The Ghosts of Alton, Illinois
Who doesn’t love a good ghost story, the kind that brings goose bumps to your arms and makes the hair on the back of your neck stick up?
Alton, Illinois is said to be one of the country’s most haunted towns and for nine years, I lived down the street from the most famous of its ghostly houses.
The McPike Mansion was built in1869 by architect Lucas Pfeiffenberger, who designed the 16-room Italianate-Victorian style house for Henry Guest McPike. Situated on 15 acres of land known as Mount Lookout Park, the McPike family occupied the home until 1936. It’s been vacant since the 1950s and today, after years of neglect, owners Sharyn and George Luedke are slowly bringing the house back to life.
But sometimes the house has a life of its own.
Do you believe in ghosts?
Over the years, there have been a number of paranormal incidents at the mansion. Shadowy figures materialize in windows. Orbs of light appear in photographs. Inexplicable cold spots are noticeable around the grounds of the house, even in the middle of a hot summer’s day.
Shortly after the Luedkes bought the mansion at auction in 1994 and moved into the house next to it, my family and I walked over to meet the new neighbors. We were lucky that Sharyn Luedke gave us a tour of the once grand home, including its upper floors.
Nowadays, because of the deteriorating condition of the house, tours are restricted to just the wine cellar in the basement. Nevertheless, that’s where a number of odd sightings have occurred, including one experienced by Troy Taylor. Taylor was taking part in a paranormal investigation at the mansion in which the sounds of footsteps and the wine cellar’s metal door scraping open were all captured on videotape – except that no one was there!
McPike Mansion as seen on SyFy
The McPike Mansion isn’t the only eerie spot in town.
Taylor sends shivers down readers’ spines with tales of ghost sightings, hauntings and other paranormal activity in the Alton-Godfrey area in his book, Haunted Alton: History and hauntings of the Riverbend region.
Native Altonians grow up hearing stories of the spirits that roam the halls of Milton School.
Built in 1904, the school was the site of the brutal rape and murder of a girl who has since come to be known as Mary. One day, she stayed after school to finish a bulletin board. That was the last time anyone saw her alive. The next morning, her body was discovered in the girls’ shower room in the basement of the school.
The school janitor became a suspect, although the police could never pin the crime on him. Shortly after Mary was murdered, the janitor hanged himself from an exposed beam above an upstairs hallway. Beneath his feet was a note that read: I did it!
Whether it was mob justice or the confession of a pedophile is uncertain but to those who believe, there’s been no doubt that Mary’s restless spirit wanders the school’s hallways to this day.
The hauntings of Harriet Haskell
Nearby Godfrey has its own haunted history at Lewis and Clark Community College.
New students attending the college soon learn about the ghost of Harriett Haskell, who served for 40 years as the beloved headmistress of Monticello College. The college was a private liberal arts college for women founded by Benjamin Godfrey in 1838. When it closed in 1971, Lewis and Clark Community College began holding classes on the 215-acre campus.
Local lore has it that Monticello’s chapel was Harriett’s favorite room. Today, the chapel is now the campus library and it is here that Harriett’s presence is seen and felt most often. Students and staff working late at night have reported seeing her standing by the main desk or feeling her touch their shoulder.
Alton Haunting Tours
There are many more haunted places in Alton, including the pool in the Mineral Springs Hotel basement. Today, the site is now called Mineral Springs Mall and it's the location of the Historic Museum of Torture Devices.
Legends of the wandering spirits of Civil War soldiers, runaway slaves traveling the Underground Railroad and hotel guests make for spine-chilling tales of the beyond.
To see these haunted places yourself check out Alton Haunting Tours and learn the real stories behind the legends of Alton’s ghosts.