Dining with Spooky Specters: Connect with the spirits of St. Louis' past this Halloween

On the creepiest night of the year, All Hallows Eve, St. Louisans journey to the Lemp Mansion for the ambience, not the food, although the chili is to die for (pun intended)! On this night, crowds gather to hear the tragic story of the Lemp family, the 19th- and 20th-century beer barons plagued with a doomed legacy: a mysterious death, a heart attack, suicides and bankruptcies. St. Louisans mourn the family's dreadful demise by making the annual pilgrimage to tour their Victorian home and wander through its rooms each October, hoping to see a ghost or two belonging to a long-deceased family member.

"Ghost stories are more about history than anything else," said Troy Taylor, local historian and ghostwriter who has authored "Haunted St. Louis: History and Hauntings Along the Mississippi," "Haunted Alton: History and Hauntings of the Riverbend Region" and approximately two-dozen other books on America's hauntings. "That's not to say that ghosts don't exist, they do. It's just that the events of the past create the hauntings of today. Think about it. We're not talking about aliens or other creatures; we're talking about someone that once lived in a certain place or a certain time. They've hung around because of unfinished business or to be around family."

Jeremy Johnson and Jim Morelan of Paranormal World Investigations explained that, "Haunted doesn't have to mean violent and spooky or have anything disastrous attached to the scene; it means that some sort of energy is there for whatever reason."

"St. Louis is full of the supernatural," they said. "There are lots of entities floating around out there." Consider the fact that St. Louis was founded in 1764, St. Charles in 1769 and Alton in 1818.

Given St. Louis' long recorded history, it's no wonder that many of the older homes have ghostly tales to tell. From the oldest parts of the city, like Laclede's Landing and Lafayette Square, to the more modern Clayton condominiums, ghost stories abound. There's the murder in the Artist's Guild at Oak Knoll Park, the Indian spirits roaming through Laumeier Sculpture Park, and spirits of Main Street along the St. Charles riverfront, to start.

"The corner of Grand and Arsenal has a lot, and I mean a lot, of activity," said Morelan. "We're not sure why or who, but it's one of the most intensely concentrated spots in the city."

With this thought, try researching the lesser-known legends and sightings in the St. Louis area and lead your family and friends on an adventure (see sidebar). Instead of the ubiquitous trick or treating or masquerade party, consider guiding a progressive lunch or dinner party to some of the area's haunted neighborhoods and restaurants.

The Unknown Helper at Sisters Tea House
505 Main St., Fenton / 636.305.1319
Tue. to Sat. - 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Sisters Tea House is a great place to start a chilly fall afternoon. They have eight kinds of black tea and herbal teas respectively and two types of green teas along with a fabulous chicken salad that has patrons clamoring for the recipe.

Originally, the building was a hotel built in the 1920s. "When we bought the place, the city [of Fenton] told us it was haunted, but we didn't believe them," said sisters and owners Marilyn Svoboda and Patty Schmitt.

The first spooky encounter came shortly after the tea house opened. The women were working in the kitchen when they heard footsteps above them in the dining room. "We were sure that we had locked up," said Svoboda. "But I went to check anyway. There was no one there. But I did notice that the window was open. Now we had had the windows open and apparently forgot to close it. So I closed it. That's not strange, except later that night, a thunderstorm passed through the area, and if we had left the window open, the rain would have ruined that section of the room."

The sisters had a psychic investigate the premises who learned two men and three women have remained behind. "We don't know what era they're from, but they're happy we are here," said Svoboda.

Other instances that have occurred include dishwashers feeling someone tapping them on the shoulders and when they turn around no one being there, lights switching on and off, items falling off the shelves and cameras not working. "There is so much energy here that it seems to drain the juice from the batteries," said Svoboda.

"The happenings startle us because we're not expecting them," Svoboda explained, "but we know that they mean us no harm. They're friendly folks, trying to take care of us."

Charlie at My Just Desserts
31 E. Broadway, Alton, Ill. / 618.462.5881
Daily - 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Pie may be the reason that most people venture to Alton, but "Charlie" and another spirit warrant many ghost enthusiasts’ visits to this quaint restaurant and antique shop overlooking the Mississippi River. The building dates back to 1845, and many businesses have occupied this storefront over the years. Current owner Ann Badasch started a chair caning business in 1982 and later decided it would be a great location for a restaurant.

Trouble is, Charlie seems only to play his little tricks after business hours. No one seems to know who he is or why he may be hanging around. His appearances take the form, mostly, of ghostly footsteps. The restaurant's business – cooking, dishwashing, etc. – is done in the basement. Most staff members have, at one time or another, been working down there when they heard the door open, then someone walking the length of the restaurant to the basement door and down the stairs. But no one ever appears.

Charlie also likes to play with the dumbwaiter. The machine that carries food up and down between floors has been known to move on its own. He enjoys undoing the ropes from the pulleys that operate the mechanism. "The rope can't have merely come loose," said Taylor. "I've checked it out thoroughly and can't begin to figure out how to get it apart."

