Alton Hauntings is the Award-Winning tour that offers the Real Story behind the History & Hauntings of "One of the Most Haunted Small Towns in America!"
According to legend, author Mark Twain once called Alton a "dismal little river town," largely thanks to the dark history that the city had already endured prior to its heyday as a thriving river port. From those days, through the early 1900s, Alton saw more than its share of death, disease, disaster, violence, murder and even the scars of the Civil War. Now, come see how the events of the past have created the hauntings of what is now being called "one of the most haunted small towns in America." The Alton Hauntings Tour is an entertaining, often spine-tingling trip back into the history and hauntings of the city. Called the "most authentic" in the region, the tour was personally created by author Troy Taylor and based on his book, Haunted Alton!
THE DEATH OF PHILLIP MERCER
On November 21, 1934, the body of Phillip Mercer, the minister at the First Unitarian Church in Alton, Illinois was discovered inside of the church. He had apparently committed suicide during the early morning hours after being reported missing by the family that he had been staying with. No suicide note was ever discovered, and his suicide remains a mystery, even after all these years.
Reverend Mercer may have died that day in 1934 but he has never left the church that he loved so much.
Phillip Mercer was born on May 6, 1886, in Kensington, England. At the age of 18, he came to the United States. He first settled in St. Louis and began working for the railroad. He was still a young man when he felt a religious calling and moved to Chicago to attend the Chicago Theological Seminary. He graduated in 1918 and was ordained into the ministry of the Congregational Church. After several postings in small towns in Minnesota and the Dakotas, he came to Alton in 1928. He always stated that his service in the Alton church was the happiest time that he had ever known.
Sadly, his time in Alton ended in tragedy.
Phillip’s body was discovered by his friend James D. MaKinney, from whom the minister had rented a room for nearly five years. James had been concerned when Phillip had not returned home on Monday evening but since the minister often attended concerts and musical events in St. Louis, he thought perhaps he had spent the night in the city. However, by early afternoon, he began to get concerned. Concern turned to worry, and he began making telephone calls, asking friends if they had seen him around town. No one had.
He called the church several times but there was no answer. Finally, just as it was getting dark, he decided to stop by the church and see if anyone was there. He was now concerned that Phillip may have had an accident, or had fallen while working in his office and was not able to answer the repeated telephone calls.
James hurried to the church. He entered the door on the west side of the building and started down a hallway that ran behind the auditorium. He had only walked a short distance when he looked up and saw Phillip’s body, hanging at the end of a rope that had been tied over a window transom. He immediately left the church and crossed the street to the Alton police station. Officers accompanied him back to the church. Once James had determined that the man hanging from the transom was his missing friend, the officers contacted the coroner, who soon arrived at the scene.
Phillip left no clues behind. A search of the premises revealed two packages of rope, one of hemp and the other a sash cord, and both had been recently purchased. The desk table in the minister's study was littered with papers and it appeared as though Mercer had rummaged through them shortly before his death. The search discovered no suicide note.
Phillip had last been seen on Monday morning and aside from one sighting outside the building on the afternoon of the 20th, he had not been spotted again until his body was discovered. There was no clue as to where he had been during the missing hours.
Friends and church parishioners were baffled by his suicide. He was a man of keen intellect and an outgoing man. He spoke little of personal or family matters but was an eager conversationalist and engaged his friends on current events, books, music, and entertainment. So, what then would have caused his friends and congregation to believe that he was the victim of a "nervous breakdown?”
According to James MaKinney, Mercer began to act rather strange few months before. He had just returned from a vacation out west and began to talk of going on a diet. Although filled with enthusiasm over the good time he had on his trip, he soon started expressing a belief that he was too heavy. Soon, these concerns turned into worries about his general health and Mercer slipped into odd moods. He told one friend that he had lost about 15 pounds over a several week period. His friend warned him about losing weight too quickly, but Mercer ignored the advice. Although his health had always been good, he suddenly began complaining about feeling weak and seemed to be, according to MaKinney, obsessed with the idea that he was in bad physical condition. Records state that he did see a doctor about the problem on one occasion and he was told there was nothing wrong with him that rest couldn't cure. This didn't seem to ease Mercer's mind and, according to the minister, his health continued to fail.
On the Sunday morning prior to his death, Mercer conducted services at the church as usual. There was no indication that anything was troubling him, other than the fact that some members of the congregation reported that he read through his sermon as if he was in a great hurry to get through with it. They also said that he appeared to be sweating profusely, as if he were either sick or mentally agitated.
