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A purported "shadow person" standing in the McPike Mansion's doorway.
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A purported figure of a man in the doorway of the next room at the old Milton Schoolhouse.
ALTON — I’d heard of immersion journalism, but this was a bit much.
In putting together this roundup of Alton haunts and the tours that bring them to life, I agreed to meet with Alton Haunted Odyssey partners Marlene Lewis and Gary Hawkins at the first stop on their trolley tour, the Simeon Ryder Building that now houses My Just Desserts, 31 E. Broadway. A staircase to the right of the front window display leads to a second floor, where Lewis and Hawkins begin their tour.
They meet there, Lewis said, because electromagnetic fields are active and orbs are abundant. It’s a room that, at night, with lights dimmed, is just creepy enough to whet appetites for the tour that follows.
In the daylight, as it was Monday afternoon when I met with Lewis and Hawkins to discuss their tour, the mind runs less wild. A circle of chairs around a folding table, atop dusty old floorboards, isn’t inherently scary unless you’re a neat freak.
A few minutes into our conversation, sitting in one of those chairs, I thought I felt something like a bug brush past the hairs on the fingers of my right hand. At one point I even made a shooing motion with my hand reflexively, as if to swat away a fly. But there were no bugs. Nor was there a breeze, as all the windows on the second floor were shut. What was going on?
Alton Haunted Odyssey
This tour began as Antoinette’s Haunted History Tours, a partnership between Lewis and Antoinette Eason, a local psychic. Antoinette retired from the business in 2012, and Hawkins, who has been part of the tour since 1996, became a partner.
This year’s trolley-tour stops include the Alton City Cemetery and the Coppinger Booth House on West Ninth Street. The house, with barred windows in the attic among its quirks, recently had an electronic voice phenomenon captured on a recording, Hawkins said.
The last destination is the historic McPike Mansion, arguably the most notorious of Alton’s haunted places. Tour guides and tourists alike utilize new-age electromagnetic field detectors and K-II meters, as well as the more archaic copper rods, to attempt to find spirits.
Hawkins said the uninhabited home’s wine cellar, where the tour conducts dark room sessions, is especially conducive to activity.
“Sometimes at the end of it they’ll start taking pictures, and that’s when you end up with some interesting photographs,” Hawkins said.
The wine cellar is also where Edwardsville-based Lineup Media Group’s “Ochoman: Behind the 8 Ball” podcast will be recording from in the coming weeks. The show is set to record a podcast from the haunted house on Oct. 19.
Mineral Springs Haunted Tours
Mineral Springs opened in 1914 as a 90-room hotel and spa. When exactly the hauntings began is not known, according to the Mineral Springs Haunted Tours website, but tour guests and hotel staff over the years have reported uneasy feelings, especially in certain areas.
No longer a hotel — renamed Mineral Springs Mall, the building is now home to retail shops — Janet Kolar’s group has been giving tours for the past eight years. Experiences on the tour have included touching, cold drafts, disembodied voices, objects moved, shadow people, footsteps, a piano that plays on its own, music boxes playing a few notes, countless orb pictures and more than 150 electronic voice phenomena, per the tour’s website.
There are at least six ghosts that manifest repeatedly, the group says. Among those are the Jasmine Lady, George, the Drunken Ghost, Cassandra and others. Wayne Hensley, a tour guide who also owns and operates the mall’s In-Zone Barber Shop, claims to have had many experiences with ghosts over the years.
Offerings include late-night walking tours, cemetery tours and a Walk in the Dark tour. A special Day of the Dead tour is also scheduled for Nov. 5, and the tour season ends with a Walk in the Dark Tour and Commemorative Seance on Nov. 19.
Alton Hauntings Tour
Troy Taylor’s Alton Hauntings History and Haunted Ghost Tours has been walking the streets of Alton since 2000. Taylor wrote the book, literally, when it comes to Alton ghost stories, having published “Haunted Alton: History and Hauntings of Illinois’ Riverbend Region” in 1999.
The tours — Alton Hauntings offers both walking and bus tours — are based on stories from his book, and they change yearly. Taylor’s group actually keeps tour locations secret to maintain the element of surprise.
“Every one of the stories and locations have been carefully researched and we add a little more to almost every story each season, based on new encounters and experiences,” Alton Hauntings manager Lisa Taylor said. “In other words, what happens on this year’s tour may just end up on the tour next season — who knows?”
The fun doesn’t end in November, either. Lisa Taylor said the company is working on keeping the tours operating all year around, even during the winter. A Spirits of Christmas tour with Troy Taylor has been added on Dec. 10, and Lisa Taylor said they expect to do a couple more of those this winter, plus some Alton Hauntings ghost hunts during the cold weather months, as well.
So back to what brushed my hand while researching this story. Was I imagining it? Did I just want to be a part of the supernatural experience we were discussing? Did I simply, maybe subconsciously, just want to have my own story to tell?
Maybe. We’ll never know, I guess.
It’s that uncertainty, that curious excitement, that makes all of the tours of Alton’s haunted attractions popular destinations this time of year. And seeking to oblige the Riverbend’s continuing craving for new, spooky adventures, each of Alton’s three prominent ghost tours has surprises in store for the 2016 season.