then was stiffed by the Zeigler coal company when he returned for his job at the Number one mine.

As he sat and smoked his pipe, Survel told the small group that after his army discharge he returned to Zeigler and was told that he was no longer employed at the mine. He thought that a war wound and the fact that he had left
America to fight for his native country may have been the reason for him being blackballed, but he wasn't really sure.

Deciding to turn his back on society, Survel became a hermit and made his home on the banks of the Big Muddy River in a shack he made from scraps of lumber and sheets of tin that he found at the Zeigler City dump.

It was here that he lived off the land and raised goats for thirty years, and it was here that he earned the nick name of "The Goatman."

The Goatman's unexpected death in 1961 at the age of 71 brought sadness to the people who once took food and tobacco to him, as well as to those who can still remember him walking along the highway between Zeigler and Herrin with his large herd of goats.
George Survel house

Leroy Mills said he was out on the Herrin highway near the river and caught a glimpse of a bearded man dressed in old ragged clothing standing back in the woods leaning on his walking stick "I looked over and there he was! Just standing there like he wanted someone to notice him! It looked just like the old Goatman to me. " the 70 year old retired building contractor was quoted as saying.

After Mills saw the figure from a distance he decided he would capture it on film because, "the boy's back at Kenny King's place would never believe what I had seen out there in the woods. "

ghost 2

ghost 1

"Who was he and where did he come from?"

These are the questions that are being circulated around Zeigler today as the residents there try to figure out if the bearded man in the old clothes that Mills caught on film was really the spirit of their "Goatman" or just a fabrication of imagination or an impostor?

Without a conversation, nobody will ever know for sure, but "I know what I saw" Mills said, "and I saw someone that looked just like the old Goatman who used to walk along the highway many years ago. "

A complete storybook and photos of the original "Goatman" have been made available by the Zeigler Women's Civic Club and can be purchased at the Zeigler City Hall.

Many thanks to Raymond Null for his contributions to this website.

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