Wednesday, March 11, 2015

HGB Podcast 33 - Morse Mill Hotel

Moment in Oddity - Carnac Stones

Carnac is a small village in  northwest France. Carnac is home to the Carnac Stones. These stones number 3,000 and make up one of the largest megaliths in Europe. The stones were erected during the Neolithic Period and were hewn by the pre-Celtic people of Brittany from local rock. The largest stone is over thirteen feet high. The stones are laid out in both straight lines and circles with some of the lines stretching further than 2,000 feet. Why were these stones placed here? There are many theories. Some scholars believe that the megalith was built over time as people erected stones in honor of ancestors. Some think the stones are grave markers. Others speculate that there is a connection to astronomy. The idea that these are grave markers is supported by the fact that the area also has several Dolmens, which are funeral chambers. The area was first excavated in the 1860s by a Scottish antiquarian named James Miln. The site is in need of management to help preserve the area. The megalith was taken over by a group of protestors in 2002 demanding that the site stop its current management and form a different plan. Controversy still abounds. Megaliths like the Carnac Stones are a wonder, but they are also odd.

This Day in History - Spanish Flu Hits America

On this day, March 11th, in 1918, the Spanish Influenza is diagnosed and reported for the first time in America at Fort Riley in Kansas. A cook had come down with influenza a couple days earlier, but it was not identified as Influenza until the 11th. One hundred soldiers were infected by that time. Cases were reported that same day in Queens, New York as well. Now imagine hundreds of infected troops being shipped overseas to fight in World War I. Close quarters caused the disease to spread throughout Europe. This first wave was the least deadly. Two more waves were worse with more than 195,000 Americans dying. Worldwide mortality is estimated between 50 to 100 million. Cities banned public gatherings and people were quarantined. Gravediggers were overwhelmed. Famed pilot Amelia Earhart contracted the Spanish Flu, but she survived. It is believed the virus originated in China, traveled with Chinese laborers and mutated in America. The flu was given the name "Spanish" because most of the news of the pandemic came when the virus traveled from France to Spain. Global organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization formulated plans to prevent pandemics based on their experiences with this flu.

Morse Mill Hotel

The Morse Mill Hotel in Hillsboro, Missouri has it all for history and ghost enthusiasts alike. This location has not only served as a private residence, tavern and inn, but also as a hospital for the Confederate wounded during the Civil War. And during Prohibition, this building was both a speakeasy and a brothel. A female serial killer has been connected to the Morse Mill Hotel as well. This nearly two hundred year old structure is full of surprises and quite possibly, ghosts.

The first structure built on this property was a one bedroom house in 1816 that served as a residence for a farmer. The area had once been a Native American burial ground and had been ruled by the Spanish under the Louisiana Territory. By 1816, the region was known as the Missouri Territory. William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition served as the territorial governor. In 1847, bridge engineer and entrepreneur John H. Morse settled the area and built a grist mill along the shores of the beautiful Big River, naming it Morse Mill. That mill was the longest running and most prosperous mill in the state of Missouri. The mill would give the city of Morse Mill its name as well. Morse bought the farm property at that time and expanded the house to 5300 square feet and three stories, building it from limestone and maple. The house has a New Orleans style balcony and Widow's Walk. Unfortunately, the date that the Morse homestead was built is hard to track down. We have found dates ranging from 1847 to 1856 or the early 1870s. We also found a Groupon posting that claimed Morse was a warlock.

John Morse joined the Confederate Army when the Civil War broke out. The home became
Sandy Creek Covered Bridge
a makeshift hospital for the Confederate prisoners of war and possibly a stop on the Underground Railroad. After the Civil War, Morse opened a contracting business and built the Sandy Creek Covered Bridge that still stands today and resembles a long red barn. He later went on to become a state senator representing the counties of Jefferson and Washington. As if that was not enough, Morse opened two general stores as well. Morse had big visions for Morse Mill. He knew the area would make a fine retreat for tourists, but he did not live to witness the future playground for the rich, famous and infamous his home would become.

When Morse died, his home became the Riverside Hotel and it was expanded further to make room for eighteen guest rooms and a fourth floor was added. The entire town of Morse Mill became a thriving tourist town. The hotel became a hot spot for many people looking to find relaxation near the waters of the Big River. The hotel saw its most success during the 20s and 30s. Guests included Charles Lindbergh, Charlie Chaplin, actress Clara Bow, Al Capone and J. Frank Dalton.  Dalton is an interesting character. He claimed to be Jesse James and although his claims did not hold up under the scrutiny of James' family members, many people do believe he was the real deal and when he died in 1951 at 103, his death certificate recorded his name as Jesse Woodson James. A sheriff by the name of Oran Baker went to the funeral home where Dalton was taken and confirmed that he was indeed Jesse James based on markings on his body, including a missing fingertip. Dalton's gravestone bears the name of Jesse James as well. If we believe this, then Jesse James frequented the Morse Mill Hotel. The official website for the hotel claims that Jesse James and his gang left their names in the register along with doodles. Apparently, one of his gang members was a cartoonist.

