Saturday, October 31, 2009

Cape Girardeau is notorious as a favorite haunt for spooks and ghosts of all kinds, no doubt helped by its long history as a Mississippi River town. On this blog, we’ll visit a few of the more well-known haunted spots in town – Old Lorimer Cemetery, the Glenn House, and Port Cape – as well as check in with some businessmen whose inn is frequented not only be guests, but by spirits from decades past.

The program was produced in the studios of KRCU, the National Public Radio affiliate for Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois.

That Old Lady Told Me to Get Out!

Listen to Jeanie Rhodes' story.Jeanie Rhodes used to live in an old house in Cape Girardeau, and the place never felt right. She had nightmares, sensed weird things. Nobody ever felt comfortable in that house.

“The entire time I lived there, I had the feeling that somebody was watching me,” Jeanie says. “If I was awake, I would feel like somebody was maybe looking in to the kitchen while I was cooking. Peaking in the front window if I was watching TV. I got that feeling quite often. When I was asleep, I guess it would be more of a recurring dream. I dreamt that somebody was peering over me, and watching me sleep, and I was terrified to open my eyes because I was afraid that he would be there.”

Jeanie would often have the feeling that her watcher was hiding in the large cedar closet in the master bedroom. “And there was also an unfinished part right off the master bedroom,” she says. “In my recurring dream he lived in the unfinished part right off the master bedroom.”

Did Jeanie ever get a sense of what he looked like?

“No. Just a creepy middle-aged guy,” she says.

Jeanie wasn’t the only one who was uncomfortable in the house … and the creepy guy in the unfinished part wasn’t the only ghost. Apparently, a previous owner … an elderly lady … had passed away there.

“My daughter, who was about two at the time, was down in the basement playing, and her ball rolled into the unfinished part of the basement,” Jeanie recalls. “And when she went in to get it, I heard her screaming. I ran down to the basement. She was pale and shaking. I said, ‘What happened?’ and she said, ‘That old lady told me to get out!’ She never went back to the washing machine again.”

“The only time we would go into the unfinished part of the basement, which is where the laundry room was, was to do laundry,” Jeanie says. “It was not an area that we played or gathered ever. As far as the unfinished part off of the master bedroom, that was primarily used to storage for Christmas decorations, and I was so scared to go in there that I wouldn’t get the decoration out. They just stayed.”

It’s almost as if the unfinished parts of the house did not even belong to Jeanie, but rather to former inhabitants.

Old Lorimer

Old Lorimer Cemetery is one of the most historic places in Cape Girardeau. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and is the burial place of Cape Girardeau’s founder, Louis Lorimer. The cemetery dates back to the earliest days of Cape Girardeau in the early 1800s. It is located on Lorimer and Fountain Streets, an area originally considered the outskirts of town.

It’s not surprising that there are probably more ghost stories associated with Old Lorimer Cemetery than anywhere else in Cape. Regional historian Dr. Frank Nickell took KRCU’s Jacob McCleland to the cemetery to shed some light on some old ghosts.

Listen to Frank Nickell and Jacob McCleland discuss Old Lorimer Cemetery.

Jagged trees push up scattered tombstones in Old Lorimer Cemetery in Cape Girardeau. It’s a place veiled in mystery where the long shadow of history has fomented nearly as many ghost stories as there are gravesites.

To the best of our knowledge, Charlotte Lorimer was the first person buried here, in 1808. Charlotte was the wife of Cape’s founder, Louis Lorimer, and a Shawnee Indian. Louis Lorimer indicated that he wanted to bury Charlotte on the hilltop to return her to her people, according to Dr. Frank Nickell.

“This supports the idea that Old Lorimer Cemetery may have been used as a Native American burial ground long before there were European here,” Dr. Nickell says. “There are recurrent stories of burials here in which they dig the graveside and hit human bones. There probably were burials before this. It’s a beautiful hilltop overlooking the river, overlooking the community, so it’s a natural cemetery site.”