Was Phillip actually ill, or was he mentally unbalanced? Another question that plagued friends was if Phillip had been leading some sort of secret life. Could the stress of it be what destroyed his health? He never discussed his personal life and even his closest friends knew little about him. In fact, after his death, a search through his personal papers revealed that Phillip was engaged to be married to a woman named Dorothy Cole of Minneapolis. In the six years that Mercer had been in Alton, he had never once mentioned her, nor did anyone in the congregation, or Mercer's friends, have any idea that she existed. When contacted by telegram, Miss Cole stated that Phillip had seemed depressed for some time and she had been trying to cheer him up with her letters, but her efforts had apparently failed.
What really happened to Phillip Mercer? We’ll never know for sure. There are many more questions about his death – and his life – than there are answers. Could these lingering mysteries be the reason why Phillip Mercer is believed to still be lingering behind at the First Unitarian Church?
One of the most widely accepted theories of ghosts involve the personalities of those who once lived and who have stayed behind in our world because of a connection to people or a place on this side. These spirits sometimes refuse to cross over because of a murder, a suicide, a traumatic event or some unfinished business that took place in the person's life. The spirits often linger because of emotions that tie them to the earth. In other cases, there is the chance the spirit did not even realize he was dead. This can occur when the death involved is sudden or unexpected.
If Phillip Mercer had some sort of unfinished business connecting him to the earth, whether it is a continuation of his good works or even the mysterious circumstances of his death, it is possible that his ghost has remained behind. And it might be this ghost that explains some the strange things that have occurred at Alton's First Unitarian Church.
There is no question that the First Unitarian Church is one of the most haunted locations in this river community. For decades, there have been reports of footsteps, voices, knocking sounds, the smell of a man’s cologne, and even apparitions of Phillip himself inside of the church. It has long been a popular stop on the Alton Hauntings Tours and it’s a location on the tour where dozens of past guests have encountered the supernatural first-hand.
We have no idea for sure why Phillip Mercer has chosen to stay behind in this world, but we can assure you that he has – and he has no plans to leave anytime soon.
MARTYR TO THE FREE PRESS
On November 7, 1837, abolitionist newspaper publisher Elijah P. Lovejoy was killed in the small Mississippi River town of Alton, Illinois. Lovejoy had been publishing his anti-slavery newspaper in St. Louis and after several threats and attacks on his office, sought a safer locale in Illinois. But Alton turned out to be anything but safe...
Already a target for violence, he continued his inflammatory newspaper editorials even after three of his printing presses were destroyed. He vowed to continue, stating, "If I fail, my grave shall be in Alton."
At the time, Alton was a hotbed of anti-slavery men, abolitionists and active participants in the Underground Railroad. One of Lovejoy's backers was Winthrop S. Gilman, the owner of a massive warehouse on the river. Lovejoy decided that his fourth printing press should be protected there by an armed force of supporters. It arrived by steamer at 3:00 a.m. on November 7. That night, a mob gathered and gunfire rang out. A man in the crowd fell mortally wounded. Someone carried a flaming torch up a ladder to set fire to the warehouse roof. Lovejoy ran outside to stop him and was shot five times, falling to the ground and dying almost immediately. His friends fled and the mob put out the fire and destroyed the printing press.
Lovejoy's murder made headlines across the country, even in the South, where his politics were ignored and he became a martyr to the freedom of the press. During the wave of indignation that followed, anti-slavery societies gathered new members, but the mob leaders went unpunished and the state's attorney went to the extreme of trying to prosecute Winthrop Gilman on a charge of inciting a riot.
Lovejoy, a failed reformer in life, had managed to ignite a movement in death that would lead to the Civil War just two decades later. As he predicted, his grave truly did end up in Alton. He was buried in a secret location that went undiscovered until 1897, when a monument was finally erected in his honor.
To this day, ghostly legends still swirl about the site of the Gilman company's warehouse. It seems that the violent events of 1837 still continue to leave a presence today.
ALTON HAUNTINGS DOESN'T STOP AFTER HALLOWEEN!
We bring you special events and tours all year around!
Check out the website for Ghosts of the River Road Dinner Tours, ghost hunts, and "Evening With.." events, hosted by Troy Taylor, featuring the Lemp Family, St. Louis Exorcism, the Spirit World, the Bell Witch, and many more! They sell out quickly, so don't miss out!
altonhauntings.com "One of the Most Haunted Small Towns in America!"
Our final weekend of fall tours was a blast! But remember, our tours and events don’t stop with Halloween— we’ve got winter and spring events, the Dead of Winter Festival in February, and Ghosts of the River Road Tours! Check out the upcoming schedule at https://altonhauntings.com
Only a handful of spots left for this weekend’s last tours of the Halloween season, including a few spots on Luke’s extended Ghost Hunter’s Tour. Don’t miss the last tours of 2029! https://altonhauntings.com
ALL tours running as scheduled tonight (October 26) so bring an umbrella if it hasn’t stopping raining by then! It’s going to be a dark and stormy night — when ghosts are the most active!! 👻 🎃
We had 7 awesome tour groups this past weekend in Haunted Alton, so thanks to all who joined us! Only a few tours left this Halloween season, so don’t miss out! https://altonhauntings.com
"FIRE ON THE PRAIRIE" -- THE LAST DEBATE
On October 15, 1858, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas held their final debate over a seat in the Illinois Senate in Alton, Illinois. At the time, U.S. senators were elected by state legislatures; thus Lincoln and Douglas were trying for their respective parties to win control of the Illinois legislature. The debates, held in seven cities across the state of Illinois were often called “fire on the prairie” by newspaper writers because every debate centered on the passionate issue of slavery.
