Thursday, July 4, 2019

HGB Ep. 301 - McPike Mansion

Moment in Oddity - Robert Wadlow

Robert Wadlow was considered Alton, Illinois' Gentle Giant. He was born in Alton on February 22, 1918. He was an average baby weighing in at eight pounds, but things would drastically change. By the time he was one-years-old, he was already weighing 44 pounds. At five-years-old, he was weighing in at 105 pounds and measuring five feet, four inches tall. When he started school, the whole world realized that Wadlow was quite different. Freak show operators came calling, but his parents wanted him to have as normal a life as possible. Doctors eventually diagnosed him with pituitary gigantism.  They told his parents that they could operate, but that it was very dangerous, so they opted not to do it. Wadlow had dreams of becoming a lawyer, but he soon realized that any career was out of the question as he was too big for books, cars and much more. His only option was to make money off the publicity of being a very tall man. The tallest man to have ever lived. He began promoting the shoe company that made his special sized shoes. He eventually joined the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus. He stipulated that they would need to provide a suite for him and his father to live in and that he would not be a part of the sideshow. He would enter the center ring, three times a day. He traveled to 41 of the contingent United States and over 800 cities. He grew to a record 8 feet 11 inches and had to walk with a cane. He wore braces on his ankles for added support and one of them rubbed him raw and the sore became infected. He suffered in a hospital for 10 days with fever before emergency surgery was performed, but it would be too late.  He passed away on July 15, 1940 at the age pf twenty-two. A special coffin was made and there were 12 pallbearers at his funeral. His coffin was encased in concrete to keep anybody from stealing his body or bones.

This Month in History - First Anti-Rabies Vaccine Given

In the month of July, on the 6th, in 1885, Louis Pasteur gave the first anti-rabies inoculation to a boy who had been infected by rabid dogs and it was successful. Louis Pasteur was born to humble beginnings. His early interest was art, but obviously, he eventually got into science and studied fermentation and focused on coming up with ways to prevent bacteria from growing on food. We get pasteurization from his name. He went on to study infectious disease. While studying silkworms, he came up with germ theory, which revolutionized hygiene in all settings, especially in the medical field. He used the rabies virus in rabbits to formulate his human vaccine against rabies. He took it from their spinal cords and reduced the veracity of the virus. What he didn't know at the time is that rabies was a virus and not a bacteria. He first used the vaccine on dogs and when that proved successful, he tested it on his first human subject. This was a boy who had been severely attacked by feral dogs and he was dying. Pasteur injected him with a daily series of vaccines with each day having a more virulent dose. The boy didn't develop rabies and Pasteur became a hero.

McPike Mansion

Mark Twain once referred to Alton, Illinois as "a dismal little river town," but I don't agree with those sentiments. This was the birthplace of the tallest man ever to live, Robert Wadlow, and was a center of the abolitionist movement. Many paranormal enthusiasts think of Alton as the most haunted small town in America. It is here that one finds the McPike Mansion, a once grand home with marble fireplaces that had become a wreck of a place. The current owner has poured much time and love into restoring this home and though it has a long way to go, some of its former glory is starting to shine through. And I imagine that makes the spirits of the McPike family very happy. And they would definitely have seen the progress as many of them are still in the home in the afterlife. Or at least that is what people claim. And after my visit to this home, I believe there are certainly spirits here and I had one of the most profound unexplained experiences of my life. Join me as I share the history and haunts of the McPike Mansion. 

This is our second location that we've covered in Alton, Illinois. The first was the Milton Schoolhouse in Ep. 90. I just love Alton because despite being a small little town most people haven't heard of, it has a really rich history. Mound builders first called this home and the Cahokia Mounds lie just 30 minutes away. These same native people birthed the legend of the Piasa bird that calls Alton home. We've covered that in a previous Moment in Oddity, but a quick recap is that this is a cryptid that resembles a dragon with large wings that Father Jacques Marquette, whom discovered a mural depicting two of them in 1673 on a limestone bluff, described as "large as a calf; they have horns on their heads like those of a deer, a horrible look, red eyes, a beard like a tiger's, a face somewhat like a man's, a body covered with scales, and so long a tail that it winds all around the body, passing above the head and going back between the legs, ending in a fish's tail. Green, red, and black are the three Colors composing the Picture." This is a place where the Missouri and Illinois Rivers flow into the mighty Mississippi that carried explorers and supplies into many areas of America. Abraham Lincoln debated Stephen Douglas here for the seventh and final time as they ran for a senate seat. And this would be a place the McPike family would call home.

Henry Guest McPike was born July 6, 1825 in Indiana to John Mountain and Lydia McPike. Henry's early experiences were touched by the abolitionist sentiments crossing the nation and his father was even the editor of an abolitionist paper. He was twenty-two when his father moved the family to Alton, Illinois. Henry got involved in real estate in the 1850s and at one point, he and his real estate partner owned 700 parcels of land. In 1854, Henry married his first wife, Mary Amanda Mulveeney Burns and they had five children: James, Jennie, Alice who died at 18 months from teething, John Haley and Robert Samuel. He would help organize the Lincoln-Douglass Debate in Alton. Henry was friends with Abraham Lincoln and as a matter of fact, he was with Lincoln when Lincoln received a telegram informing him that he had won the election to the presidency. While everybody whooped and hollared, Lincoln simply said, "Well, I guess I'll go tell mother" referring to his wife Mary Todd. Henry's wife Mary died from a heart ailment in 1867. In November of 1869, he married his second wife, Nannie Louise Lyons. They would have one child named Eugene in 1870. The marriage was short-lived as Nannie filed for divorce on grounds of fault and misconduct and she got custody of their son. The divorce wouldn't be finalized until 1878. Henry would get even more involved in politics when he became mayor of Alton in 1887 and 1891. Henry was also a horticulturist and he ended up developing the McPike Grape, which was patented and became famous for the wine that was made from it. In 1892, Henry would marry his third wife Eleanore or Ellie and they had one daughter named Moreland. He died April 18, 1910 after coming down with a cold that he fought for only a few days. He was eighty-five.

