Oct 302012

All right, so far, I’ve demonstrated Alton has a lot more historical significance than the average Midwestern small city. There’s another side to it, which makes me, as a writer of dark suspense, urban fantasies, supernatural thrillers, horrors, and so on, proud.

FATE Magazine once called Alton: “The Most Haunted Small Town in America.”

Eat your hearts out, Ray Bradbury and Dan Simmons, you other small town Illinois dark fantasy writers.

The first story I can tell relating to this is not in any book. FATE doesn’t know this story. I can’t prove it. It’s not, technically, even involving a ghost. Though it is spooky.

And it does relate to the previous post where I write about the convicted assassin of Dr. Martin Luther King, James Earl Ray, being born in Alton.

I said the story goes back to when he robbed the small grocery story owned by the grandparents of friends who lived across the street from me.

But that’s not strictly true.

For me, it goes perhaps even farther back. Too far back to remember the date.

And like my memory of Mom telling me about Wegener’s Grocery Store being robbed, I’d probably have forgotten it if not for April 4, 1968. And it wouldn’t have any significance if Ray had not been arrested and convicted of King’s murder.

My family attended First Presbyterian Church at the corner of Alby and Fourth Street, which is basically downtown Alton.

Yet we lived in the North Alton area, off State Street.

So to get to church, we drove down State Street. When State goes to the right, we continued straight down Ninth Street hill, then continued around to Alby (yes, going right by Wegener’s Store) and so on.

At some point, and I don’t remember how or why or how old I was, I became frightened of a house on the east side of Ninth Street hill.

I never told anybody, so I can’t prove this, but I thought of it as a ghost or haunted house. I was glad to be safe in Grandpa’s car driving by. Even on a Sunday morning, I didn’t want to be near it.

As I grew older and, perhaps, a little more mature, I forgot about the scary haunted house on Ninth Street hill that frightened me, though we drove by it every Sunday morning and many other times going downtown, until I saw a picture of it in the mid-April LIFE MAGAZINE covering Dr. King’s assassination.

It was the house James Earl Ray was born in.

Why did it frighten me as a child? I don’t know. It was a small, ramshackle house, and since then it’s gone through countless renovations. It was no more and no less rundown than the other small, ramshackle houses to each side of it. But it was that house that scared me. And that house where Ray was born.

One of the more well-known haunted places in Alton is the McPike Mansion on Alby Street (so, yes, James Earl Ray passed it when driving to escape capture after robbing Wegener’s grocery.)

It was built in 1869. It appeared in the series Scariest Places on Earth, and Season 1, Episode 7 of Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files.

I have also gone by the McPike Mansion many times, but never been frightened by it. (I’ve also never been inside it either, though!)

I have to make a confession here.

I grew up in Alton. Although I never went near many of the places mentioned there as being haunted, I grew up on Logan Street, just a very short way from the intersection of Logan Street and Holland.

If you read the Hop Hollow article on the Alton Hauntings website (link at the end), you’ll see the original Hop Hollow Road lead from Blue Pool to the Confederate Cemetery near what is now Rozier, in North Alton.

Blue Pool is a small pool at the same level as the Mississippi River. Supposedly it has no bottom. It must be connected to the Mississippi by an underground tunnel that now goes under the Great River Road. It may well be haunted itself, for there’s no telling how many people have drowned swimming in it. You can dive in, but there’s no easy way out, and if it carries you down, you go deep for a long time.

Just beyond Blue Pool are bluffs leading up what is now Fairmount, a very exclusive private residential area. I could be wrong, but I believe Blue Pool itself is part of the area owned by John Olin. His mansion was right up there at the top of the bluffs.

Also, another, smaller mansion. Across the street was the mansion occupied during my childhood by rightwing political activist Phyllis Schafly.

The road goes around, past the house where my grandfather used to live — and where I lived with him for two years after my father died — then joins Logan Street.

A short way down, into an ordinary middle-class neighborhood, is the red brick house where I grew up, where my mother lived until 1992.

A short way past that, Holland Street begins. There’s a mailbox on the corner. As a child, I looked that way often, because the mail carrier would park their little car there, and that meant they were headed toward my mailbox with rejected manuscripts, books I ordered, and — in my dreams — acceptance letters and checks from editors.

Holland Street goes on a ways, in an area that is still half-country. It goes by Rozier where the Confederate Cemetery and Confederate Monument are, past Tommy Check’s farm (in my day — now it’s a new subdivision), one of the big sellers of fireworks between the bridges, and on into Godfrey. And we called that Hop Hollow Road.

So if Hop Hollow originally began at the river near Blue Pool and went up to where present-day Holland runs, to the Confederate Cemetery, then it must have run very close to the current location of Logan Street, right past or through the location where my childhood house lies. That’s great!

I’d like to say I saw some of those dead Confederate soldiers as ghosts, but, though I went back and forth along Hop Hollow a zillion times, I never did.

No, I’m afraid my childhood encounters with the paranormal were limited to reading about it. Soon after going up the staircase to the adult section of Hayner Library from the downstairs children’s section, I discovered the nonfiction shelves arranged according to the Dewey Decimal System.

Like my character Georgie (in Assassin Years by Melody Ryan), when I wasn’t checking out the Science Fiction section, I was in the 100 and 200 series. That contained books on ESP by Rhine and others, yoga, ghosts, and other weird stuff, including books on Hinduism years before The Beatles visited the Maharishi Yoga in India.

Frank Edwards, Brad Steiger, and others told a lot of great stories about the supernatural and the paranormal. I was also fortunate to find the Ace editions of the four books by Charles Fort: Lo!, Wild Talents, The Book of the Damned, and New Lands.

Also, I was a great fan of FATE MAGAZINE and bought it consistently from the newstand.

I just learned The Dave Glover 2012 Halloween Special Show for this year — Halloween 2012 — is going to be at Milton School in Alton Illinois.

Dave Glover is a radio talk show host on 97.1 FM from 4 to 7 Monday through Friday — the evening rush hour. His regular show is very eclectic. However, every Halloween he finds a haunted place in the St. Louis Metro area, and they go there.

They’ve done the Lemp Mansion in St. Louis quite a few times. Some years ago they got permission to spend the night at the house where the boy whose real-life story in the 1950s inspired William Peter Blatty to write The Exorcist. Yes, an alleged real-life case of demonic possession.

The boy spent time in that house being exorcized by priests from St. Louis University, before they finally moved him to Alexian Brothers Hospital in South St. Louis (not far from where I used to live).

(Early in his radio career, Glover found and interviewed the last survivor of the priests involved, and grilled him on what was true and false. No, the boy did not puke pea soup at them. Yes, his bed did levitate.)

So this show should be broadcast Wednesday night October 31, 2012 from 4-7 PM CST. And it’s usually repeated, but you’ll have to check for that schedule. Hopefully there will also be an MP3 podcast version on the website.

If you get the chance, take the Haunted Alton Tour — And you can learn a lot more about the many haunted places of Alton from the articles on their website.