Ghosts among us
Fried chicken. Fried chicken.
Normally these words would not provoke fear, but in the case of Christy Mershon, they did just that.
Mershon is the assistant director of the Extended and Continuing Education Department at Southeast Missouri State University and the organizer of the department's Ghost Hunting 101 and Haunted Downtown Walking Tours.
Perhaps one of the most eerie, and humorous, experiences Mershon had on one of these ghost hunts occurred in the kitchen of an abandoned Cape Girardeau house.
The Ghost Hunting 101 group entered the house with an EMF reader that analyzes electromagnetic fields and is equipped with a word randomizer. The device would issue a random word when a "ghost" was present.
"In the kitchen of this home, which had been empty for quite some time, it continually said two words back-to-back, and the words were 'fried chicken,'" Mershon said. The EMF continued to say the same phrase instead of random words and always upon entering the kitchen.
For about five years, Continuing Education has been hosting spooky events and collecting ghost stories.
The first year that the class was held, Mershon was escorting a group into Old Lorimier Cemetery to begin an investigation. Within just minutes of entering the gate, every electronic device in the group went dead -- even those that had just been charged or filled with new batteries. It is a common belief that spirits feed on the energy provided by electronics and it was a hair-raising moment for Mershon and her guests.
"There have been some things that are hard for me to explain away," Mershon said.
A couple years ago, Mershon picked up a van full of Ghost Hunting 101 participants outside of Grauel's Rose Theatre to shuttle them to their next stop. As one of the guests began playing back what they had captured on their voice recorder, everyone got a chilling shock.
"On there you could very distinctly hear the sound of a piano playing," Mershon said. "And nobody remembered hearing the piano. And actually there was no piano there at the time."
According to Tom Neumeyer, a local photographer, writer and haunting history expert who co-hosts the downtown tours with Mershon, Southeast is one of the most haunted campuses in the Midwest. And Rose Theatre is one of the most haunted spots on campus.
Neumeyer said there are at least three ghosts haunting the theater. The most infamous is "Bloody Mary." Legend has it that Mary murdered her unfaithful husband, a French fur trader, on the land where Rose Theatre now stands. Shortly after the theater was built in the mid 1960s a bloodstain showed up on the floor near the back row of seats. Efforts to remove the spot have been unsuccessful.
For the more faint of heart, Continuing Education also hosts the Haunted Downtown Walking Tour, which focuses on history over horror.
The one and a half mile walking tour explores Main, Spanish and Lorimier Streets. Participants visit haunted and historical stops along the way, including the Glenn House and parts of the River Campus.
This year they had a spooky experience while leading a group onto the porch of the Glenn House, a historic landmark.
As Mershon and Neumeyer stood on the steps of the house conducting their tour in full costume -- Mershon in witch's wear and Neumeyer in traditional period garb -- they heard an indescribable noise coming from inside.
According to Neumeyer, the house has long been unoccupied -- and haunted. Footsteps can be heard upstairs and one year Christmas presents left at the house were mysteriously opened overnight. The legend is that a little girl died on the steps there.
Many river towns are beginning to host haunted tours. Spirits seem to collect in cities that were once dangerous and attractive to drifters and adventure seekers.
"All river towns seem to have sort of lurid pasts," Mershon said.
A little girl by the name of Jessica has been seen and heard at The Pike Lodge on South Sprigg Street, which used to serve as a school. Port Cape Girardeau Restaurant and Lounge hosts a friendly ghost that they call Belle. The Rose Bed Inn on South Sprigg Street is said to be haunted by Alex, also friendly and highly active.
According to Neumeyer, Cheney Hall, a residence hall on campus, is purported to house the spirit of a student who committed suicide in a bathtub on the third floor in the 1970s. One of the rooms still houses the boarded up bathroom and is no longer used to house students after a series of unpleasant experiences.
Neumeyer hopes to host a tour of the haunted spots around Southeast's campus. Both he and Mershon have noticed an upswing in interest in the paranormal.
"Historically, in times of strife, depression, recession, war; people become more spiritual. Church attendance increases -- spirituality of any kind. People start seeking answers."
Though Ghost Hunting 101 has wrapped up for the year, there is still a chance to attend a Haunted Downtown Walking Tour at 7 p.m. or 9 p.m. on Oct. 27 and 28. Visit semo.edu/continuinged to register or check out the department's other upcoming events, like the free and kid-friendly Halloween Science Night on Oct. 29 and the Historic Cemeteries of Southern Illinois tour, conducted by Dr. Frank Nickell on Nov. 5.