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Shepard Price, firstname.lastname@example.org
July 15, 2021Updated: July 15, 2021 1:34 p.m.
FILE – McPike Mansion is currently closed on the interior to the public, but restorations are being made.
Alton has been described as one of the most haunted small towns in America and offers a chance to experience the paranormal for yourself. From ghost tours to haunted mansions, Alton has plenty of opportunities for that spectral interaction.
From 1,400 Confederate soldiers dying in Alton during the Civil War due to a smallpox outbreak in a prison to the many ghosts of McPike Mansion, Alton has spirits to spare thanks to a long history. The geography of Alton may also be a contributing factor in making the city a paranormal hot spot.
“There are three theories about hauntings,” said Sharyn Luedke, one of the owners of McPike Mansion. “One is they want to be there, Henry (Guest McPike) wants to be there because it’s his house, he stayed partially because of his wife and it’s his house which is why he’s there.
There’s a theory that something traumatic happened and they lingered on, but I don’t know of anything traumatic that happened here. Then there’s a theory that they have unfinished business. There’s some unfinished business with one of the spirits — what it is, I don’t know. As far as Alton, we’re near the river and they have to have a way of getting energy, which water is a conductor of energy. There’s a lot of limestone in Alton and limestone holds a lot of energy too.”
Luedke says there are 10 to 12 spirits at McPike, including a large part of Henry McPike’s family, with his wife Mary, mother Lydia, son James and daughter-in-law Jenny remaining in the house. There are also several servants that may or may not be connected to the McPike family like Sarah, who was a personal attendant, and Ben, who helped take care of the children.
“The first thing I experienced was I tripped on some bricks and felt a tug on my warmup jacket. I think the spirit was trying to protect me from falling,” Luedke said. “I saw Paul Laichinger (the last owner of the house to live in it) about seven to eight weeks after we bought the house. Since then, you see things in the cellar. I’ve been touched in the cellar, felt someone put their hand on my cheek, on my shoulder another time, a couple of unnerving things. I do believe the spirits are good spirits; they like when people come by, they enjoy that.”
McPike Mansion was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, having been unoccupied since the 1950s. Work is currently being done on the home to restore it, with plans to turn the home into a bed and breakfast on the second floor with the first floor being used for special events when restorations are complete.
“But the good news is the building is closed up entirely now, we’re working on the floors,” Luedke said. “Too many floors are currently too dangerous, I feel like we have a good working relationship with the city and that’s the way I want to keep it.”
The American Hauntings Ghost Tour Co., which runs the Alton Hauntings Tour, offers ghost tours year-round of the various haunted locations around Alton.
“There are plenty of other towns with just as many — or more — ghosts, but Alton is high on the list,” wrote American Hauntings Ghost Tour Co. founder Troy Taylor in an email. “It’s gained this reputation over the last two decades or so for the sheer number of ghost stories and haunted places that have been reported, investigated, and which have appeared in books and on television programs in town.”
Taylor said he’s had experiences with the ghost of the former pastor at First Unitarian Church, phantom footsteps at Mineral Springs, and has seen the cellar door of the McPike Mansion open by itself. He said he believes the spirits of Alton stick around for a number of reasons.
“There are a variety of reasons why Alton may be so haunted,” Taylor said. “Some claim that it’s the water that surrounds it, thanks to the Mississippi River, or the limestone the town is built on. The British devised a theory in the 1960s that suggested that porous stone — like their castles and like our limestone — must absorb events that occur and play them back as hauntings. Those are the kinds of ‘residual hauntings’ that I mentioned earlier.
Personally, I think that Alton is so haunted because of the history that has occurred here — from floods to violence, disease, death, the Civil War and much more. I think that history left a little bit of itself behind on the town as a myriad of hauntings.”
Taylor said that while most of Alton’s ghosts are from older eras, new ghosts can also be found. However, those new ghosts are not the type people want to talk about because they involve events that have recently occurred. Ghost stories also need time to grow, Taylor said, and good stories don’t only happen to one person.
“A solid, authentic ghost story needs time for people to experience it,” Taylor said.
Shepard Price has a Master’s degree in Journalism from the University of Texas and lives in St. Louis. They have been in journalism for more than four years.