Alton Illinois' History and Mysterious Hauntings Create a Fabulous Destination
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Alton, Illinois, located just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, is a Midwestern treasure. And, the best way to get to Alton from the St. Louis, Lambert Airport is by the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway. Just hop on Interstate 270 East, then take Route 3 for a spectacular, 33-mile drive along the towering bluffs and Mississippi River.
Alton is renowned for its fascinating history, historic neighborhoods and distinction as one of the most haunted small towns in the U.S. To understand why Alton is so haunted, one must begin with the river town's tumultuous pre- and Civil War history, as well as its location, just north of the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.
Alton's History Sets the Stage for HauntingsIt is long believed that limestone rock retains psychic residue of past events that resonate today. In fact, most of Alton sits on limestone and many of the city's houses were built with pieces of the stone. On top of this psychic rock residue, Alton's first prison, the first Illinois State Penitentiary, opened in 1833 and closed in 1860 due to horrendous inmate conditions. It was then reopened during the Civil War as a military prison for Confederate soldiers, southern sympathizers and Union soldiers court-martialed for various offenses.
Unfortunately, both civilian and war prisoners were completely over-crowded, malnourished, lacked adequate clothing and were exposed to terrible diseases, such as small pox. Thousands of men, including guards, died at the prison from this dreadful disease. With the closure of the prison, it fell into a dilapidated ruin; the local residents claimed for years they saw mysterious lights in the prison and heard terrible sounds of men screaming and moaning in despair. Today, only a small portion of the prison wall exists and is located on William Street in Downtown Alton with a kiosk providing the prison's history.
Alton's history, with numerous duels, murders, riverboats, war and slavery, added their mark on the city as well. Many Abolitionists also lived in Alton with the most famous, Elijah Parish Lovejoy, murdered in 1837 by a pro-slavery mob in the city. Lovejoy was a Presbyterian minister, journalist and newspaper editor. His murderers attacked his warehouse and destroyed his press and abolitionist materials as well. Today, Lovejoy's large and impressive monument is located in the Alton Cemetery and some residents claim they have seen odd ghostly images appear by his monument and throughout the cemetery.
Haunted McPike MansionPerhaps the most disturbing and certainly the most haunted site in Alton is the McPike Mansion, located on Alby Street. Built in 1869 by renowned architect Lucas Pfeiffenberger, the mansion was home to Henry Guest McPike. McPike was a wealthy businessman, horticulturist and mayor in the latter 1800s, who loved his red brick Italianate mansion; he also passed away in it.
However, McPike himself is not the only reason the house is reputedly haunted. Thousands of visitors and paranormal investigators have visited the spooky mansion and its grounds, claiming they have seen paranormal activity. It is believed that the haunting dates back before the mansion was built and is attributed to Native American ghosts, a possible Underground Railway stop and reports of other deaths in the mansion, such as a woman who died a strange death in a bathtub. Further, there are two graves with unreadable markers located behind the mansion that are believed to be that of children.
From several television shows on the McPike mansion to guests and investigators, all claim there is undisputed paranormal activity at the mansion; many have videos and photographs that are difficult to dispute as well. The McPike Mansion is the private property of Sharyn and George Luedke and they are in the stages of refurbishing it. However, they work with a private and reputable tour company (Alton Haunted Tours) and host occasional haunted campouts to guided tours of the grounds, as well as a special visit to the mansion wine cellar, where prevalent paranormal activity takes place.
Haunted ToursAlton is filled with haunted sites, from mansions and hotels to the city's cemetery, warehouses, shops and woods. The best way to experience haunted Alton is to contact the Alton Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau or take a riveting guided haunted tour.
Alton Haunted Tours provides a captivating variety of haunted excursions, all based on historic fact. For those curious about Alton's haunted locations, the company's Bare Bones Tour is an excellent mix of a comfortable trolley tour, walking and site exploration to experience a fun but chilling tour. One of the sites on the tour is the haunted Jacobi Center that was originally a mercantile shop. The mercantile sold cribs to caskets and everything from life to death items; there was even a small mortuary in the basement. In this haunted building, it is reputed that a ghostly specter called "the undertaker" speaks to visitors and tells them he helps spirits to pass on. If that doesn't send shivers down your spine, a tour of the Alton Cemetery at night with flash lights will make you keep up with the group. The cemetery is quite beautiful during the day with its rather Victorian design, but at night, it is reminiscent of a classic ghost movie. One of the ghosts that haunts on a regular basis is that of a little 9-year-old girl named Lucy Haskell who passed away from black diphtheria in 1890. Witnesses claim she is often seen by her headstone and often visible to children.
The final stop is of course, the McPike Mansion with a visit to the creepy stone wine cellar with only one way in and one way out. Guests are afforded a "blackout session" in the cellar and if it's too scary, you can always wait outside within a fairly close proximity of the mansion's graves.
If you wish to learn about Alton's haunted history but want a less ghost-interactive experience, a haunted riverboat cruise along the Mississippi River is a great alternative. Guests can relax, sip on spirits and cruise past historical locations for a journey into Alton's eerie, haunted sites.
Vintage Voices Cemetery TourHave you ever wondered about the lives of the people whose headstones you walk past in a cemetery; who they were and how they affected the town they lived in? Alton's Vintage Voices is an exceptional tour that takes place during October in the city's cemetery. Actors dressed in authentic period costumes reenact the lives of Alton's citizens from the 1800s to the early 1900s. Each year, Vintage Voices focuses on different historical citizens that had an impact on the community, from the standpoint of a suffragist, to the great abolitionist Elijah P Lovejoy and the comical antics of prominent residents. Although the tour isn't scary it is an intriguing look into the lives of Alton's past. For additional information, visit VisitAlton
Alton, Illinois is a fascinating destination, whether you are interested in haunted history or just-the-facts history; this city will inspire and capture your imagination
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Patrice Raplee is an experienced travel photojournalist and editor of Travel Excursion and Seattle Spotlight for Positively Entertainment magazine. In addition, she writes a monthly travel column for the award-wining site OffbeatTravel.com and is a regular contributor on travel radio shows. She is a member of North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA), International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) and the Recording Academy. Her articles and photographs have appeared in numerous international publications, as well as NW newspapers such as the Seattle Times, the Stranger and Seattle Weekly. Patrice travels the globe to cover destinations that feature fascinating culture, art, culinary, history and soft adventure.
McPike Mansion Image Courtesy Of Alton Regional CVB; all other photos by the author