The little river town of Alton, Illinois is 25 miles north of St. Louis. Missouri and is the only place in the United States where the Mississippi flows from west to east. In the year 1804 the Lewis and Clark expedition departed near Alton from a place called Camp Dubois. It was ten years later, in 1814, that Rufus Easton began acquiring land for a settlement and named it after one of his sons. Alton was Incorporated as a city in 1837.
It was the same year that Elijah Lovejoy, an abolitionist minister and newspaper editor was murdered by a mob of pro-slavery sympathizers, and his printing press thrown into the Mississippi. Needless to say, that put a little damper on Alton's reputation until around the 1850's when the first railroad station renewed the riverfront. Alton's close proximity to Missouri made it an ideal stopping point for the Underground Railroad.
Alton was also the home of the first penitentiary. It wasn't long after the military took control in 1862 that a prisoner died and needed burying. During the small pox epidemic as many as six at a time needed to be buried. The men who were assigned to the burial detail loaded the body onto a raft and floated it up river to the ferry landing not far from the location of the prison. Then the body was loaded onto a wagon and transported along a wooded trail known as Hop Hollow Road. The path wound through the woods and around the bluffs and eventually stopped near a small clearing used as a cemetery by prison officials. The body was placed in a shallow grave and a numbered stake was placed over it. They would then record the information that existed about the man into a ledger.
At least that was the way it was suppose to go, but it didn't always go according to plan. The corpses of the Confederate soldiers didn't always make it to the burial site. Those who were guards at the prison weren't always the most competent the military had to offer in the first place. Most often the Union soldiers who were assigned to burial detail were the worst of the bunch and drew the assignment as a form of punishment. These men were a sad lot when it came to discipline and attitude.
Legend has it that these misfits would often load up a body to take to the burial ground and instead of going to all the trouble of actually delivering it there, they would stop the wagon and drag the body off into the woods, leaving it there. So as to not to show up back at the prison too early they'd bring out a bottle and play a little cards until enough time went by where it looked like they had actually gone through with the burial. Then they would return.
The legend goes on to say that the ghosts of these abandoned Confederates refused to rest in peace. Several people have reported seeing hitchhikers walking along the roadway signaling passing cars hoping to catch a ride. But, a ride to where? Most speculate it's a ride to the cemetery that they seek. It's a ride to what was suppose to be their final resting place with their fellow comrades. A ride to where their names are recorded on a 40 foot tall monument which sits on top of a hill and was built in 1909 to commemorate their service.
One Alton resident reportedly stopped to pick up one of the "hitchhikers" on a chilly rainy night. You might imagine his shock and surprise when the passenger simply vanished from the passenger seat next to him. It was then that he realized he had picked up a ghost. Word of the incident quickly spread and from that time on no one picked up a hitch hiker although several reported seeing men along the road waving their arms in the air from side to side and then simply vanishing into thin air.
I sincerely hope that someday they all find their way down Hop Hollow Road and to the Confederate Cemetery so their souls can find the peace they have lacked for so many centuries.