The McPike Mansion was built on 15 acres of land in 1869 by architect Lucas Pfeiffenberger. Pfeiffenberger was a German immigrant who spent time in California as a Deputy Sheriff trying to tame the Gold Rush town of Hangtown before getting into architecture. Another lawman who worked with him was one of the Studebaker brothers. He visited a friend in Alton who talked him into staying and he would eventually become the most prominent architect in the area. The land the mansion was built upon was known as Mount Lookout Park. The mansion was built in the Italianate-Victorian style with 16 rooms, custon-made interior doors to go with the twelve-foot ceilings, chandeliers, a vaulted wine cellar and black marble mantle pieces.

James McPike married Jennie Wilkinson. Jennie McPike married Robert Wilkinson and they had two daughters, Gertrude and Birdie. John Haley inherited the house when Henry died and he lived in the house for 20 years, but ended up losing the house in a poker game it was rumored. The McPike family lived in the mansion until 1936. Then Paul and Sugie Laichinger bought the house and either lived in it or ran it as a boarding house until Paul's death in 1945. Some records have him buying it in 1925, so I'm not positive on those dates. In 1954, Sugie sold the house to Paul Davis, a developer who planned to demolish it, so he could build a shopping center. The city would not allow the new zoning and so the property sat for years abandoned and in disrepair and vandals took the marble fireplaces and destroyed much of the interior. Even things that were nailed down were stolen including the toilets! In 1990, a man named Gary Hendrix bought the mansion with big plans to renovate, but he soon gave up in 1994.

Sharyn and George Luedke are the current owners and they had driven past the property for years and Sharyn just really loved the place. George called it the Scooby Doo House. The house went up for auction on August 8th, 1994. Sharyn bid on the house and won it for $42,000. At the time, Sharyn had no idea that the mansion was haunted. They planned to restore it and open a Bed and Breakfast and Banquet Room. They have replaced the roof and done a $25,000 renovation to the front porch, which looks amazing. There is a picture up on Instagram of it. They also have replaced all the windows in the mansion. Lighting has been added and the physical support of the mansion is complete. Not long after they started repairs, they realized that something else was going on with the house. Now it is known as one of the most haunted houses in Alton and has found itself on the list of the Top Ten Haunted Houses in the United States. Many paranormal shows have featured the location from Ghost Adventures to Ghost Lab and Scariest Places in America.

Stories abound about this mansion. When it was apartments, there were two girls who claimed to hear disembodied sounds of a child running and playing upstairs even though they were the only children on the property. A picture taken from the outside reveals a little black boy standing at a window that is believed to be the son of a servant. Laichinger was a heavy smoker and there are those who claim to catch a whiff of cigarette smoke in the home. Sharyn had a run-in with Laichinger's ghost about six weeks after buying the property. She was outside watering some plants when she saw him in a window looking out at her. She didn't know he was at the time, but she noted he was wearing a striped shirt and tie. She later saw a picture of him wearing the exact same clothes. A former servant named Sarah is believed to be here and when she appears there is a scent of lilacs, She has hugged Sharyn. Rene Kruse who has written several books with Troy Taylor, was touring the house and doing a video when a white mist enveloped the group and she described it as feeling electrically charged. No one has been able to debunk the video. 

Sandy Little Lizard was our medium guide. She is Cherokee and Choctaw and had set up a pot of burning sage for everyone to pass around to both cleanse ourselves and to use as protection. I felt that Sandy was sincere and that she had a good rapport with the spirits of the mansion. What I'll do here is play a little chat that we had at breakfast with Tammie and Brian Burroughs who had done the McPike Mansion the previous night. (Tammie explains what the presentation is like and then she shares her own experiences. She explains that Henry is a shadow person and that even though we'll be in ptch black, it is still possible to see his shadow.) I'm going to be honest, I thought this talk of seeing bursts of colors was just eyes trying to make sense of the complete darkness. I was thinking it was BS. I will change my mind.

Sharyn shares an interesting story with us before we walk around the outside of the house, which we did before going down into the wine cellar. Kelly had an amazing experience out here where she saw a blue oval light in the garden and it lasted long enough for her to take a picture and we put that up on Instagram. Len had told us when we showed him the picture that he had had a disturbing experience in that area before and doesn't like going over there. There are stories that a woman's spirit is over in this part of the yard and she has been caught in a picture that looked pretty real to me. But that isn't who Kelly and I think she got with this picture. Our dowsing rod session had Henry telling us that it was him. 

What we are going to do now, is take you with us into the dark session. We had the most amazing experiences during this! Hopefully, you are somewhere in a place where you can close your eyes. Sit down next to me across from Sandy or next to Kelly who is sitting on Sandy's left. Here we go.

So as you heard, I saw Gertrude appearing as a purple burst/mist and it felt cold in front of me, at least a little cooler than the cellar already was. She hung out with me almost the entire time and Kelly and the girl next to her both saw the purple in front of me. And then it was blocked out by the shadow figure of Henry. I believe I didn't see Henry because Gertrude was in front of me. Kelly and I think she had the little girl Abigail crawl into her lap and play with her earring. One of the kids or other spirits tapped on her dowsing rods when she had them down and was not using them.

There are so many stories here of haunting experiences. After our visit and upon listening to Tammie's experience, I'm convinced that this place has something going on. Is the McPike Mansion haunted? That is for you to decide!

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