During Prohibition, the hotel was the perfect location for a speakeasy. The whiskey that was served, was Al Capone's whiskey. But Al Capone was not the most infamous character to be tied to Morse Mill and the hotel. That distinction goes to Bertha Giffords who was born near Morse Mill in 1876. Bertha's family was a Christian family and well known. In her twenties, Bertha married a man named Henry Graham and they took on the managing of the Morse Mill Hotel. Graham became ill and died. It would be years before people would surmise that Bertha killed Graham with arsenic because arsenic is going to put Bertha in the annals of female serial killers and she is going to be quite prolific. After Graham died, Bertha married Gene Gifford, a man she was rumored to be having an affair with. They moved to Catawissa, which was several miles away, in 1911. That same year, Bertha went to the Pacific Pharmacy and purchased a large amount of arsenic for "rats." In 1917, she would also make large purchases of arsenic from the Powers Pharmacy. Bertha was known to be a great cook and she made great candy. Candy that killed. Yes indeed, Bertha poisoned several children with her arsenic candies. Sherman Pounds was a drunk who spent some time at the Gifford's farm. He died after some violent stomach pains, but people assumed it was the alcohol that got him. His granddaughter died in the same house several years later. Bertha made potions too that she administered to people on their sick bed. Gene's mother died and then his younger brother. Jim Ogle, a hired hand they owed money, came down with malaria or something and Bertha nursed him to death. The deaths started to pile up and anywhere between 17 and 26 are credited to her. She was finally arrested in 1928 and charged with the murders of one man, Edward Brimley, and two boys, Elmer and Lloyd Schamel, seven and nine years old respectively. She was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was locked up in an asylum until her death there in 1951. Her death certificate reveals she had been diagnosed with Paranoid Psychosis. She is buried in Morse Mill Cemetery.

New highways were built and resorts in the Ozarks became more appealing. Morse Mill lost its luster as it became a declining town with much of it washing away in a flood in 1993. Patrick Sheehan bought the Morse Mill Hotel and is working to restore the building. The hotel is open for paranormal investigation and events. And with a history like this, paranormal activity is plentiful.

Bent fire poker
In 2008, a paranormal group made a documentary named Morse Mill Project. The group claimed that something unseen played with their camera equipment, moving it. They reportedly saw a tall dark shadow figure and a fire poker was bent into a curve by something not seen. And they heard several strange sounds including a loud metallic sound. A couple of the people were scratched as well.

The current owner has gotten used to the paranormal activity even though he had no idea that the place was haunted when he bought it. Disembodied footsteps are a common occurrence at what he took on as a project. Glowing orbs are seen, doors are opened and closed, locks are locked and unlocked and apparitions have been seen. A group that included police officers investigated the hotel in February and they reported:
"K2 and flashlight sitting on display cabinet started lighting as soon as turned on and placed on case. One officer thought he heard someone whispering behind him, he turned around and no one was there. One of the young girls felt dizzy and had to sit down all of the sudden.  She felt better after moving to a different area. We kept hearing noise outside the window while I was giving history, I actually stopped and had Dawn go outside to check noise.  No explanation and it started again after she came in. One of the officers is part of a swat team and he brought his night vision glasses while I was finishing the history he started to see a figure behind the large upright display case.   At first all that he could see was the legs.   At least two of the other officers looked and agreed that it wasn’t a reflection of any of us in the room. Several of the group tried the dowsing rods.   They all received responses to the questions they were asking while holding the rods. I had placed a flashlight on the stairs and while we were using the dowsing rods the flashlight stared going on and off in response instead."
A ghost by the name of Annabelle, who claims to be twelve-years-old, lives in the attic. The entity purportedly plays with toys brought by investigators. However, we did find other investigators that reported that this spirit claims to be five or six years of age. In the basement is a room that contains shackles and a body was buried there. The ghost of a former slave is reported to haunt this area. Clattering of cooking implements are heard in the kitchen. Both of the Giffords are thought to haunt the location, but we doubt that. Bertha's first husband Henry Graham would be more likely. Spirits have been witnessed outside of the house too. Many groups have recorded EVPs numbering into the hundreds. Most experiences are not negative. There are claims that at least twenty spirits are on the property.

Image captured on attic stairs
The previous owner was named Alice and she claims that the hotel is not haunted and that she never experienced anything paranormal. When people charge for investigators to go though a place and seem to be making money for it, it does tend to place doubts on claims. It is nice to have the money to help with restoration, but it does raise questions. 

Morse Mill Hotel was featured in Travel Channel's Most Terrifying Places in America 6. Are the previous guests still staying at the hotel? Has John Morse been reluctant to leave his home? Has some kind of residual energy been trapped in this hotel? Is Morse Mill Hotel haunted? That is for you to decide.

Show Notes

*Morse Mill Hotel website:
*American Hauntings Event, April 25, 2015 - $75.00 per person:
*Bertha Gifford death certificate:


  1. I do agree with all the ideas you’ve offered to your post. They are very convincing and will definitely work. Still, the posts are very short for starters. May you please prolong them a little from subsequent time? Thanks for the post.
    free slots online