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Ghosts of the River Bend
Article and photos by Kathleen Walls
(unless otherwise noted)

It's Fall and time to look for haunting tales and spooky places. You can't find a more ghostly town than Alton, Illinois and surrounding areas where the river bends in a strange quirk of nature.  Fate Magazine called it "one of the most haunted small towns in America."

crypt in Alton Cemetery
Wayne at a crypt in Alton Cemetery
The Mineral Springs Hotel began with two brothers, August and Herman Luer. They were successful German businessmen who planned to build an ice house and cold storage facility on the site of their meat packing plant. In 1909, while workman were drilling a well, they discovered an underground spring. The spring smelled of sulfur and, after testing, was believed to have medicinal powers. The brothers changed course in mid-stream so to speak, and built a luxurious hotel and spa with a water bottling plant on the lowest level. Advertisements for the hotel claimed "largest swimming pool in Illinois."  The brothers also claimed the best dining and miracle cures from the mineral water. In its day, it was the swankest resort in Alton. It followed the same pattern as many hotels of that era and flourished into the mid 19th century. Then it began a downward spiral, renting to drifters by the week or month. Finally in 1971 it was condemned.

Torture Museum
Exhibit in Torture Museum
Roger Schubert restored the old building  In 1978 and opened it as an antique mall. During that period Alton was  hub for antique stores. Unfortunately the advent of Ebay and a depressed economy caused a decline in the antique business that is just staging a come back. Next, Bob and Brenda Love purchased the building then they too, sold it. Steve Tschudy was the latest buyer.  Today,  this ornate Italian Villa styled building has been reincarnated into the Mineral Springs Mall, a collection shops, a tea room, barber shop, antique stores, restaurant, meeting spaces and the authentically renovated grand ballroom. Several apartments are already finished and more are in progress.  And the Torture Museum. What a setting for ghostly happenings!

Wayne Hensley, who has operated a barber shop in the mall for the last 30 plus years, led our ghost hunting tour and provided us not only with some interesting stories but brought us to the rooms where the hauntings occur. In this particular case, Wayne knew a relative of the woman personally. The most documented was a sad woman, known as Pearl, who committed suicide back in the early 1970s because she erroneously believed her husband was cheating on her. The husband like to stay out late gambling. She had tried once before at home and the husband returned and found her. He rushed her to the hospital and they pumped her stomach and revived her. The next time she vowed she would succeed so she packed a a small overnight bag with her favorite blue nightgown and her sleeping pills and checked into the Mineral Springs Hotel.

She wasn't discovered until the following morning at checkout time. When she didn't answer his knock, the manager opened the transom over the door and reached a rod down to unlatch the door. When they entered, they found the lady dead in her blue nightgown. She must have had a few misgivings as it seems she had tried to rise and fallen back then died. People in the room often feel the floor is slanted in the direction she fell. In actuality, the floor is perfectly level. Several of us used dowsing rods and they definitely moved. Although none of us saw any, Wayne said people frequently get blue orbs when they take pictures. Remember this room is pitch dark and has no electricity. These rooms are being renovated for apartments. I would wonder about anyone who rents this one.

The Jasmine Lady, another interesting spirit you might encounter here, is from the 1920s. It has been pieced together from several different psychics' investigations. The lady, Maria, was married to a man named Oscar and was cheating on him with their Italian gardener named Johnny whenever Oscar when out of town on business. They chose the Mineral Springs Hotel because no one knew them there. It all came to a climax on Oct 22. Oscar followed the couple and caught them "in the act" in the second floor hotel room. Oscar had a violent temper and chased Maria towards the staircase. She either tripped and fell or more likely was thrown by Oscar. In any case she was dead when she reached the foot of the stairs, just in front of the present day entrance to the men's restroom. Oscar went back to the room looking for Johnny but he was nowhere to find. Johnny ran to the other stairs and out the front door. Oscar yanked a long phone cord out of the wall and tied one end to the light fixture in the center of the ceiling. When the hotel manager and police arrived, Oscar was dead. According to Wayne, Oscar and Maria are both still there. They make themselves known. There are several EVPs where you can hear voices not heard when the recording was made.  

Mineral Springs Mall ghost hunting
Wayne at the scene of Jasmine Lady's death

Wayne explained his first encounter with her "It was shortly after I opened my barber shop here one  October morning.  I was the first one to come into the building I used to come in about an hour early and read the paper and have a cup of coffee. After you have a couple of cups of coffee, you end up coming here." He pointed to the rest room. "I came out and was overwhelmed with smell of perfume. I didn't recognize it and thought it might have been a disinfectant and believed someone had come in while I was in the men's room and spilled something there. I took a step and a half and the smell was gone. I stepped back and the smell was as strong as ever. I thought it was odd but nothing I could do about it."

