Ghosts of the River
Article and photos by Kathleen
(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."
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
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
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.
|Wayne at a crypt in Alton
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.
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!
|Exhibit in Torture Museum
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
|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
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.
|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
marshall of the Twelfth Congressional district.
After the war,
he served as mayor of Alton.
|McPike Mansion Credit
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,
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
|Ruins of the Old Alton
Petitionary that was used as a Confederate
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)
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
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
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
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 Credit
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
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 Credit Alton CVB
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
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.
|Interior of the Grandview
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.
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
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
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
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.
|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
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.
The Loading Dock and
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
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.
|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
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.
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 another interesting ghost
tale by Chere Coen
check out this link
For more info:
Alton Haunted Odyssey