1 of 2
An eerie light permeates a photo of the infamous McPike Mansion. The photo was taken by Linda Dunn and is available to view, along with other unexplained photos, on Alton’s Haunted Odyssey website.
2 of 2
The Captain Leyhe House, located at 703 State St. and roughly 150 years old, was designed by architect and former four-term mayor of Alton Lucas Pfeiffenberger and owned by the riverboat captain of the Eagle Packet Company. It serves as the centerpiece on this year’s Alton’s Haunted Odyssey series of tours, running through October.
ALTON — Over the years, Alton’s Haunted Odyssey tours have been full of surprise and excitement … and the team behind the tours is confident this year will be no exception.
“One time, down in the wine cellar at McPike Mansion, we turned off the lights and something had braided a lady’s hair,” co-owner Gary Hawkins said. “It was a loose braid, but nobody was sitting behind her.”
“We’ve also had a pregnant tourist think she was going into labor, and plenty of panic attacks,” tour guide David McCracken adds.
The tours return Oct. 2 to spook, thrill and educate the residents of Alton with the first of its Waking the Dead tours. Throughout the month, the season will continue with the Bare Bones tour Oct. 9, 10, 16 and 23, Witching Hour (later tours) tour on Oct. 9, 10, 16, 17, 23, 24, 30 and 31, and Eating with the Entities (tour and dinner) tour concluding the season from Oct. 17, 24, 30 and Nov. 1.
Alton’s Haunted Odyssey’s roots stretch back to Antoinette’s Haunted History Tour in 1992, when Marlene Lewis met local psychic Antoinette Eason.
“I used to work at Bluff City Tours, where I reviewed requests for information on the city, and one request that stood out to me was about the haunted sites in Alton,” Lewis said. “I didn’t know much about the haunted spots, so I got in touch with Antoinette. I gave her a list of the 10 ghost stories I gathered, and I was so excited when she called me back and told me about her findings.”
The tours immediately found popularity.
“It was huge,” Lewis said. “We planned three tours and ended up giving 10 tours with 350 people on the waiting list.”
According to Lewis, the tours attract “people with paranormal experiences searching for validation and that have also lived in haunted houses before.” The name was changed in 2012 to reflect Antoinette’s retirement.
Gary Hawkins, who has been involved with the tours since 1995 and works as Lewis’ business partner, comments on how the tours have resonated within the city.
“Everyone’s had a story to share about a ghost they’ve come into contact with in Alton,” he said. “Alton might not be the most haunted small town in America, but our ghosts have the best PR.”
Even outside of Alton, the tours have gathered recognition.
“Around 2000, a national television program aired a segment on us and we had people from 17 different states come on our tour,” says McCracken, who has served as a tour guide since 1999. “That’s a lot of pressure as a tour guide.”
In 2010, the group’s investigation of the old Milton School in Alton also was featured on an episode of the television series “Ghost Hunters.”
Lewis, Hawkins and McCracken are joined on the odyssey by “trolley trolls” Alexis Hawkins and Chad Ingold to test their ghost-hunting equipment.
“The K-II, an EMF (electromagnetic field) detector, operates in a 3-foot range,” Hawkins said. “It’s a common belief that all ghosts are electric energy.”
“Copper rods are essentially a ‘water witch’ searching for electricity,” Hawkins continues. “You hold them straight up and they turn toward the electric source.”
This year, a new spot has found its way to the tour. The Captain Leyhe House, at 703 State St., is occupied by Richard Chartrand, Tom Bess-King, Kevin Dyer and caretaker Rusty Wubker. Roughly 150 years old, the house was designed by architect and former four-term mayor of Alton Lucas Pfeiffenberger and owned by the riverboat captain of the Eagle Packet Company.
“The legend is that the house was built by Confederate prison labor,” Chartrand said. “I’ve seen the spirits of Captain Leyhe and the Confederate soldiers in the house.”
When preparing the tour, the group is concerned about ensuring historical accuracy. Lewis, Hawkins and McCracken review their information with Chartrand to ensure that the history of the Leyhe House is complete and devoid of error.
“Our tours bring history alive,” McCracken said. “The historical aspects are what have always amazed me.”
While hunting for ghosts throughout the house, the EMF detectors reached their red limits multiple times. Lewis and Wubker both commented that ghosts follow the groups.
“They get curious,” Lewis said. “Especially when they’re used to only three or four people occupying a house and all of the sudden, there’s a tour of 30.”
During a dark room session in the house’s brick basement, the EMF detectors pulsated rhythmically to a rendition of the Southern folk song “Dixie,” “as if the ghosts are dancing.” The pendulum test, by which “an object of personal power” is held above a table from a chain or string for ghosts to respond to yes or no questions by moving back and forth or side to side, follows upstairs. Halfway through the interrogation, McCracken asks the room, “Are you having fun with us?” to which the spirit affirms with a back-and-forth sway.
Trolley tours begin at My Just Desserts, at 31 E. Broadway in the Simeon Ryder Building. For more information on tour dates, admission prices and to book a tour, call (618)-462-3861 between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. or visit www.altonhauntedtours.com.
Follow @NewsAdVantage on Twitter