Several days later he was visiting an invalid friend who was was reading a book about ghosts in Alton. Wayne asked her if there was anything about the Mineral Springs in it and she picked up the book and it fell opened to the exact page telling about the Jasmine Lady. At that point, he began believing in ghosts.

The saddest story relates to a small girl who drowned in the below ground pool at her own birthday party.  Janet Kolar, tour owner, saw the child once and one of the associates had a unbelievable clear set of EVPs where we all heard the girl talking to him while he "played" marbles with her.

There was so much more including a cemetery tour, S�ance and tarot card reading on this tour but I wanted get on with telling about a few more of the ghosts that grace the river bend.

Orb in cemetary alton Illinois
See an orb in this picture just left of the tombstone. I  just equalized to lighten the picture.

Another old home that rivals Mineral Springs Hotel in its otherworldly inhabitants is the McPike Mansion. Henry Guest McPike had the Italianate Victorian, 16 room mansion complete with a vaulted wine cellar  built in 1869. It sat on 15 lavishly planted acres he called "Mount Lookout ."  McPike dabbled in horticulture and developed the McPike Grape. He came from sturdy Scottish stock. Several of his ancestors had fought with Washington in the Revolution.  He settled in Alton in 1847 and made his fortune in real estate and other business ventures. He was a strong abolitionist and during the war, Lincoln appointed him deputy provost marshall of the Twelfth Congressional district. After the war, he served as mayor of Alton.

McPike Mansion in Alton
 
McPike Mansion  Credit Alton CVB

At some point after McPike's death, the home came into the possession of Paul A. Laichinge. Some people believe Mr. Laichinge never left although spirits are not good at maintaining their abodes. The lovely home fell into disrepair and by the 1950s,  and continued its downward spiral unitl 1994 when Sharyn and George Luedke purchased the historic mansion.

Sharyn has come into contact with several of the spirits that remain in the home. She told Troy Taylor who runs Alton Haunted Tours, another great tour for those interested in either history or the paranormal, that just about six weeks after buying McPike Mansion while  watering some plants at the property, she saw a man staring at her from a window. As she was watching, he just vanished but not before she noted that he was wearing a striped shirt and a tie. What brought a chill to her bones was that she has an old picture of former owner,  Paul Laichinger, wearing an identical outfit.

Many others have also seen "Paul." Alton's Haunted Odyssey, another tour group, would often stop at the mansion and call for Paul to manifest. He often did.

Sharyn had come into contact with other ghostly inhabitants of the mansion also.  One hwo had touched and actually hugged both Sharyn and her husband, George, is the spirit of a domestic named Sarah Wells.  They often smell the scent of lilac perfume, presumable a favorite of Sarah's.

To help defray the cost of renovating this historic treasure, the Luedkes offer  haunted tours of the mansion.

Of course, the McPike Mansion is far from the only haunted old mansion in Alton. The Mansion House, built in 1834 by Captain Botkin as what was then the only hotel in Alton.  One of the most colorful characters from Alton's history is reputed to remain forever behind its dark walls. Tom Boothby was a grizzled one-eyed, one-armed Indian fighter who resided in one of the back rooms. He was a recluse who's greatest fear was that the spirits of the Indians he had killed were after him. He frequently woke neighbors with his frantic screams during the nightmares he suffered. Someone paid the least attention one night when the screams were more frantic than usual. No one thought anything until the following day when her was found dead on his bed. His clothing was in disarray and he had been strangled. Not by the spirits he feared, but  with his one good hand. Then again, maybe the Indian spirits had finally caught up with their old nemesis.

He is not alone. In 1864, during the worst of the smallpox epidemic at the Alton Prison, the place was sued as a hospital. Several people have had contact with the spirits of the victims who died there.

Alton Petitionary
Ruins of the Old Alton Petitionary that was used as  a Confederate prison

In the 19th century, small pox was one of the most feared ways to die. The only thing worse than dying of smallpox was to die of the dreaded disease far from all your loved ones amid enemies. That was exactly the situation in Alton Prison in 1864. Countless people have seen or heard multiple spirits at the site of the old prison ruins and the parking lot where it was originally located.  When the prison fell into ruins, many people carted away some of its stones to use in the foundations of their homes. This is believed to also contribute the excessive amount of psychic events found in Alton. (For more about the prison, see this issue Civil War trails)

Naturally, a national upheaval like the War Between the States which left over six hundred  thousand Americans dead, mostly young men with their whole lives before them, is a fertile breeding grounds for spirits who linger after death. Ghosts related to the war and the Free State? Slave State issue are found not only in the prison but many other places in Alton.

