Friday, October 25, 2013

Haunted Towns in the Midwest - Alton, Illinois

Haunted Alton, Illinois and the Mineral Springs Hotel

Once again, the month of October is upon us…. a time for hauntings, Halloween - and all things spooky.  This month, A Grave Interest is traveling around the Midwest, taking ghost tours and getting a look at some ‘lively’ places, and, maybe, the spirits who make them so…

I decided early on that it would be smart to get some guides for these haunted jaunts. And who better to seek out than the local experts on all things paranormal in their towns.

On a cool, rainy night about 30 people milled around in the foyer of what was once a grand hotel in Alton, Illinois. First, let me preface by saying that Alton has the reputation (well earned, I might add) of being one of the most haunted towns in America.

The building we were in was, at one time, the Mineral Springs Hotel; given the name because of the mineral springs that flow below the building. At the turn of the century sulfur springs were thought to have healing properties. Here the water was pumped up inside the building to be bottled and used as cures for a variety of aliments. The hotel opened in 1914 and thrived for several decades before finally closing in 1971.

Mineral Springs Hotel Building
The building was reopened in the late 1970s as an antique mall and has had a rocky time since then. Today it is home to a few shops, the Torture Museum, and Mineral Springs Haunted Tours, which is where we began this night with tour owner, Janet Kolar.

Alton Cemetery
After “checking in” we proceed to our vehicles and followed the Mineral Springs Haunted Tour hearse "Pearl" to the Alton Cemetery. There we were told about several prominent Alton residents from the past as we visited their graves.

Sarah Bell's Stone
Tour in Cemetery
At the plot of the Bell Family, our guide told of a young girl, Sarah Bell, who died when she was around 10 years old. A small limestone marker was placed in the family plot to mark her grave, but it soon disappeared. Her mother was inconsolable and continued to search for the stone until her death some years later. After she died, an apparition of a lady in black was seen walking in this area of the cemetery, apparently searching for something.

Alton to Edwardsville
The story could end there but circumstances added a final chapter. A few years ago, a man in Edwardsville, Illinois (18 miles from Alton) contacted the cemetery wanting to return a tombstone he had found buried in his backyard. He had unearthed it while digging a foundation. The stone was that of Sarah Bell, missing for over 100 years. Since it has been returned to the family plot, the lady in black has not been seen…

Lovejoy's Grave
The grave of abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy is also located here, inside a small iron fence. Lovejoy began printing an abolitionist newspaper called The Alton Observer in 1837. But one year later a pro-slavery throng attacked his printing store in an attempt to destroy his press. During the melee, Lovejoy was fatally shot. Orbs and lights can sometimes be seen streaking past his grave, as if he is still trying to run his presses.

Cemetery Seance
Cemetery at Night
About midway through the tour, a séance was held down a dark cemetery road. Several took part, although participation was optional. Orbs and streaks of light were reportedly seen in the cemetery at that time.

Lobby Area Today
We then headed back to the warmth and light of the old Mineral Springs Hotel where refreshments were served in the Crystal Room. Then we began a tour of the old hotel, which has been called the most haunted building in Alton – and in this town, that is claiming a lot!

Using Rods
Things have gone “bump in the night” here for years. And tales of murder, suicide, and vengeance are abundant. Former employees, shop owners, and guests report phantom footsteps, cold spots, and an eerie feeling of being watched throughout the hotel.

Basement Pool Area
In the basement is a swimming pool; said to be haunted by several sprits including a young girl, a man, and a woman. Wet footprints have been seen near the pool, which has been without water for years. Splashing sounds have been heard in the basement but when investigated there are no sounds, and again, there is no water.

Mural of Alton
Another spirit that seems to linger here is that of Charlie, a painter who could not pay his lodging bill in the 1930’s. Instead of running out on his tab, Charlie offered to paint a mural of Alton on one wall of the bar. The owner agreed and Charlie worked off his debt, while also working behind the bar at night. Legend has it that something made Charlie despondent and he took his life one night.

Staff and customers have reported smelling alcohol in this section of the building and of having the feeling of being watched. The guide on this tour said that Charlie has been known to follow some women from the tour back home, but once he’s told to go away, he returns to Mineral Springs.

Probably the best-known ghost is that of the Jasmine Lady. The story goes that a woman and her husband came to the hotel to enjoy the healing waters around 1925, but while staying here she became involved with another guest.

Jasmine Lady's Room
Down the Hallway
One evening, when her husband was gone, she entertained the man in her room. Her husband returned unexpectedly and found the two. Panicked and terrified, the woman ran from her room and plunged down the stairs in an attempt to reach the safety of the lobby. What really happened is not known; did she trip while running down the stairs, or did her husband push her?  Either way, the result was a broken neck during the fall. She died immediately.

Haunted Stairs
Several employees, staff and guests have witnessed the replay of the Jasmine Lady’s fall down the stairs. Some catch a whiff of jasmine perfume that seems to linger around the staircase. Others have reported feeling something brush past them on the stairs, and some have seen business signs in the hallway swing back and forth as if moved by a sudden gust of air.

Mineral Springs Haunted Tours offers several walking tour adventures, after dark, in the downtown area, and in the cemetery, which also includes a tour of the hotel. Or, if you’re feeling very spirited, you might consider an exclusive overnight camp-out in the pool area.

