Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Haunted Businesses That Have Spirits - and Serve Spirits

Spirits Lounge – Alton, Illinois

It’s October and all this month we’ll explore haunted drinking establishments - restaurants, taverns, wineries, anyplace that serves spirits, and has “spirits.” 

So let’s hit the road and discover who or what it is that makes these places so dark and brooding…

Today’s stop is in Alton, Illinois, which claims to be “one of the most haunted small towns in America,” and after visiting, I can believe it.

The place has an odd, expectant feeling, like the proverbial "waiting for the other shoe to drop." A friend who has lived there described it as “being in a fog.”

Mississippi River
Pere Marquette
Located on the banks of the Mississippi River, the place evoked feelings of trepidation when Pere Marquette arrived in 1673. While exploring the Mississippi River, he found two monsters images painted upon the cliffs. 

Illiniwek Indians
The Illiniwek Indians called these monsters the Piasa, “The bird which devours men.” According to legend this monster could fly like a bird and had a taste for human flesh. It appeared one morning to the Illiniwek and began carrying away a tribe member each day. After several days, the Illiniwek were able to trick the bird and send it to its death over the edge of the cliff and into the great river. As a tribute to their success, the Illiniwek painted the image of the creature high on the cliff walls.

Marquette described these paintings of the Piasa as large as a calf; they have horns on their heads like those of a deer, a horrible look, red eyes, a beard like a tiger’s, a face somewhat like a man’s, a body covered with scales. And so long a tail that winds all around the body, passing above the head and going back between the legs, ending in a fishes tail.”

When Alton was founded in 1818, it was a river town. Slowly over the years, it
River Confluence
grew into an industrial city, but its past has remained dark and full of tragedy. Many claim this is due to the confluence of the Mississippi River and the fact that the city is built over limestone. (Paranormal studies indicate that limestone emits high EMF – electromagnetic field levels, which can contribute to hauntings.)

Alton was home to the first penitentiary in Illinois, built in the 1830s. But being the first did not make it a state-of-the art facility. Conditions and treatment at the penitentiary were horrible and many died there.

Confederate Prison
During the Civil War the penitentiary was turned into a Confederate prison. Almost 12,000 prisoners passed through the gates. Smallpox broke out in the prison and soon spread throughout the town reaching epidemic proportions. Bodies were taken to an island in the middle of the Mississippi to be buried. Although the island has disappeared, many buried there are said to linger on, looking for their remains around the city.

Underground Railroad
Grave of Elijah Lovejoy
Alton was also home to several stops on the Underground Railroad. This was an extremely dangerous stop since St Louis was pro-slavery and Alton was anti-slavery. Many of those seeking freedom were killed or captured before ever leaving Alton. Abolitionist printer Elijah Lovejoy was murdered here by a pro-slavery mob while trying to protect his printing press.

Even in the 21st century, the spirits still seem restless. For a small town with a population of 27,000, Alton can boast to having well over a dozen documented haunted buildings downtown. Ghosts are big business in Alton. Several paranormal and ghost hunter shows have traveled here to conduct investigations, and there are up to a half dozen haunted tours offered throughout downtown on weekend nights.

Former Masonic Temple
To Spirits Lounge
That's why Alton seemed to be the perfect place to search for a haunted location that serves spirits – with spirits. And I found, what else but Spirits Lounge  located at 300 State Street in downtown Alton. Spirits is housed in the former Masonic Temple known as the Piasa Lodge, along with a restaurant and banquet center.

Masonic Temple - Piasa Lodge
Built in 1900, the building has been steeped in mystery for over a century. Psychics have toured the facility over the years and have reported that up to 150 ghosts “reside” there. Almost all are unidentified, but believed to be former masons and their families.

Three such ghosts have been identified. The first and most famous is Frank E. Harris. Harris was a Master Mason at the lodge in 1927, and served as secretary for 39 years. Frank always enjoyed attending the society’s meetings, and apparently still does. In the unused third floor ballroom, once the site for Masonic meetings, Frank’s presence has been noted when he sits upon the dust-covered benches and leaves behind a seat impression.

Nelson Edwards
Another Master Mason who tends to stay around is Nelson G. Edwards. Edwards’ family founded the town of Edwardsville in Illinois and his father was a Mason.  Nelson was a Master Mason from 1849-1850 and always enjoyed sitting in the rocking chairs in the lounge. Even today, you can find a rocker drawn up in front of the TV in the men’s lounge, when no one is there.

Ruth Smalley
The spirits also include a female masonic ghost, Ruth Smalley. Ruth was a member of the Order of the Eastern Star, and the Matron of the group in 1927. She is said to remain today, keeping an eye on things, appearing in the ladies lounge, and slamming doors when she disapproves of something.

Two children have been seen in the kitchen and dining areas of the building. The girl is thought to be named Rachel, and some say she died next door, at the hotel, in 1838. Nothing is known about the young boy who plays with her. They may be the cause of the malfunctioning automatic hand dryers and toilets, which go off when no one is in the restrooms, or even on that floor.

Confederate Soldiers
It is also said that the basement still houses four Confederate soldiers who died of smallpox during the Civil War. All four men were Masons so they tend to feel “more at home” at the Lodge. While somewhat shy, they have been known to touch people who pass through the basement.

If you happen to be in Alton, Illinois take a ghost tour of the town and make time to visit Spirits Lounge in the former Masonic Temple building. You can enjoy something from the full menu, but be careful where you sit - you never know who might already be there…

~ Joy