This is an old cemetery with some old tales. The most well-known and persistent ghost story from Old Lorimer is “The Tapping Ghost.”

Old Lorimer Cemetery did not have a fence until just a couple decades ago. People could easily walk through the cemetery at all times of day. People who lived to the north of the cemetery would often cut through the cemetery on their way to the downtown district, which at the time was where all the businesses were located.

“Many people indicated, and have told persistent stories, that as they were walking through the cemetery someone would tap them on the shoulder. They would turn to the right or to the left and no one was there. And then they would look and think ‘Something must have fallen on my shoulder. It must have been a hickory nut.’ And they would walk a little further, and then two taps, or three taps. And then they would be frightened and dash off to downtown, wondering ‘Who is this? What is this?’ And so there were many people who would report to newsmen and it would be placed in the local newspaper that there was a “tapping ghost” in Old Lorimer,” Dr. Nickell says.

Lorimer Cemetery ghosts do not confine themselves to simply tapping people on the shoulder. There have been a number of accounts, primarily from women, who have been walking through the cemetery when someone or something would tug their hair from the back.

A tour group from Washington, Missouri came to Cape Girardeau recently with the sole intention of visiting Cape’s haunted areas. The group spent most of the night at Old Lorimer Cemetery. A young woman was standing alone near the Houck burial site when her hair was yanked. “She assumed it was a good friend of hers,” Dr. Nickell says. “But she turned and there wasn’t anyone there, and she thought, ‘Well that’s strange,’ and discounted it. She turned back, and then there came two tugs and she became frightened and dashed off to join the crowd for support. “

One of the most long-lived legends about the Old Lorimer Cemetery is the alleged tunnel that runs to the Sherwood Minton House, located just a block away. The Sherwood Minton House used to be a small pox hospital during the Civil War, and it is alleged that soldier who had succumbed to injury and disease were transported in the underground tunnel or in the middle of the night to their burial in the cemetery so as to avoid a panic amongst the locals.

“And so they would have stories about processions of soldiers bringing dead bodies to be buried in Old Lorimer in the middle of the night without any record. That gives rise to all of the stories about the ghost of Old Lorimer, and the connection to the Sherwood Minton House, which is supposedly haunted by the ghosts of those soldiers who died there in that hospital.”

Dr. Nickell says that ghost stories are a vibrant part of folklore. Even though mass media and pop culture have drowned out many aspects of folklore in modern times, ghost stories persist.

“We use folklore to explain things we don’t understand. In time periods when you have the least amount of control of the environment and of your life situation, the more you belief in folk traditions and folk explanation. I think there is an attitude right now that we don’t have a lot of control about what’s happening in our economy and our society. And so it gives rise to more mysterious or ghostly explanations. Maybe that’s part of it. But there certainly is a resurgence in ghost stories,” Dr. Nickell says.

Why do some ghost stories persists, and others fall forgotten? The stories that perpetuate across generations need to be understood by the youngest members of the family, which is why, according to Dr. Nickell, guided tours of historic location to third graders invariably have to include a haunting. Ghost stories can hold a third grader’s attention.

“Even children can understand the ‘tapping ghost.’ There has to be a simple explanation to a complex issue and a complex story,” Dr. Nickell explains. “Many of the ghost stories are very simple. They are about reoccurrence, they are about reappearances, they are about things that happen that you cannot explain rationally.” According to Dr. Nickell, ghost stories often reflect a society’s values, and he sees American culture embracing supernatural themes with increasing regularity these days.

There’s a cyclical nature to ghost stories too, and how they relate to society. Decay. Decay is a big part of many, many ghost stories. The once opulent house, filled with vivacity and hope, begins to see tough times. The natural human process of aging. Lorimer Cemetery, for instance, went through a period of vandalism and neglect. Part of this, Dr. Nickell says, is due to a loss of confidence in the concept of progress. Instead, our society is embracing circles, cyclical history, cyclical stories.