Tour Group
For more information about tours and times, visit their web page at and the Facebook page at

Haunted Lobby
This is one hotel, that as the song says, “You can check out anytime you like” - but at Mineral Springs Hotel it appears that there really are some former guests “who can never leave…”

~ Joy

Friday, October 18, 2013

Haunted Towns in the Midwest - Westfield Indiana

Walking Haunted Westfield, Indiana with Historic Indiana Ghost Walks & Tours

Once again, the month of October is upon us…. a time for hauntings, Halloween - and all things spooky.  This month, A Grave Interest is traveling around the Midwest, taking ghost tours and getting a look at some ‘lively’ places, and, maybe, the spirits who make them so…

Underground Railroad Tour
I decided early on that it would be smart to get some guides for these haunted jaunts. And
who better to seek out than the local experts on all things paranormal in their towns.

On this balmy evening about 30 people stand on a darkened Westfield Indiana parking lot waiting to be conducted on a ghost tour with Underground Railroad connections. One of the partners of Historic Indian Ghost Walks & Tours, and our guide for the evening, is Michael Kobrowski.

Historic Indiana Ghost Walks & Tours Logo
Michael and his wife, Nicole began their publishing company, Unseen Press back in 2000, and the next year developed a ghost tour that centered around Westfield and its “Ghosts of the Underground Railroad.” Michael leads most of the tours, which are offered year-round. Nicole writes books about paranormal in the area; her latest was released just last month, and both go on paranormal investigations.

North Carolina Quakers Ala Bales, Ambrose Osborne, and Simon Moon founded Westfield in 1834, planning for it to be an Underground Railroad stop. The Quaker community was one of only six stops in the state that helped to hide, feed and clothe runaway slaves before they headed northward to South Bend.

Former Hotel
One of the stops on the Underground Railroad was a hotel on the main street. A Mrs. White ran it during the 1840’s and helped slaves escape the slave hunters who came after them. In the 1930s, a mortuary moved in and purchased the adjoining building to create a large funeral home. When that business moved, another business purchased the structure and placed offices in it. 

But everyone knew the former hotel was haunted. The hallway that adjoined the two original buildings always felt odd, as if you were being watched. Footsteps would be heard upstairs when only one person was in the building. People reported seeing a woman standing on the stairs who when approached would simply fade away.

And just a few doors away another building had similar happenings. It had housed a grocery store, an office and several other businesses before it became the home of Marlow’s Café. Marlow’s was located there for over 30 years before recently being sold.

Inside Marlow's
Restaurant employees reported that the kitchen area was very haunted. It was not unusual for servers and kitchen help to have their aprons untied as they worked. The stove burners would suddenly increase temperatures and food would burn. Several people have seen a dark shadow in the restaurant. A woman, who had worked in the building when it held offices, said that one night, when she was there alone; she heard an office chair begin moving in the next room. When she went to look, the chair was swiveling as if someone was sitting there. She retired shortly after.

Former Bank
The Westfield Savings and Loan stood proudly on a main corner for years until it was closed in the 1970s. Since then the building has been a café, artist studio, mortgager company and hair salon. Many tenants have reported something strange is going on in the building, especially around the staircase.

Haunted Stairs?
One person with an office upstairs reported coming in some mornings and finding everything on the desk thrown to the floor and furniture moved. The building's heat gets turned up to an uncomfortably hot level in the winter. Repairmen came in to check out the furnace and controls but no malfunctions were found. Some have seen an older man in bibbed overalls standing at the top of the stairs gazing down.

BANK Lettering Above Door
The basement is also haunted. A woman who worked there went downstairs to retrieve something from the old safe that was being used for storage. Suddenly the door slammed shut and she was trapped inside. (Good thing we live in a time when help is only a cellphone call away.)

A doorway to an underground tunnel has been found in the basement. It is considered part of the Underground Railroad and links this basement to the basement of Jan’s Pizza, located across the street.

City Hall Building
Stairs At Night
It seems that the Westfield City Hall is also haunted.  Lavender perfume can be smelled in the building, along with diesel fuel. Employees have reported seeing a man walking up and down the stairway dressed like a fireman. 

Assembly Room Window
On one of the Ghost Walks, several people saw a man floating about 8 feet off the floor in the assembly room. Window blinds have opened and closed when no one was there, and people have been physically touched and scratched on the tour.

Anti-Slavery Friends Cemetery
Union Soldier's Grave
Appropriately, the tour ends in the Anti-Slavery Friends Cemetery. This is the darkest part of the tour and the crowd quieted considerably when we entered the gates. A Union soldier is rumored to patrol these grounds. He has been seen leaning against a tree in the cemetery, before disappearing. He is known to walk the perimeter of the cemetery, stopping near one grave in particular – that of a Union soldier who died just after the war’s end.

People who have worked in the cemetery doing repairs have seen shadows and felt a presence nearby; someone might blow on your neck in a teasing manner, but then again, others have been scratched when not treating the cemetery and its “residents” with respect.

Unseen Press now offers six ghost walks and have added three Ghost Bus Tours to the lineup. Walking tours last between 1.5 and 2 hours, and cover about 1.5 miles. Bus tours may be longer. Visit the webpage or Facebook for more details and to make reservations.

So What's With the Snow?!
And don’t be too surprised when you get home and check out the photos you took (on a clear night, in 75-degree weather). Some things are easier seeing to believe…