In celebration of Halloween month, we offer a haunted house story. (Note: This house is NOT for sale).
After Old Houses Under $50K featured a couple of cheap old homes for sale in Alton, Illinois, readers let me know than the community is considered to be one of the “most haunted small towns in America.” Alton has no shortage of ghostly tales, but perhaps the most infamous haunted house is the McPike Mansion. Whether you call it an Italianate or Second Empire, the notorious home is nestled amongst gnarled oak trees, towering over Alton from atop Mt. Lookout, the highest point in town.
Built in 1869, the McPike Mansion was designed by architect Lucas Pfeiffenberger for Henry Guest McPike and his family as their 15-acre country property. The red brick mansion was one of the largest and most extravagant and regal private dwellings in Alton at this time. It featured 16 rooms, 11 marble fireplace, intricately carved staircase, beautifully carved trim bordering the ceilings, and vaulted wine cellar. all of which have been stolen during its abandonment. Intricate carved trim still border the ceiling in one of the front rooms.
Henry Guest McPike (1825-1910) was the first owner. He was a local businessman, horticulturist, secretary, treasurer and mayor of Alton. At the age of 60, McPike married the 32-years younger Eleanor Jane “Nellie” Moreland (1838-1934). This was his third marriage. His first wife died and the second marriage ended in divorce. Henry and Nellie lived in this, their country home, with their daughter Moreland (1887-1984). McPike had six grown children by his other wives, but they appear to have lived elsewhere. After Henry’s death in 1910 at his home, the McPike family continued to reside in the mansion until 1936 at which time Nellie and Moreland relocated to Denver, Colorado.
Per Find A Grave: “Henry was a close friend of Abraham Lincoln and sat on the podium during the Lincoln-Douglas Debate in Alton in 1858. He was also with Lincoln in Springfield, IL, when the telegram arrived informing Lincoln of his election to the presidency. Mr. McPike was a real estate developer, owned a box manufacturing company, served as Mayor of Alton 1887-91 and was a noted horticulturist. The mammoth “McPike” grape was developed on the McPike estate (Mount Lookout) in North Alton. The grape was patented and became famous for the wine produced from it.”
Paranormal Activity Begins
The mansion was sold to Peter Laichinger, a factory superintendent, and his wife Florence in 1938. (At that time, the home was valued at $4,000). Laichinger’s two adult stepsons lived with them and told of strange events that could not be explained. Although no children lived on the premises, the stepsons reportedly heard the voices and laughter of children.
In 1945, Mr. Laichinger died relatively young at the age of 59. His family continued on at the mansion for ten years, but it lay vacant from the 1950s well into the 1990s. Neglect, weather and vandals turned the mansion from majestic to menacing. The rusty iron fencing, peeling paint, broken windows, and graveyard added to the property’s reputation as a place where ghostly spirits dwelled. Rumors of apparitions looming in the windows began to circulate.
In 1994, Sharyn and George Luedke purchased the mansion, undertaking its restoration with the hopes of turning it into a bed and breakfast. It did not take long for the couple to realize, however, that the mansion held secrets. Within six weeks of living in the house, Mrs. Luedke experienced her first ghostly event. As she was planting in the front garden, she looked up to see a strange man staring at her from a window. He quickly vanished, but not before she got a good look at him and his attire. Soon after, while researching the history of the mansion, Mrs. Luedke was shocked to see a photo of the previous owner, Paul Laichinger, wearing the same outfit as the strange man in the window.
Other Paranormal Events
Light orbs that show up in photos, pacing footsteps, pacing footsteps, vanishing objects and an invisible presence have been reported with several of these experiences captured on film for shows like Scariest Places on Earth’ and Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files. Most of the activity takes place in the wine cellar where a mysterious mist appears that follows people as they walk around the basement. Additionally, a cumbersome metal basement door has been known to move on its own and scrape across the floor.
Psychics and mediums have visited the mansion often and suggest that McPike family and other past residents of the estate still roam the halls. Owner Sharyn Luedke is convinced, however, that it is the ghost of not only Paul Laichinger, but also of a servant girl, Sarah Wells, that inhabit her home. The fragrance of Sarah’s lilac cologne still lingers in the old attic servant’s quarters.