“Great houses that once were showplaces of wealth and stability will change over time. We don’t have the family size anymore, so we have big house with two people living in them. Or big houses with one person living in them. That’s difficult to maintain, so we often see houses, old houses, historic houses change. As the landscape changes, the buildings change and consequently you’ll see a big old house, Victorian in style and architectural features, or a Queen Ann House with gothic windows… as that house is no longer used to the full extent – you don’t have eight kids or seven kids in the family – you now have maybe an older couple living there, and they don’t maintain the upstairs as well. They don’t take care of it. They don’t get out and paint it themselves. As a result the house deteriorates a little bit and it becomes more mysterious. Questions are asked about it, and those houses sometimes become the basis of haunted houses. You can see that in any river town, especially, that once had great captains an

d captains of industry who lived there and had a lot of money and built an opulent house showplace facing the river. Today those houses no longer meet the same needs. They may stand empty. They may be for sale. They may sell and resell. And the result is they deteriorate a bit and that adds to the mystery of that house.”

Belle, the Ghost of Port Cape

Listen to the story of Belle.

The Port Cape Girardeau Restaurant and Lounge is one of the oldest buildings in Cape Girardeau. It has anchored “Warehouse Row” on the riverfront since at least 1860 as a warehouse and commission house, and finally as Port Cape Girardeau. With plenty of history here worth haunting, Port Cape is home to one of the most well-known ghosts in town.

Dale Pruett has been bartending at Port Cape for twenty years. While the old building creeks and moans in its own particular way, he has spent too many late nights alone in the old building -- and heard a few too many sounds that he just can’t explain.

Dale led us upstairs to an area that is used for storage on the top floor. In the corner, an old wooden elevator – the first elevator in Cape Girardeau – sat unused and covered by sheets and pieces of plastic. A dim light bounced across the musty room as Dale sat us down to tell us about Belle, the ghost of Port Cape. There is no better setting to talk about a classic haunting.

“Well, they say maybe she jumped out the window but I’m not really familiar with that story exactly. Or maybe she was Grant’s mistress or something, but…could be.”

Dale gave Port Cape’s ghost the name “Belle” because he got tired of saying “the ghost.” He says that a few days after coming up with her name, “I was out in the hallway downstairs, and nobody was in the bar area. And we have a bell…a nautical bell…and it just suddenly rang. Not just a little bit, not just a ‘ting,’ but really hard. I wasn’t in the room, so I came back and looked, and the hammer was hanging there on the leather strap, and I just thought, ‘Well, I guess she likes her name.’”

Dale says that his sightings of Belle span over the twenty years that he has been at Port Cape. All of the workers at the bar and restaurant are familiar with Belle, and the legend of the ghost has become part of the culture of the restaurant. Before Dale started to work at the bar and restaurant, he says he was ambivalent about ghosts. “I toyed with it, you know, ‘yeah, why not’-type thing, but this more or less confirmed it.”

“We’re friends. Yeah. Well, I don’t know about friends, but…” Dale says. But some people are not so chummy with the ghost. “Most of the new people that are here aren’t on friendly terms. ‘Go upstairs and get a whatever.’ ‘I’m not going upstairs. Not unless someone goes with me.’ Over the years, there’s been several of those people.”

Dale now thinks that Belle likes him. “I wasn’t really sure in the beginning,” he says. “But now we have to like each other. I’m not going anywhere, and she isn’t, either.”

So what exactly does a ghost like Belle do? “Just little annoying things,” Dale says. “Noises. Footsteps. And there’s nobody there. You’ll check it out, of course, because you don’t know. I just want to make sure it’s not a hard body—those would bother me…You know, feel her hand on your shoulder…you know those things are kind of spooky…I just hope it’s Belle.”

Others have caught glimpses of Belle as well. They will often report a strange figure in a long, flowing, 19th century period dress moving from room to room before disappearing altogether.

“What I have seen up here, as far as seeing things, they look like…orbs, I guess…floating across the room,” Dale says. “Of course, they were heading to the same stairwell I was heading to myself. Needless to say, with them ahead of me, I didn’t run. I let them go ahead.”

