STLCC FLO Valley Student Newspaper October 2011.
“St. Charles Ghost Tours” is not a haunted hoax. There are no mirrored parlor tricks or visual illusions along Main Street. Michael Henry has been researching ghosts for nearly 40 years. He started St. Charles Ghost Tours in 2006. He was a ghost hunter before it was called ghost hunting.
Henery says he approaches ghost hunting scientifically not recreationally. Ninety percent of all incidents can be explained. It’s the other unexplainable 10 percent that keeps Henry coming back. “What we see is something we have not yet identified.”
Older places seem to be hotspots for paranormal activity and the St. Louis area is no exception. The Lemp Mansion has been featured on paranormal television shows and the 1949 exorcism story that inspired “The Exorcist” movie from 1973 that partially took place in St. Louis.
Alton, IL, has the reportedly haunted McPike Mansion and the Enos Sanatorium known to have been an underground railroad station for escaped slaves, and later a tuberculosis sanatorium. St. Charles is the second oldest city in Missouri, rich in history, and possible fertile ground for the paranormal.
Henry explained that the five senses are the best pieces of ghost hunting equipment. Tools can record or enhance what the five senses pick up. Smells are easily and often overlooked, but could indicate an encounter. Subtle scents can sometimes be detected and people who might have had the sensation, but dismissed it. For example, people might smell their grandmother’s perfume or their grandfather’s cigar smoke long after their death and it’s shrugged off as coincidence.
Awaiting the participants bravely touring are carefully researched historical, fact-based stories of people who lived, worked and died in the area. Henry paints a vivid picture of a thriving historic port city filled with lively and often times tragic scenes of life and death.
Dusk has fallen. The autumn air holds a cool crispness. As if on cue, what seems like a hundred bats circle above the spooky “odd fellows” building signaling the start of the tour. The Odd Fellows, a fraternal society built the historic building in 1878. At one time, the building served as their meeting hall.
A group of 16 to 20 eager and enthusiastic tour participants assemble around Henry. He wears a full-length black leather coat and sports a meticulously sculpted silver goatee. Speaking into a microphone ear peace as he hands out Electromagnetic Field Detectors (EMF). He skillfully makes everyone feel comfortable and included as part of his research team. Cameras and flashlights in hand the group follows Henry along the brick-paved streets.
The faces of the past begin to come alive with his descriptive recounting of the historical stories.
The last execution by hanging in St. Charles was conducted in 1904 by a sheriff who committed suicide a few days later. Henry points out exactly where the courthouse and gallows were located. The sheriff’s apartment and the narrow alley where he drew his last breath still exist and are just down the street. Reports of people hearing whispers of “I’m sorry” and orbs or discolored shadows might appear in photographs taken of the alley.
Further down the street Henry, a 30-year teaching veteran, tells the group about a cemetery that was moved, but some of the bodies may have been left behind. A ghostly form has been reported near the cemetery and is referred to as “The Lady in White.” Reports describe an unearthly woman in a white flowing dress. Henry found historical references of a young woman who gave birth and died shortly after. She was buried in the only nice dress she owned – her wedding dress.
Towards the end of the tour, the group stops at the Lewis and Clark camp sight. Sightings of two large black shaggy dogs walking down the street with no legs along with a wet dog smell have been reported.
Lewis and Clark’s records indicate two dogs died while the Lewis and Clark expedition camped in St. Charles. The Newfoundland dog breed, recorded being with the expedition, are known for their large size, thick coat and distinct smell when wet. Historical facts that Henry found backed up these sightings.
Henry, an author and professional magician, blends humor, history and serious scientific ghost hunting. He is entertaining but respectful and reverent of the area history. The stories he tells are the trials of life people went through to make up history. Anyone who takes his tour cannot help but come away a little more historically enlightened, and maybe if lucky enough, a ghostly encounter of their own to tell.
Published: STLCC FLO Valley Student Newspaper The Forum October 2011.