ALTON — Ghostly apparitions and phantom orbs will be all the rage in Greater Alton this summer.
The Haunted America Conference is headed to Alton the weekend of June 19. Troy Taylor, a supernatural historian and author of more than 110 books on ghosts and other subjects, hosts the conference, which includes lectures by speakers in the paranormal field, haunted tours, ghost hunts, a juried art exhibition and a masquerade party.
“Alton has gained a reputation as one of the most haunted small towns in America, and based on the number of ghost stories, legends, first-hand accounts and encounters, it deserves it,” said Lisa Horton, a conference organizer.
According to Horton, one of the most widely known and documented Alton hauntings is at the First Unitarian Church on Third Street.
“In 1936 the pastor at the time, William Mercer, took his own life in the building. Since then, his ghost has been frequently encountered in the church by people from all walks of life, believers and non-believers. And his ghost continues to be experienced on a regular basis on our tours,” she said.
The McPike Mansion on Alby Street is another haunted location on the conference ghost tour. The house was built in 1869 for Henry Guest McPike, a horticulturist. In the 1950s, it became vacant and fell into disrepair to the point of being placed on the city’s condemned building list. Sharyn Luedke has owned the “haunted” mansion since 1994.
Luedke characterized the decision to buy the house as impulsive.
“On the day of the auction, my husband didn’t know I was going to bid on the house. When they lowered the bid to $25,000, I started raising my hand and when I bought the house for $42,000 my daughter said, ‘Mom do you know what you just did? We’re going to eat bread and water for the next 10 years and I’m not going to college!’”
The new owner wasn’t excited when she learned of the location’s spooky reputation.
“I just always liked old houses,” Luedke said. “I didn’t know it was haunted when I bought it. When I found out I wasn’t too thrilled.”
When entering the mansion to make repairs, Luedke would often call out to the resident spirits, saying, “listen you guys, if you want this place fixed up you better not scare me, because if you scare me, I’m out of here.” The resident ghosts cooperated and repairs were made. Since 2007 the city has allowed visitors to enter through the cellar, where Luedke routinely hosts ghost tours and dark room sessions with a spirit medium.
“I’ve never experienced anything bad, just some things that were unnerving. I saw a man in the window and I’ve been touched more than once,” said Luedke of her own encounters with resident paranormal activity.
“The most common misconception is that ghosts will hurt you,” Horton said. “Most hauntings are residual in nature, meaning that they are more of an imprint of time and energy on a place than the personality of a person who lived and died there. There’s really nothing to be afraid of, but that’s hard for us to think of at the time that it’s happening. When encountering a ghost, don’t be afraid to talk to them, run the other way, or tell us about it so that we can add your story to the tour,” she added.
Horton sees the Haunted America Conference as having a broad appeal beyond local ghost hunters.
“We get people from all over the country for the conference. It’s a real mixture — history buffs, Civil War buffs, people into psychics, spiritualism, ghost stories. We offer a lot of unusual things, so there’s pretty much something for everybody with an open mind.”
The 19th Haunted America Conference is scheduled June 19-20 at the Atrium Hotel in Alton. For a speaker list, schedule of events and ticket information, visit www.americanspookshows.com. For history on the McPike Mansion and tour schedules, visit www.mcpikemansion.com.