One building long linked to rumors that it had been a stop on the Underground Railroad is the First Unitarian Church. Because of the need for extreme secrecy surrounding any places used by the Underground Railroad, there has been no concrete evidence that the church was so used however Troy Taylor during a show on The Learning Channel in 2003 had the opportunity to explore under the old building and discovered a small underground room where the slaves may have been hidden away as they waited for darkness to make their escape farther north.

First Unitarian Church in Alton, Illinois
First Unitarian Church Credit Alton CVB

Along with the earlier traumatic events possibly linked to multiple sprits remaining in the dark basement of this old church, a more modern experience may have added another presence. One of the church's ministers, Philip Mercer, hanged himself on November 20, 1934 in the church for no apparent reason. His spirit is often sensed there.

Unlike the Unitarian Church, what is now the Enos Apartment building, was well documented as an Underground Railroad station, Nathaniel Hanson had it specifically constructed to use for that purpose in 1857. He was a firm believer in abolition and had his home constructed on a bluff overlooking  the Mississippi River. He had  tunnels placed in  the basement of for the fleeing slaves to use as hiding places. The tunnels still exist carved into the limestone some fifteen feet below the level of street but are now blocked off. Again, the spirits of slaves who may not have made it to safety may remain here, perhaps their last safe haven.

Enos Apartments
Enos Apartments Credit Alton CVB
 

Here too you will find more modern spirits. In 1911, Dr. W.H. Enos purchased the building for a tuberculosis sanatorium. Naturally the many patients who died her contribute the psychic activity found all over the building.

Lincoln Lofts,  formerly the Franklin Hotel where Abraham Lincoln stayed the night of his debate with Steven Douglas, has a ghost story that is not related to the war or slavery. It seems a little daughter of a traveling salesman was killed right in front of the hotel where they had been staying. She was crushed by a freight wagon when she chased her ball into the street. Apparently her spirit returned to the hotel where she had spent many happy days playing and visiting with the staff.

Lincoln Lofts formerly Franklin Hotel in Alton, Illinois
Lincoln Lofts formerly Franklin Hotel   Credit Alton CVB

 Another tale of a little girl ghost relates to Lucy Haskell. Lucy was the papered daughter of  Dr. William A. and Florence Hayner Haskell. In 1885, her grandfather had prominent local architect, Lucas J. Pfeiffenberger build the five year old Lucy a playhouse that was an exact replica of her parent's home. Lucy only enjoyed her fantastic toy for a few years. She died of diphtheria at the age of nine. The playhouse was donated to the city when Florence Haskell died and remains a sight you don't want to miss.

Lucy Haskell's playhouse
Lucy Haskell's playhouse   Credit Alton CVB

We visited her grave in the Alton Cemetery. Wayne told of cases of children playing nearby with a little girl only they could see.

Grandview Mausoleum
Interior of the Grandview Mausoleum

While in the cemetery be sure to visit the old Grandview Mausoleum there. It is reputed to be haunted by the spirit of a woman in a black dress. Oddly enough the night we visited, the inside light was turned on but no one was there. Wayne and his assistants all agreed this was odd. We circled and looked in the windows and checked the doors but no one was in there. No living person anyway.

Dominating  the cemetery skyline, the Lovejoy Monument (See more about him at Civil War trails) is often visited by the ghost of Elijah Lovejoy.  Even if you don't see his spirit, the history and beauty of the monument deserve a visit.

The Lovejoy Monument
The Lovejoy Monument

Since the Confederate Monument near the Cemetery commemorated the Southern soldiers who died in Alton Prison, it is only natural it would have a strong psychic presence. When the Missouri Ghost Hunters Society and Gateway Ghost Hunters teamed up several years ago, they got photographs of orbs and electronic readings around the monument.

For me, one of the most intriguing  ghostly tales in Alton are centered on a almost forgotten trail called Hop Hollow Road.  It is known for the classic "Hitchhiking Ghost" found in so many stories around the world. The main reason for so much phenomena on this lonely road goes back to the time during the war that the prison was used to house Confederate prisoners. Naturally, deaths occurred there frequently even before the smallpox epidemic. When a prisoner died, a detachment of soldiers were assigned to the burial detail. They were usually the lowest class of men as this was nota desirable assignment and often given as punishment . These soldiers were supposed to load the dead prisoner on a raft, take the body upriver to the ferry landing and then place it in a wagon and transport it down Hop Hollow Road to the burial ground in North Alton. What happened in actuality was the often the lazy detachment of soldiers did not take the body to the cemetery area and bury it. Instead they rolled the corpse off the wagon along the road and buried it in the woods that bordered it.

