Views of the Weird

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

"So the house is severely haunted, and we're able to see them and count them as they fly through the house," Lynch says.

Lynch adds that he believes the house is so haunted because it sits directly over a geodesic zone, which is a fracture in the earth that supplies a low-grade electromagnetic field that provides an enormous amount of continual energy for the entities. This geodesic zone is about 30 feet below the mansion's front porch.

"You cannot have a haunting unless you have an energy supply to feed it. Entities require a constant type of energy on a certain frequency for them to absorb," Lynch says.

One of Rick Dixon's photographs that he says shows a family of ghosts in the Alton City Cemetery
Rick Dixon
One of Rick Dixon's photographs that he says shows a family of ghosts in the Alton City Cemetery

"If they don't have this energy source, they break down, they slip into an alternate dimension that some people call paradise or heaven that is beyond the earth's plane. Some people call this the ethereal or astral plane. So what happens is that as long as they are earthbound, for whatever reason, they will resonate in an electromagnetic spectrum that ranges in the spectrum between light and the microwave category."

Lynch says that entities as powerful as Paul have evolved over the years by adding energy to their electrostatic exterior skin. Because the entity is pure energy, it has no form, no hands, no feet, not a flake of dandruff unless it creates them with its own thoughts.

So when Paul makes himself appear before Antoinette, as he has several times over the years, he does so through sheer desire. Antoinette says that sometimes she sees him when others around her don't, but if she even senses his presence anywhere in the room, she asks someone to snap a picture, because he'll show up later in the photo.

"Cameras are just one of the little toys we use," she says. "Another is an electromagnetic-field detector that senses any kind of electromagnetic activity in the area. We also use compasses, because if it's sitting still and pointing due north and then suddenly moves, there has to be something that made it move. It happens. A digital thermometer is used, too, because often, if there's some kind of activity, the thermometer will suddenly go up or down."

Kaczmarek of the Ghost Research Society says quite a bit of technical equipment is used, because ghosts are made of pure energy. "We use Geiger counters, negative-ion detectors, things like that, because a lot of times they're not readily visible to people, and the devices can pick up anomalous energies that are present in locations a person may not be able to perceive."

There are hundreds of gadgets out there designed to detect anomalous energies for ghost hunters, including those sold on the Internet at Web sites like the home page of the International Ghost Hunters Society. For $99, an EMF Ghost Detector, for example, allows anyone to measure energy strength. There's a difference between ghost anomalies and manmade energy fields, the advertisement reads, and "other web sites may sell this unit, but they do not provide support or instructions on what range ghostly anomalies are valid within and which range should be ignored because of man-made energy readings." There are also infrared thermal scanners for $269 and plans for building a Magnetic Field Ghost Detector for $10.

You can even get a Ghost Hunting Certification from the society by taking its $149 course, which includes instruction on "Understanding the Nature of the Dead," "The Psychology of Earth Bound Spirits" and "Understanding Orbs, Ectoplasm and Vortices."

Marlene, who's not as psychic as she'd like to be, relies instead on her growing experiences. "I always wanted to see a ghost clearly, like you sitting there only fuzzy and faded and misty. But then I learned to look at things that were clearly defined, only they had a sudden fuzziness in the corners, because that's where the ghosts are. So now, instead of looking for a full-grown man, I look for those fuzzy areas, those areas where things are smudgy. You have to change your expectations."

It's a warm afternoon, but the wind is strong and blows black-walnut missiles by the dozens from gangly trees growing wild in the front yard of the McPike Mansion. The house stands with its front door ajar, a cold wind blowing out as if just on the other side a fan blows steadily over large ice blocks.

In the front yard, sitting in white plastic lawn chairs are Antoinette, Marlene, another psychic named Gary Hawkins, a ghost photographer named Rick Dixon and the house's current owner, Sharyn Luedke. Inside, one of Sharon's friends guides a group of five paying customers -- tours of the house are $10 a person -- through the place to help raise the $1.7 million it will cost Sharyn to completely renovate the 130-year-old structure.

Sharyn and her husband, George, who is at the moment wielding an ax in the overgrown side yard, bought the house in 1994 at an auction for $42,000. Since then, the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois has categorized the McPike Mansion as one of the 10 most endangered historic places in the state.

"I didn't know it was haunted when I bought it," Sharyn says, "but when I found out, I was scared to death. I didn't know anything about spirits, and then I heard about Antoinette and called her."

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