“You just blow it off, you know, ‘Yeah, that was, you know…okay, I didn’t see that.’ And then it’s like, ‘Gosh…It’s happening more often,’ but like I said, it doesn’t happen when you want it to.”

“She comes and goes when she wants. I’m on the clock, and she isn’t. ‘I’ll leave you alone—I’m leaving. You can stay here all you want.’”

Although sightings of the actual ghost are few and far between, Dale says that Belle has her own way of making herself known.

“She’s kind of playful. I was doing the checkout one evening, and every time I’d do my paperwork, my peripherals would go wild,” he recalls. “I’m in there all alone. So I slapped my hand on the table and said, ‘If you’ll just be quiet and leave me alone for a minute, I’ll be gone.’ And it went away. Then after about twenty more minutes of paperwork, I left. Sounds like you could come up with a scenario for all of this—light off the river, or mirrors, or something—but no, that isn’t what it was.”

“If somebody says they think they saw the ghost—Belle—they’ll tell me a story, and if it’s a recurring thing, they saw Belle,” Dale says.

One such encounter occurred about 15 years ago when a couple from Wisconsin stayed in one of Port Cape’s furnished rooms for the weekend, during which time they actually captured the elusive ghost on film.

“They just loved the room downstairs,” Dale says. “There was nobody in there, so they took a picture from one wall looking at the other—north looking south, east looking west, that kind of thing—and he sent back some pictures. At that time, we had antique tables and chairs in that room. There were the same white orbs in three of the chairs in every picture. It was just an orb in a chair—the same three in all the pictures.”

So does Belle have friends? “Well, by those pictures, there are probably others. And I assume that there are. And they may change off, and I just use the one for…blame everything on her.”

To skeptics, Dale says that nothing substitutes for experience, and that all it takes is living with a ghost to change your mind. “I had somebody ask me, you know, ‘That’s just poppycock,’ you know, ‘Bull.’ What would you tell somebody that didn’t believe in ghosts? I said, ‘Move into a haunted house.’”

The Glenn House's Holiday Spirit

The Glenn House is one of Cape Girardeau’s finest architectural treasures. Originally built in 1883, with significant updates in 1900, the house magnificently sits atop a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. For decades, it was one of the most elegant homes in Cape Girardeau and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

And just like many of the old buildings in Cape Girardeau, the Glenn House is purported to be haunted. Jacob McCleland visited the Glenn House to learn more.

Listen to the Glenn House’s story.

The Glenn House was built by a wealthy gentleman named Edwin Dean as a wedding present for his daughter, Lulu, and her husband David Glenn in 1883. David became a prosperous banker in Cape Girardeau, but his fortunes sank and by 1915 David and Lulu Glenn sold their home to move into a less luxurious place.

The middle of the twentieth century was not kind to the Glenn House and it lost its luster and became a broken-down old Queen Ann until it was renovated in the 1970s and turned into a public attraction.

The Glenn House is a big, opulent place with plenty of hidden nooks and crannies … and it’s precisely the type of place that would seem natural for a ghost.

In the case of the Glenn House, it’s Christmas – not Halloween – that brings out the spirits.

Every December, volunteers decorate the Glenn House in grand fashion, with a majestic tree, ornaments galore, and decorations throughout the house. The volunteers who work at the Glenn House really go out of their way to create the feel of a prosperous Christmas from around the year 1900.

Yet several volunteers have commented that odd things tend to happen during the holiday season. Decorations are moved around. Gifts are found stacked up. Meticulously wrapped presents are opened.

Bonnie Chaudoir is the volunteer in charge of decorating the Glenn House for Christmas. She has never seen anything out of the ordinary with the Christmas gifts, but there have been a couple of strange occurrences that have given her pause.

“Now I have done this many times, never, ever had a problem. I still didn’t see anything or hear anything. It was just really strange,” she says.

