Views of the Weird

A look at the ghosts of Alton -- and the people who believe in them

She adds, however, that love is the most passionate emotion of all.

"I don't really know why ghosts exist in Alton," Antoinette admits. "But I believe that ghosts stay around primarily because of love. Either they love a person who is still here and they don't want to go on without them, or maybe they love a house, or maybe they love the earth and just aren't ready to move on yet. Most of the ghosts we encounter are friendly."

Paul, for example, haunts McPike Mansion because of his love of the house, Antoinette says. He's a friendly sort, she adds, who has a sense of humor and communicates with her on a fairly regular basis.

Jennifer Silverberg
McPike Mansion owner Sharyn Luedke: "I didnít know it was haunted when I bought it, but when I found out, I was scared to death."
The wine cellarof the McPike Mansion is where most of the ghostly activity of the house takes place, according to Antoinette Easton.
Jennifer Silverberg
The wine cellarof the McPike Mansion is where most of the ghostly activity of the house takes place, according to Antoinette Easton.

"It's not extended conversation or anything," Antoinette says. "It's a combination of thoughts and emotions that is very hard to explain. Like, when I go into the house, I'll say, "Hi, Paul!' and I get this real happy "Hi!' and it's here" -- she pats her forehead -- "and here" -- she pats her chest.

"I think when you're moving from one reality to the other, one dimension to the next, you're trying to communicate across some sort of barrier, so communication isn't as free-flowing as between you and I. But emotions are easier to communicate than anything else. You don't send thoughts, you send emotions."

Professional ghost-hunters around town say hauntings, like those of the McPike Mansion, are caused by physical phenomena no one yet fully understands. Especially the uninitiated.

Troy Taylor says that 90 percent of the calls the American Ghost Society gets have natural explanations behind them, including creaky floors, squeaky pipes and overactive imaginations. The remaining 10 percent can be broken down into two types of hauntings: residual and just plain scary.

"By far the most hauntings are residual," Taylor says. "It's simply energy that has imprinted itself in the atmosphere of a place. It's where sights, smells, sounds and events of the past seem to replay themselves over and over again. It's like a VCR kicking on. It's just a repetition of something that took place.

"The No. 1 place that becomes haunted in an old house is the staircase. Why? Because so much energy was expended going up and down the stairs, especially when all of the bedrooms were on the upper floors. So you have this impression of people going up and down the stairs. It doesn't necessarily mean the house is haunted, it doesn't mean that anything terrible ever happened there -- it's just a repetition, an impression of something that took place.

"Science has told us that matter is an illusion, that everything that seems solid is really particles in motion all the time. It would be really easy to make an impression on something like that."

Consider, Taylor suggests, going to the house of friends for dinner, only these friends had a fight just before you arrive. When you enter the house, you feel the "tension" in the air. That tension in the air is really the energy expended to have the fight, and it made its impression, its imprint, in the house. Residual hauntings work the same way.

Dale Kaczmarek, president of the Ghost Research Society in Chicago, adds that residual hauntings are strongest when associated with intense emotions. "It's usually an untimely death," Kaczmarek says. "It doesn't have to be a violent death, just an untimely one. It can be murder, suicide; it could be something very sudden or very traumatic or very violent."

As for the other types of hauntings, the scary ones like those in the McPike Mansion, well, there may be a physical explanation for those as well. Michael Lynch, a special investigator for Para-Vision Investigations in St. Louis -- which specializes in videotaping ghosts -- has visited the mansion on many occasions and suggests that it is the prototype of a truly haunted house.

Lynch, who runs a multimedia department at Washington University, says Para-Vision recently developed a way of detecting ghosts -- "entities," he calls them -- by catching them on videotape. At the McPike Mansion, he set up video cameras throughout the entire house and ran them for 36 hours nonstop. When the tapes were later analyzed, little white spots of "static" showed up, indicating that some sort of energy field had been detected.

Since the house was condemned years before, no electricity ran through the structure, so Lynch went back and monitored the energy with a voltage meter and found that it fluctuated incredibly. Because it was energy that couldn't be seen with the naked eye, Lynch found the correct frequency of light to bounce off it, and -- presto -- reflections started showing up.

"What we found is that there are over 100 different entities in the house," Lynch says. "There are four major phantom classes. One is the largest phantom class we've ever seen. It's about 10 feet by 10 feet in cubic volume. It's one of the dead owners, is our best guess. His name is Paul. There are also several Class Fours and two Class Eights, meaning they're 8 inches in diameter, and probably 50 or 60 Class Twos that are in a colony situation.

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