Legends say that many of these improperly buried Confederates stalk the sides of Hop Hollow Road. So if you are driving by there late at night beware if you spot a hitchhiker wearing a moldy Confederate uniform. They may not be a lost reenacter.

Another legend about the infamous road says you could come face to face with a much more dangerous personage than a dead prisoner. There is some evidence that Jean Lafitte did not die when it is recorded but instead changed his name to John Laffin  and became a businessman in Alton. Supposedly when he died he was secretly buried near Hop Hollow Road. His loot was buried nearby. If you see a old pirate in a wide brimmed hat pacing around Hop Hollow Road in the dead of night. Do not stop. Drive away fast. It may be Jean Lafitte guarding his ill gotten treasure.

The forces that combine to create such an energy field extend past the city limits of Alton. Nearby towns have their own stories. One very creditable tale concerns the Ruebel Hotel in nearby Grafton, Illinois.  Michael Ruebel built the establishment in 1884 and did a booming business from the passing riverboats. The saloon was one of the hot spots and always busy. The saloon is still an interesting place to grab a cold one. The bar was brought down the river in 1904 for the opening of the World's Fair. It is a gorgeous piece of wood. When the hotel was damaged by fire in 1912, the only thing the townspeople saved was this bar.
Rubel Hotel bar
You can see why that Rubel Hotel bar was so precious

However the spirit that is most often seen or felt is not a brawling boatman but a small girl named Abigail.  She died in room 11  of tuberculosis.  She has been seen by a hotel housekeeper and several guests. She seems to frequent the upstairs hallway and the top of the stairway to the second floor. Laurin Linenselser, one of the hotel's bartenders, told me about the little sprit. She said, "I have not seen her but people often request that room and report crazy stories of things moving around.  Some people hear footsteps"

Just a few blocks away on the river front, another haunted place still thrives in a new incarnation. In the late 1800s, the Rippley brothers operated a boat building facility in what is now The Loading Dock and the Grafton Boatworks. Today they house a huge flea market and a bar and grill but people still hear the sound of ships being build and the heavy  footsteps of long ago boat builders.

Orb at Loading Dock and the Grafton Boatworks
The Loading Dock and the Grafton Boatworks The orange and green circles near the top of the building were not visible when I took the bicture nor are they in another picture I took of the same scene just a few seconds later. Are they orbs?

Pere Marquette State Park just a bit farther down the river from Grafton was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s in the spot where a Native American village had once thrived. The lodge with its limestone and timber construction and massive fireplace seems a peaceful retreat by day but it too has its share of other worldly residents.  

Pere Marquette State Park In Illinois
Lodge at Pere Marquette State Park   Credit Alton CVB

Nightstands shake for no apparent reason. Ghostly figures pass through the lobby. An old man sometimes sits near the fireplace and disappears when anyone approaches. Workers report unseen figures brushing past them in the older parts of the lodge. Doors are known to open and close by themselves. There is even a spirit of a Federal Civil War soldier that has been glimpsed by one f the rangers.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. You really have to visit Alton and spend a few days to get a real feel for all the psychic energy present there.

Our  ghost tour guide at Mineral Springs Haunted Toiurs, Wayne Hensley, explained a likely theory as to why this area has so much psychic activity. Great earthquakes actually bent the Mississippi River bed. When everything settled, the river took the easiest route. causing it to run the wrong way, west to east. Alton is right in the center of that bend. Ghosts are fields of energy. They draw energy from that unnatural curve in the river. To add to that, Alton sits on great deposits of limestone which holds energy. Alton's violent past lends even more turbulence and energy. 

 For books on Ghosts of the River Bend

For a  Virtual Personal Tour Any Where in The World

For more info:

Mineral Springs Huanted Tours  http://www.mineralspringshauntedtours.com

Alton Haunted Odyssey  http://www.altonhauntedtours.com/

Alton Hauntings   www.altonhauntings.com.

McPike Mansion  http://www.mcpikemansion.com/

Haunted Cruises  http://www.altonhauntedtours.com/haunted-river-cruises.html

Pere Marquette State Park Lodge  http://www.pmlodge.net/

 





 

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