Bonnie and I stood at the bottom of the stair on the main level of the house. It’s a beautiful rustic old staircase with a worn smooth handrail. It was this staircase where Bonnie had her first inexplicable run-in with … something.

“But I started up the stairs and approximately there – up to two steps above it – was absolutely ice cold,” she says. “And I thought ‘Well that’s strange.’ I went almost to the top, came back down to see if there was a draft coming with this door open, it was still ice cold.”

Ms. Chaudoir did not know what to make of the cold spots on the staircase and that evening at dinner she mentioned it to a friend. Her friend told her, “You need to stop and think. I have a feeling that you had an encounter with a spirit that may still be in the house.”

“Ice cold. It was the strangest thing,” Ms. Chaudoir says. “See, if you open the stair door up there that goes out onto the back porch, you get a wind through here like you wouldn’t believe. But it was just right here that was cold. The stairs below and the stairs above were the same temperature as the house, which was cool, because we’re talking about November.”

Ms. Chaudoir just kind of shrugged off her friend’s suggestion until the next January, when once again some inexplicable things started to happen in the Glenn House. Ms. Chaudoir had taken down the Christmas decorations in most of the house, save one room. She was in the kitchen with a local florist had helped with the decorations.

“We were just getting ready to go out the door and we heard somebody walk from the master bedroom, across the hall, and into the nursery. It’s very distinct when you walk upstairs, the house being old, you can hear anyone moving around at any time. She looked at me because we knew no one else was in the house. We had just checked the whole house and locked it. And she said ‘I didn’t hear that, did you?’ I said, ‘No, I really didn’t,” and she said ‘Well let’s get the heck out of here!’ and that’s not a direct quote,” she recalls.

Ms. Chaudoir did not tell anybody about what she heard upstairs out of fear that people would think she was nuts. She got to where she would not go into the house alone. One day after a board meeting, the board president asked her to take something to the upstairs storage room. Bonnie asked her if she would accompany her upstairs, and told her why she refused to go alone. The board president relayed the stories to another board member, who did some research on the house.

“And I have learned that a young girl, I’m not quite sure of her exact age, fell to her death and they found her approximately in the spot where you said you felt the cold air, closer to the bottom. At the time there was conversation as to whether she had actually fallen, or if she was assisted with a push. But nothing ever came of the investigation.” Ms. Chaudoir continues, “I’d rather not say who was living in the house at the time.”

Since that January, Ms. Chaudoir says that she has not had any more similar experiences in the Glenn House.

The Inn on South Sprigg Street

Listen to the tragedy of Alex the Ghost.

In the mid 1990s, James Coley and Eldon Nattier bought an old house in terrible condition on South Sprigg Street in Cape Girardeau. They fixed up the century-old building and turned it into a successful bed & breakfast, and they have subsequently purchased several other properties on the block.

This is an old house in an old part of time. Eldon says that it was not long after they first bought the old condemned property that their real estate agent, Jan, inquired about their new roommate.

“Jan just, in her cute little way, she said, ‘Have you met your boarder that resides in the house with you?’ And I said, ‘Excuse me?’ and she just smiled and giggled and said, ‘If you haven’t met him, you will.’ And when I questioned her I got nothing more from her except a sweet smile and that was it,” Eldon says. “The house was vacant at the time, and virtually nothing worked.”

The boarder that Jan spoke of started to make himself known in curious ways. There was a set of keys that disappeared then mysteriously reemerged on a guestbook in the foyer. Table settings would move about the table. A chandelier would be turned off overnight.

The chandelier anomaly was difficult for James and Eldon to figure out. They made sure that they would leave the chandelier on every night … yet every morning, the knob would be turned all the way to the ‘off’ position.

The house, now known as the Rose Bed Inn, was built by the Schrader family in 1908. In the 1940s, Ella Schrader died, leaving the house to her husband, William, and their spinster daughter, Myrtle. William was getting on in years and the neighborhood was beginning to decline. The house was too big for an elderly man and his adult daughter. So they put the house on the market and moved into a smaller apartment.

However, they could not find a seller. One day, James says, they were approached with an offer.

