For most of my life I have lived in one of the most haunted towns in the United States. There have been books written about this small Midwestern community and several ghost hunters have investigated the paranormal activities in the area. This will be my fourth article about the supernatural happenings in my quaint little town, but not the last one.
When the local townsfolk think of haunted houses they automatically think of the old McPike Mansion. Several books and national television shows have featured it because of the strange encounters and unexplained phenomena in the house. The 16 room Victorian style mansion was built in 1869 by architect Louis Phiffenberger and now sits on the National List of Historic Places. It also sits on another list as one of the most haunted houses in the Midwest.
The house was built for Mister Henry Guest McPike who's family can be traced back to Scotland. Several of his family members fought in the revolutionary war; Captain Mose Guest McPike and Captain James McPike were with George Washington at Valley Forge. Captain James McPike traveled west to Kentucky in 1795, bringing with him his two sons, John and Richard. Henry was the son of John and came to this area as a very young man in 1847. He soon became involved with several projects such as being a real estate agent, insurance executive, box manufacturer, and president of the oldest horticulture society in Illinois.
Later he developed an interest in politics. His father had been the editor of a Whig (later becoming the Republican party) newspaper and was an early supporter of the abolition of slavery. During the civil war he was asked to take a management position in the war department. After this he began taking a more active role in the city council and held a stint as the mayor between 1887 and 1881.
McPike owned 15 acres at the highest point of the city called "Mt. Lookout". The mansion had 16 rooms and a vaulted wine cellar and was one of the most prestigious homes in the area with several marble fireplaces and elaborate woodwork. McPike had an interest in horticulture and the grounds were planted with many shrubs, flowers and even had an orchard. He invented the McPIke grape which became widely known throughout the land for it's delicious award winning wine.
The McPike family owned the house until 1936 when a Mister Laichinger bought it and lived there until his death. Some believe his spirit is still there in the house he loved. He had also rented several rooms out to tenants. Another well documented ghost is that of a previous housekeeper named Sarah. The house has sat empty since 1950 and the years have not been kind to the house. Vandals carted off items and windows had been broken out. Time and neglect have taken it's toll on the once grand mansion.
In 1994 Sharyn and George Ludke purchased the mansion with the intent of rehabbing it and turning it into a bed and breakfast. However, the project was much more expensive than they had anticipated with a new roof alone costing as much as $50,000. To help defray the cost of returning the mansion to it's once beautiful state they began holding tours. In 1999, a professor from a California university came to town with a tour group. She happened to have her video camera with her. When the group turned a corner in the basement, a strange white mist approached and swirled around them. They later described it as having an electrical like charge to it. The mist moved away from the group and into one of the other rooms. A few brave people in the group followed it. The mist would come to them, swirl, and move off again. The whole experience only lasted a few minutes and the whole thing was caught on video. It remains one of the very few videos of a ghost sighting that hasn't been debunked or explained by skeptics.
Over the years there have been several such sightings in the mansion. Sharyn and some others have reported being touched, even hugged, by the gentle spirit of Sarah. People have said that they've seen Mr. Laichinger roaming the grounds or standing in the doorway surveying his property. The sounds of children's laughter have been well documented over the years. No one knows why these spirits are still in the house as it had a fairly peaceful and normal past. It's almost like they're stuck in time without anyone to help them move into the after world.
If anyone is interested in touring the grounds or catching a glimpse of a resident spirit, tours are by appointment only; if you dare.