By the time the two men arrived in Alton, the debates had been raging for some four months. They had sparred in Ottawa, Freeport, Jonesboro, Charleston, Galesburg, and Quincy. Douglas had traveled more than 5,277 miles of muddy back roads and had made 130 speeches. Lincoln had traveled 4,350 miles and had spoken 63 times. When they came to Alton, Douglas was worn down and his voice was failing, but Lincoln's harsh tenor was clearer and stronger than ever.
The two men were long-time rivals. In fact, Lincoln had married a young woman named Mary Todd, who had once been courted by Douglas. But their differences were political as well. Douglas spoke out often against Lincoln, tying him to the Abolitionist movement, a too-radical solution to the question of slavery in the nation. Lincoln, on the other hand, argued that Douglas was part of a conspiracy to nationalize slavery and was helping to spread slavery into northern territories like Illinois. Slavery had become a personal issue for Lincoln. In June 1858, he had given his impassioned “House Divided” speech in the Illinois state house. In it, he said: “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.”
Huge crowds traveled to Alton to hear the debates and the candidates arrived on the morning of October 15. They journeyed from Quincy aboard a Mississippi River steamer and went first to the Alton House, Douglas’ headquarters. A committee of local Republicans then escorted Lincoln to the Franklin House (later re-named the Abraham Lincoln Hotel). Mary Lincoln and son, Robert, joined him later that day and the family had dinner at the hotel.
The event was held on the east side of Alton's new city hall. The building had been hastily readied for the debate, but actual construction would not be completed until 1874. By prior agreement, no slogans or banners were allowed on the podium but the streets and buildings around the site were decorated with signs of support for both Douglas and Lincoln. The estimated crowd of between 5,000 and 10,000 that gathered that day was mostly made up of Democrats, turning out to support Stephen Douglas.
Douglas spoke first, his voice obviously worn down and failing, repeating his stand that it was the right of each individual state to do as it pleased on the question of slavery. He spoke on other issues as well, but this subject was a lightning rod of controversy between the candidates. Lincoln argued that the fundamental difference between his supporters and those who supported Douglas was whether or not slavery was wrong. Lincoln repeated his prior statements and belief that a house divided against itself could not stand and that all of the states must be all slave or all free. He believed that a crisis was approaching that would make the country move in one direction or another.
Lincoln was described by the reporters present, as well as the casual listener, as a powerful public speaker. His enemies often painted a portrait of him as a gangling, backwoods lawyer but even the most cynical admitted that he came to life when behind the podium. Francis Grierson, one of many who heard Lincoln speak in Alton, was astonished that "the moment he began to speak, the ungainly mouth lost its heaviness and the half-listless eyes attained a wondrous power." Grierson later wrote that there was something "elemental and mystical" about Lincoln as a public speaker and as a result: "Before he had spoken 20 minutes, the conviction took possession of thousands that here was the prophetic man of the present."
Lincoln may have amazed the audience that was present that day, and may have even won the debate, but he managed to lose the senatorial election to Douglas. And it was just as well that he did. If he had won the election, it's possible that he might not have ascended to the presidency in 1860. In a large way, he owed the winning of the controversial election to Stephen Douglas. The Democrat managed to split the votes the party with his own bid for the presidency and the fledgling Republican Party – and Lincoln – won the day.
A few photos from the Alton Hauntings Tours this past weekend! There are three more weekends left this Halloween season — don’t miss the No. 1 tour in town. https://altonhauntings.com
ALTON HAUNTINGS IN 2019!
45 Walking and Bus Tours
+ 32 Dinner Tours and "Evening With.." Events
+ Haunted America Conference
+ Dead of Winter Festival
+ Best of the River Award for Walking Tours
= More that 5,000 of the best customers we could ever asked for have come to spend time with us in Alton, taking the tours, attending events, eating, shopping, and staying in the hotels!
So, THANK YOU for all you do! And the Halloween season isn't over yet! Come join us for Alton's #1 History and Hauntings Tour and accept no imitations!
Another fun weekend in Haunted Alton! Join us for an October tour and discover the REAL history of “one of the most haunted small towns in America!” Accept no imitations — go to https://altonhauntings.com
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