“A young who seemed to be quite ambitious, by the name of Alex, approached Myrtle Schrader about living in the house. He wanted to buy the house, but he did not have the down payment. He was engaged to a young woman from what we understand was a prominent family here in town,” James says.

Eldon adds, “But after the marriage, apparently there would be adequate money to buy the house.”

“But he was not from her social set,” James continues. “So he had ideas of this big beautiful house, to renovate it and bring it back to its former glory, and bring it back up to what was then present day code in the late 1940s.”

The house was about 30 years old when Alex approached Myrtle Schrader about buying the house. He managed to talk Miss Schrader into letting him move into the house while he worked on some updates.

“The problem is,” James says, “he was engaged to this girl from an upper socio-economic class, and he was trying to be good enough for her family. But the real problem was, he was gay.”

At night, Alex would sit in the front room, waiting for his lover to walk up from the south end of the street. This is the same room where James and Eldon’s mysterious chandelier turns off.

Time went on, and finally his fiancé and his lover found out about each other. Both were devastated, and decided that they would confront Alex together in the house on Sprigg Street.

“Oh, and it hit the fan,” James says. For a period of time, nobody saw Alex. “Apparently people started missing Alex,” James says. “Eventually, the neighbors complained of a stench. Someone came and checked the house. Didn’t find him. The stench got worse. And the stench led them to the attic. Where people had just gone up to the attic stairs, and didn’t see anybody up in the attic, they didn’t check all of the different parts of the attic. Because once the stench got bad enough, the stench led them around to the other corner of the attic that was not visible from the attic stairs. And that’s where they found Alex hanging by the neck.”

“Which is where I have my office,” Eldon adds.

According to James and Eldon, Alex stayed in the house on South Sprigg Street. Always watchful that his lover or fiancé may come to visit, he spent hours in the dark, looking out the window, puffing away on a cigar.

“Ever since we’ve opened this business we’ve never allowed smoking in this house,” James says. “And every once in a while we’ll come in the house, we’ll come in the house and it’s the unmistakable aroma of a cigar. And now I know I can just come in the house and when I smell a cigar, I can say, ‘OK Alex, put it out!’ and immediately the smell is gone.”

James and Eldon are not alone in their interactions with Alex the ghost. Several guests at their inn, with no previous knowledge of the house’s ghastly history or ghostly activity, have had some unexplainable experiences … and they have noticed a few recurring themes. For, instance, it seems that Alex likes to manifest himself to people with his name.

“A child by the name of ‘Alex’ was quite entertained by the things on the table in front of him, in the dining room, moving around,” James recalls. “I remember he tapped his grandmother, and he said ‘Look! Look!’ and the stuff on the table in front of him was just moving around on its own.”

While in this case Alex was simply entertaining a child, there have been other instances when he would actively make it difficult for guests to eat by moving their plates around. This was particularly true for guests who had crossed James and Eldon. Other guests claim to have seen Alex without knowing it.

“We’ve had some guests that have said they were looking out their window, and who is the man who patrols back in the parking lots at night,” Eldon says. “That’s our night watchman, that’s what we tell them. Because at night Alex our ghost, he patrols and watches the cars and watches the buildings.”

Nowadays, James and Eldon are a little more comfortable living with a ghost. And, honestly, they like to think that they have a kindred spirit as their night watchman, as their security system.

They claim to sometimes see shadows, to catch a glimpse of a figure in their peripheral vision. But it’s rarely more than fleeting. And anymore, they don’t feel creeped out by a ghost in their house. Alex is just another inhabitant.

“But we’ve gotten a little more compatible, the three of us, in the last ten years,” Eldon says. “The three of us are getting along a little bit better. He makes a little less noise and we make a little less noise towards him. So we’re all learning to coexist a little bit better.”

They’re able to coexist, Eldon and James say, because Alex is happy to have them in his house. First of all, they fixed up a house that was in a terrible state of disrepair. Secondly, they believe that Alex is proud of the lifestyle that James and Eldon are able to live as a gay couple. In Alex’s time, such an open relationship would have been unthinkable.

