McPike Mansion House in Alton, Illinois, called the “most haunted” site in the region where the Mississippi and Missouri rivers meet. In deteriorated condition, the McPike Mansion is not occupied, but nonetheless draws visitors for the Apparitions seen on the grounds and looking out from the windows. Phenomena inside the mansion also have been experienced.
The McPike Mansion is named after the man who built it—Henry Guest McPike, a man of Scottish descent who 314 McPike Mansion made his fortune in Alton in real estate, manufacturing, and insurance. He came to Alton with his parents in 1847, when he was 22. He quickly gained wealth, eventually owning more than 700 properties and two fire insurance companies.
McPike sided with the abolitionists, and when ABRAHAM LINCOLN ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate, McPike organized a famous outdoor debate on the riverside between Lincoln and his opponent, Stephen Douglas, in Alton in 1858. In those days, Alton was a major commercial and political center, far outranking nearby St. Louis, Missouri. McPike turned down various offers of political office, but did serve as mayor of Alton in 1887 and 1891.
McPike had the mansion built in 1869. It was his pride and joy, a symbol of graciousness and wealth, and one of the most spectacular homes in the area. McPike commissioned the famous architect Lucas Pfeiffenberger to design it. The result was a masterpiece of Italianate-Victorian beauty set on a 15-acre piece of land. The house has 16 rooms with 12-foot-high ceilings and a basement with a vaulted wine cellar. McPike called his home “Mount Lookout.” He had the property landscaped and cultivated with vineyards that became famous for the “McPike grape.”
After McPike died, his family continued to live in style in the mansion. In 1925, the mansion was purchased by Paul Laichinger, who may have rented it out. Upon Laichinger’s death in 1945, the mansion was turned into a boarding house.
For years the mansion was vacant and fell into disrepair. By 1990, it looked more like the fictional abode of the ADDAMS FAMILY than a once-magnificent piece of architecture. Gary Hendrix, a St. Louis contractor, came to its rescue and bought the mansion, planning to renovate it and restore it to its former full glory. He did little work on it, however, and in 1994 sold it at auction to George and Sharyn Luedke, both educators.
The Luedkes had been long interested in acquiring an old house to fix up. However, they were surprised to be the wining bidders. Soon the house next door to the McPike Mansion went up for sale, and they bought it and moved in. Their plan is to restore the mansion and turn it into a bed and breakfast.
The Luedkes have had a long, uphill struggle, despite the fact that the mansion was placed on the list of Illinois’s Most Endangered Places. They gave it recognition as a historical and architectural structure worthy of preservation and brought in a small amount of grant money for restoration. But the total estimated costs are high, and work has proceeded slowly. In 2002, the mansion was deemed unsafe and was condemned. The Luedkes have established a nonprofit historical society to help raise renovation funds. Sharyn keeps the haunting history of the place alive with published accounts, lectures, and ghost tour visits to the grounds. Visitors are not allowed inside.
Stories about Ghosts at the McPike Mansion circulated back when the place was a boarding house. More recently, untrue stories have circulated about ghosts from murders and SUICIDES there—not uncommon fictitious lore to be attached to a spooky-looking place.
From the beginning of the Luedkes’ownership, Sharyn experienced haunting phenomena and identified the ghost of Laichinger as present in the house. Laichinger had been a heavy smoker, and the smell of cigarette smoke occasionally arises. Could it be the accumulated residue of smoke imbued into the building materials, released as the materials deteriorate? Perhaps—see ANDREW GREEN for a case involving phantom smoke smells—but smoking has been prohibited inside the mansion for many decades. According to Sharyn, a group of visitors once even saw a cloud of cigarette smoke form.
Another ghost experienced by Sharyn and others seems to be a servant, whom Sharyn named Sarah. A surprising historical connection came later, when Sharyn was given some books that had been removed from the house many years earlier. One of them bore the name “Sarah Wells.” Sharyn has been hugged by this ghost, who also is associated with smells of lilac on the third floor. (Two of the most common smells associated with Hauntings are tobacco and lilac.)
In 1999, an eerie white mist was videotaped by paranormal investigator Renee Kruse in the basement. Kruse was among a group of visitors being given a tour by Sharyn. The mist suddenly appeared, moved toward the group, and enveloped them. According to Kruse, it had the feel of an electrical charge to it. Kruse followed the mist, which seemed to react to her. It eventually vanished.
In 2001, another dramatic experience befall a group of paranormal investigators, among them Kruse, Troy Taylor, Dale Kaczmarek, Dave Goodwin, Jim Graczyk, and Sharyn Luedke. The group went down into the vaulted wine cellar. Kruse escorted Kaczmarek’s wife, Ruth, upstairs and outside. Shortly there were sounds of footsteps crossing the floor above and coming down the basement stairs and the heavy door of the wine cellar creaked open. All assumed that it was Kruse returning to the cellar, but no one appeared. Kaczmarek looked outside the wine cellar, but the entire basement area appeared to be empty. Kruse returned a few minutes later—she had been outside during the time the footsteps and door creaking were heard. The sounds of the door opening on its own were caught on an audio recorder.
Other phenomena include footsteps up and down the staircases and poltergeist effects: objects that mysteriously disappear and reappear in another location.
- Taylor, Troy. Haunted Alton. Alton, Ill.: Whitechapel Press, 2003.