Five St. Louis Ghost Stories That Just Won't Die

Five St. Louis Ghost Stories That Just Won't Die
Tim Lane
The Bubblehead Family of North County,Zombie Road and Molly Crenshaw.

"Ghost stories exist because most people want some kind of tangible connection to the past."

So says Christopher Gordon, director of the Missouri History Museum's Library and Collections, whose job title requires that he devote some time looking into local tales of the occult and paranormal.

Yet there's another reason why we love our lore and gore. "Most everyone appreciates a good scare," admits Gordon.

Mark Twain's Ghost's Ghostwriter
Tim Lane
Mark Twain's Ghost's Ghostwriter
Monkey Business in the Lemp Family
Tim Lane
Monkey Business in the Lemp Family

That's especially true this time of year as interest in St. Louis' urban legends grows. Some of these tales, handed down from generation to generation, date back nearly 200 years to the city's founding. Others were born around campfires within the past half-century. And while it's easy to dismiss most of these yarns as an out-and-out fallacy or exaggeration, some fables refuse to be laid to rest — no matter how outlandish their claims. Here are five of those tales.

Believe them...or not.

The Bubblehead Family of North County
On a windswept October evening, Carrico Road seems like the sort of place plucked right out of a Grimms' fairy tale. The winding stretch of asphalt disappears from one bend to the next. Fallen leaves swirl across the pavement, and at least eight signs along the shoulder of the roadway carry the same ominous message: No trespassing.

Somewhere in the thick woods beyond those signs, according to local lore, live the Bubbleheads. Some say they are a family who took experimental drugs that caused their heads to swell to the size of large pumpkins. The government — or the pharmaceutical company — bought them off and hid them away on this isolated road just south of the Missouri River in unincorporated Florissant. Others say that the Bubbleheads are an old St. Louis family with physical deformities from years of inbreeding. They keep to themselves, or they attack trespassers in a flurry of rage. Some stories about the area reference "hook men" who stalk the night, mysterious hitchhikers from the great beyond or simply ghosts with big, swollen heads.

Yes, Carrico Road is the kind of place where urban legends are born, though ask local thrill seekers for directions there, and you will likely get blank stares. People know it better as Bubblehead Road, and they've been coming here for at least 40 years — much to the dismay of residents.

A homeowner along Carrico Road who declined to give his name says interest in the myth seems to ebb and flow. Still, a couple times a year, he says, he'll wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of a car stereo blasting at full volume or maybe the squealing of tires.

"I know those are kids out there messing around, looking for the Bubbleheads," he says.

Dr. John L. Oldani, a retired professor from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville who has studied regional folklore for decades, says the Bubblehead tale follows a common pattern.

"It's one of those stories that relies on an FOF — a friend of a friend," Oldani says. "People will keep telling these stories, but it's always going to be a friend of a friend, maybe someone they know but can't name, who saw the Bubbleheads themselves or who picked up the ghostly hitchhiker."

Still, might the myth contain a kernel of truth?

John Goessmann, who inherited an old farmhouse on Carrico from his aunt and uncle six years ago, suggests there could be. He remembers a boy who lived at the far end of the street a long time ago. The boy had hydrocephalus, a medical condition that leads to swelling of the brain. Supposedly he would play outside wearing a helmet to protect his sensitive skull. Goessmann and others say the family moved away a long time ago — probably to seek privacy.

Yet the search continues for the Bubbleheads.

Randy Vaughn, a media-relations officer for the St. Louis County Police Department, remembers how trespassing and noise complaints kept him busy throughout the 1990s when he patrolled the area near Bubblehead Road.

"We've issued so many tickets and violations out of there over the years," Vaughn says. "Kids won't leave it alone, especially in summertime and around Halloween."

Molly Crenshaw: It's Hard To Keep a Good Woman Down
Molly Crenshaw may be the most well-known woman in the history of St. Charles county. At Francis Howell High School generations of students pass along the myth of Crenshaw — a bitter Haitian (sometimes Jamaican) woman who was allegedly lynched as a witch in the mid-1800s after villagers blamed her for a devastating crop failure.

In other versions of the story Crenshaw is a freed slave and a voodoo practitioner who cast spells on neighbors. Just before being murdered at the hands of the angry mob, Crenshaw warned that anyone who touched her grave would drop dead.

Legend has it that townspeople chopped her body into quarters, burying them across the countryside so that she would never rise again.

But the real Molly Crenshaw (actually Mollie Crenshaw), the one whose tombstone teenagers have been seeking out for half a century, wasn't a witch or a murder victim or an Afro-Caribbean woman. According to the obituary that ran in the now-defunct St. Charles Cosmo-Monitor, Crenshaw was a schoolteacher-turned-spinster who quietly ended her own life one morning with carbolic acid she'd purchased from a drug store.

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