So maybe that is what makes the three of them click. They have their squabbles from time to time – Alex, for instance, will sometimes put centerpieces precariously close to the edge of tables. But Eldon says that they have found him to be a reasonable ghost.

“We speak to him just like we speak to you,” Eldon says. “Especially if we are alone in the house and the other one is gone, and we hear something or see a shadow, or something, we just acknowledge him and go on. That just seems to be the best thing to do, is just acknowledge him. He wants acknowledgement obviously.”

Rose Theatre

The locations we have explored all have one thing in common: They all go deep into Cape Girardeau’s history. However, one of the most well-known haunted spots in town is not nearly as old … and the stories behind its haunting are not nearly as clear.

Rose Theatre on Southeast Missouri State University’s campus was built in the 1960s. Yet for some reason this building has several of the most persistent ghost stories in Cape Girardeau.

Listen to Christy Mershon's story about Rose Theatre.

If there’s anyone that knows the Southeast Missouri State University campus ghostly hot-spots, it’s Christy Mershon, assistant director of Extended & Continuing Education.

“Honestly, Rose Theatre is probably the stuff that I’m the least convinced would have been real, or that I was the least convinced would’ve had any basis in fact,” she says.

The theatre was built in 1966 and for many years housed the Theatre Department. One normally doesn’t associate a 1960’s era building with ghosts, especially one that does not have a history of death, mayhem, or murder. Regardless, Rose Theatre has its legends.

“There’s Mary, which is just a name students have given her. I think it comes from the old Bloody Mary stories,” Christy says. “Mary was said to be a girl who was murdered on the land before the theatre was built. And there’s a mysterious spot in the back row of the theatre said to be blood, and I’ve heard several variations of this, that when they poured the concrete that makes up the floor of Rose, that the spot just appeared. No matter what they did, it just kept coming back out, and so it couldn’t be rust, it had to be blood. And most of the Mary sightings are seen in that back row of the theatre where the ‘blood spot’ is.”

Christy thinks that the foundations of the Mary legend are muddy and unclear, and that just where Mary came from remains as mysterious as the ghost herself.

“Sometimes Mary is a young girl, and sometimes she’s an older woman, probably a woman in her twenties or so. There are some stories that I think lean toward her being a childish ghost, but in others Mary was the wife of a French fur trader,” she says. This fur trader husband often went downtown to partake in disreputable deeds, until presumably Mary had enough. “Apparently Mary decided that that was going to be the end of his nefarious activities, and she killed her fur trader husband and herself. So I think that story is where the woman in her twenties comes from, and she’s more of the vengeful spirit,” Christy says.

Christy started to see a ghost hunting trend at university extended and continuing education offices across the country around 2001. She was skeptical at first, but decided to give ghost hunts a try. The experiment proved successful. Dozens of amateur ghost-hunters crawled out of the woodwork over the next few years, and her haunted tours have become wildly popular.

“Rose Theatre was something that we sort of threw into our haunted tours because there were lots of stories about it. It was more because it was talked about and less because I really thought it had any shot at being haunted,” she admits.

A couple of years ago, Christy was facilitating a Haunted Cape Girardeau tour. She was going back and forth between different groups, making sure things ran smoothly. One of the groups was in Rose Theatre, and she needed to get them to speed things up.

“I hadn’t been in there with them the entire time,” she says. “I walked into the back of Rose Theatre, and as I was heading down the stairs I got to about the third stair from the top, and I felt like somebody shocked me.”

“My dad has a 1940s refrigerator that he’s very attached to and he’s never gotten rid of it. But I learned at a young age that if your hands were even slightly damp and you touched the door of this refrigerator it would almost make the hair stand up on your head It was a really similar feeling to that,” Christy recalls. “So I was looking around, thinking ‘OK, who put something here to get me,’ you know.”

She looked up at the group, and saw that they were all taking pictures of her.

