Saturday, October 31, 2009

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.”

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