Old cities, no matter their location, share a commonality. They’re haunted. It’s a fact paranormal researchers affirm – the older the city, the greater its ghostly activity. With over 200-year histories, it’s no wonder St. Louis and St. Charles are a ghost hunter’s dream. Making good on their reputations as hot beds for apparitions and hauntings, both attract curious and serious ghost hunters.
“When it comes to the paranormal if I can point to a ghost I can point to history,” said Mark Farley, founder of the St. Louis Paranormal Research Society. The SLPRS began investigating and documenting reported apparitions and haunted sites in 2003. It prefers to focus on St. Louis history, including battle sites and numerous forgotten cemeteries.
“Downtown St. Louis alone is littered with cemeteries that have been exhumed or built over, Farley said. “Chief Pontiac’s grave is located near Busch Stadium. Roosevelt High School and the Shepard School were built on old graveyards. Then, there’s the old forts and Civil War camp sites such as Lafayette Park.”
Alton, Illinois, may not be as old as St. Louis but thanks to its checkered past, it has more than its fair share of ghosts with ties to the Mississippi River, the underground railroad, abolitionist murders and a Confederate prison. Recently added to Alton’s list of haunted places is the YMCA, whose ghostly past had been kept a secret for 80 years. No more.
“We vetted the site and were able to find the back stories to its hauntings,” Farley explained.
Along the Missouri River, ghosts, including “ghost dogs,” still inhabit the river town of St. Charles.
“It’s quite active paranormally speaking,” explained Michael Henry, Ph.D., author of “Haunted St. Charles” and director of St. Charles Ghost Tours.
“St. Charles is a lot older than a lot of people think and a lot more historic than a lot of people realize,” Henry said. “The city just celebrated its sestercentennial but the settlement goes back 5,000 years or more depending on who you talk to. It was originally connected to the Cahokia Settlement, and I always postulate that because so many people have lived there for so long that this is the reason that St. Charles is so very active.”
There are, for example, two graveyards on Main Street, one of which they did not move all the bodies from – the so-called “lost graveyard.” Most of its former inhabitants were moved in the mid 1850s to the current St. John Borromeo Cemetery. But not all.
“There’s at least 300 to 350 people still there,” Henry said. “About 10 years ago I found a misfiled plat map of the area and it shows the [original] Borromeo Cemetery being more than nine square blocks with 16,000-plus people being there and that’s not counting the Potter’s Field where people were buried who were completely undocumented. So, yeah, it’s a really active area.”
The Mother-in-Law House is pretty famous, Henry said, though he disputes the findings of SYFY channel’s “Ghost Hunters,” which claimed to encounter the ghost of a little boy there. “I think they were stretching their observations a little bit. We’ve never had a report of a little boy at that location. It’s the mother-in-law that’s very active.”
While some of the apparitions are well known, others are not; either way, the proof of a haunting is in its documentation or hard evidence, Henry said, which means delving into the history and events surrounding the apparition.
“Ghost stories often are sad stories – unrequited love, died suddenly, perhaps a murder,” Henry said. And while those events might be easy to document, paranormal activity simply is not.
“I’ve done this for over 40 years,” he said. “Maybe in another 40 I’ll understand exactly what’s happening but by then you’ll need a Ouija Board to reach me. The reality is that systematic research into the paranormal is only about 150 to 175 years old, and we simply do not have sufficient objective data to draw conclusions at this point.
Of fellow researcher Farley, Henry said, “Mark is ruthless about making sure that what he shares is accurate.”
Like Henry, Farley offers year-round ghost tours and lectures on the paranormal. He also turned the SLPRS into a business, that builds investigative equipment. When asked about some of his favorite tour sites, Farley named Onondaga Cave.
“The cave once ran boat tours in its underground river. At the turn of the century a woman fell overboard and drowned,” Farley said. “People still hear a woman’s screams coming from the cave. Sometimes they also hear whistling and see motion-activated lights kick on in the distance when there’s no one there.”
Ghosts also seem to enjoy the theater, specifically The Fox Theatre, which is known for its ghost, an electrician who fell to his death and now hangs out along the catwalk. He’s credited with saving stagehands in danger of falling while setting up lights. Reportedly he grabs them by their belts and pulls them to safety. Then, there’s the couple who strolls through the theater after the final curtain call, hours after the theater closed.
“Theaters seem to attract ghosts,” Farley said. “Powell, The Fox, the Grandel Theatre and the Loretto Hilton [The Rep] – all have reported sightings.”
As for haunted neighborhoods, Farley’s favorite is the Lemp Neighborhood.
The Lemp Neighborhood also is the favorite of Stephen Walker, author of “Lemp: The Haunting History,” and “Ghosts Among Us: True Stories of the Paranormal.”
As far back as Walker can remember he loved a good ghost story. Today, he collects stories in lieu of hunting the supernatural. His collection begins with the Lemp Mansion, a place that’s considered to be St. Louis’ spook central.
“I fell in love with the Lemp Mansion years ago when a buddy took me for lunch there,” Walker said. “From that day I wanted to learn everything I could about the mansion and the Lemps, who are far more interesting as people than they are as ghosts – although the ghost stories are pretty interesting.”
The Lemps’ suicide history seems to fuel the apparitions along with what Walker calls ghostly pranks – unexplained missing items and locked doors. William Lemp Sr. committed suicide in 1904 in the master bedroom on the home’s second floor. Billy Jr. committed suicide in 1922 in the front office, now called the suicide room and where you can enjoy a chicken dinner each Sunday. Charles killed himself 70 years ago this past May in his upstairs bedroom. It’s a sad history that has become the foundation of Walker’s investigations.
“I’m a historian first and a collector of ghost stories. I poke around and look for things but I don’t use detectors like others. I work with the history because its verifiable. Prohibition really happened, and I think William killed himself as a direct result of that,” Walker said.
He has documented countless sightings and experiences at Lemp. One story involved a couple who took their bags upstairs. The husband went downstairs to the front desk to finish check-in. When the wife came down the stairs screaming and ran out the front door, the husband went back to get the bags. Within minutes, he came running back, without the bags, and ran out the door with no explanation. Another apparition happened late one Sunday night after one of the Lemp’s family-style chicken dinners. A well-dressed man walked in just before closing. The waiter told him he was a little too late for dinner but the man passed him and went upstairs. The waiter followed into one of the bedrooms and the man vanished.
“I’ve not seen a Lemp ghost yet, but I have attended a midnight séance in the rathskeller,” Walker said, reporting how tables bounced and shook, which drove some participants from the room.
After visiting the Lemp Manison, Walker encourages people to visit the Lemp’s next door neighbor, the Chatillon-DeMenil House.
“I didn’t realize the activity at the house until I started collecting stories and interviewed some of the volunteers,” Walker said. “During a tour outside Mrs. DeMenil’s bedroom, a guide saw a smoky cloud moving back and forth about 2 feet below the ceiling. It appeared for about 10 seconds and then, instantly vanished. She wasn’t the only one that saw this – others on the tour saw it, too.”
Walker reminds ghost seekers that you can’t make plans to go out and see a ghost. It’s unpredictable. However, you can visit the places where spirits are known to hang out. Places like those featured on haunted tours of St. Louis and St. Charles.