“And this group that was here last year had a psychic with them. And she said, ‘She’s right beside you.’ And I’m looking around because there was no one beside me, thinking ‘Who? What? What’s shocking me?’ They said walk slowly down the stairs and they kept taking pictures. When I got to the bottom of the stairs, she said she had disappeared, and about the time she said that I quit feeling that staticy feeling.”

The people in the group started looking at their digital cameras. In every single photo, there was a pinkish colored floating ball of light right next to Christy.

“If you’ve watched the sci-fi stuff, they call that an orb,” she says. “People had taken their photos from different locations and angles, and so the likelihood of it being like a reflection from the exit sign or something I would have thought would have been moderated a little bit by the angles that folks were taking the pictures. There wasn’t any ambient light coming in from outside because that’s a pretty sealed area.”

History of Ghost Stories

Despite her shocking run-in with something in Rose Theatre, Christy says that there’s a perfectly practical element to many ghost stories throughout history, and that each tale attempts to communicate specific truths about what it means to be human. “If ghost stories transcend time and transcend cultures, then they must be true,” she says, then adds, “Or it could just be that it is human nature to a) try to make moral sense of the world, or b) try to make sense of why things happen.”

Archaeologists have found indicators that even Neanderthals had burial rights and customs for how to take care of their dead. Anthropologists have looked at this information and concluded that Neanderthals had figured something out: Dead bodies are kind of icky.

“If you, as a Neanderthal, were trying to make sense of, ‘If I leave this dead body in my cave and everyone starts to get sick,’ you don’t understand germs, but what you might be able to understand is, ‘If I don’t honor my kinsman, then their spirit is going to come back and visit some evil on me.’ And so we, again, try to make sense out of our world. So if we don’t have a clear understanding, we might then do the next best thing, which is rationalize why this is happening. If we don’t know germs, then it has to be a spirit. So the stories start to begin there,” she explains.

For generations, Christy says, people believed that they should behave in a certain way else the Boogeyman will get you. She points to today’s horror movies, which propagate a common mythology. “’If you do this, this might happen to you.’” So I think there’s some of that, and maybe just a little more wonder. Because the older you get, aren’t you more likely to start wanting for your own peace of mind to explain things away? So I think we sort of do that to ourselves, too—we begin to rationalize ourselves,” she says.

“We quit wanting to see the unexplained, and we want it to make sense. And that’s what a lot of ghost stories do for us,” she says. Christy cites the case of Lizzie Borden, who supposedly took an ax and gave her parents 40 whacks, but was never officially convicted of killing her family. Most people are familiar with this chilling tale, and the intrigue that surrounds it is still evident today.

“The building is still there, it’s a bed and breakfast now, for people who want to stay, and it’s been preserved—I think they have the same furniture, which I think is a creepy idea—so in that case, you can obviously see where the ghost story came from. I mean you have a gruesome history. Gettysburg is ripe with ghost stories. So they seem to be either tied to some historical fact, or tied to some sort of mythology, maybe like Port Cape’s elevator, some sort of tragedy, like the Glenn House—there was a lot of tragedy in the Glenn family. When tragedy happens, it’s easy to have ghost stories evolve after that.”

“You’re already hearing 9/11 ghost stories, right? About how that’s haunted and hallowed ground? We need to make sense of what happened, so I think in the future there will be more stories of people going to the memorial and strange things happening,” Christy says.

Wherever our tendency or desire to see ghosts comes from, Christy says that the commonalities found in the individual stories help define the human condition by continuing to terrify, perplex, and even unite us.

“The Neanderthals might have passed back and forth orally that you had to bury your dead or something bad would happen. Fast-forward to the 1940s and a soldier might have died, and a letter arrived that he must’ve written after he died. In the 1970s there might’ve been a phone call after someone had passed that couldn’t have happened. Today, there might be a Facebook message that was left after someone has passed on. So you can see moving forward where the stories are going to go, but in essence, they’re still the same story. And I think that’s why we’re so attracted to them.”