For a real treat, ask Badasch to tell about the day she "met" Charlie after you’ve ordered your pie.

Evening Adventures
Note: these restaurants are also open in the daytime!

Rachel at Seafood Escape
208 State St., Alton, Ill. / 618.465.4605
Sun. to Thu. - 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fri. and Sat. - 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Long before it was a restaurant, even before it was a hotel, the red brick building on State Street housed an insurance company. It was built in 1836, and circa 1840, the building was converted to a dining room and hotel, The Franklin House. Earlier this summer, Seafood Escape, specializing in seafood, steak and pastas, opened in the Franklin Hotel.

In 1858, Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary, and their son, Robert, stayed at the fashionable residence while Lincoln prepared for his presidential debate with Stephen Douglas for the seventh and final time. A replica of the room where Lincoln slept is available for public viewing, but it's not Lincoln's ghost that roams the narrow halls. Instead, it is the ghost of a little girl that haunts the old hotel.

Two legends vie on how the little girl came to be there. Taylor claimed that she was the daughter of a traveling salesperson who brought his family along on his long journeys away from home. The little girl, about 6 or 7 years old, would play in the foyer, on the staircase and in front of the hotel entrance. One day, her ball rolled onto the Old Plank Road in front of a loaded wagon carrying goods to riverboats docked along the water's edge. The girl chased the ball into the road and was run over by a passing wagon. She died instantly.

Robbi Courtaway, author of "Spirits of Saint Louis: A Ghostly Guide to the Mound City's Unearthly Activities," described a little girl named Rachel who was approximately the same age. Courtaway wrote that Rachel's parents were westward bound between 1840 to 1850 when Rachel took ill with diphtheria, scarlet fever or some other such infectious disease and that Rachel, too, died quickly. And since her parents had no reason to stay, they continued on their way, leaving their precious child buried in Alton.

The two stories go on to agree that since the little girl's death, people still hearing the sounds of a little girl's laughter and the rustle of a dress or glimpse a child running down the hallway, only to learn there isn't a child in the building. The girl has also been seen sitting on the stairs. Other haunting characteristics are reported cold spots, a light burning in the building when it was locked and empty and a locked door opening without a key.

Captain Lewis Bissell at Bissell Mansion
4426 Randall Place, St. Louis / 314.533.9830
Lunch: Tue. to Fri. - 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Mystery Dinner Theatre: Fri. and Sat. - 7 p.m., Sun. - 2 p.m.

Next stop is the Bissell House, which undoubtedly has the best potato soup (and crème brûlée) this side of the Mississippi.

Captain Lewis Bissell built the mansion in the 1820s, and it is the city's oldest surviving brick home. Bissell also purchased an adjoining 1,500 acres. He built his mansion on a hill overlooking the river to the north and what is now Interstate 70 to the south. The riverboat pilots called the area Bissell's Point. Bissell died in the house in 1868, but his spirit has been seen in the parking lot, looking toward the house, almost as if he guarding something inside.

Another tale tells of a waiter who saw a woman in a long, flowing white evening gown. He was startled at first, but then a sense of calm came over him. He turned away for a moment and when he looked back, the figure was gone.

The third story dates back to the mansion's revitalization as a mystery/dinner theater in 1986. Wine glasses began disappearing. The number varied from evening to evening and sometimes week to week. It amazed the manager, mainly because she was the first person in the building and the last to leave every night. She counted the glassware meticulously. Then, on some nights, there would be more wine glasses in the racks than had been there the night before.

Mother-in-Law at The New Mother-in-Law House
500 S. Main St., St. Charles / 636.946.9444
Mon. - 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Tue. to Sat. - 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.

It'll be hard to choose between the entrées of steak, liver, chicken and fish for the evening's main course, but a frequent diner recommended "Sole Oscar," a house specialty.

The building dates back to 1866, when miller Francis X. Kremer was planning his new home. His wife, however, was pining for her mother. To keep the Mrs. happy, Kremer built the house with both sides exactly alike so his mother-in-law could live with them. The house is believed to be the first double house constructed in St. Charles and is how the red brick structure got its nickname.

In 1981, Donna Hafer opened the New Mother-in-Law House. It wasn't a secret that strange things happened on the restaurant's north side … the side where Mrs. Kremer's mother had lived: glasses and utensils disappeared, water glasses spilled when no one was touching them or moving near them, food went from hot to cold in the blink of an eye and coffee cups dumped their contents into guests' laps.

Upon the advice of a psychic, Hafer redecorated. It appears to have put a stop to the mysterious happenings, but the ghost of Mrs. Kremer's mother still seems to hover around the tables, wanting to take care of patrons.

Uncle Pete at Crown Candy Kitchen
1401 St. Louis Avenue, St. Louis / 314.621.9650
Mon. to Thurs. - 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Fri. and Sat. - 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sun. - 12 to 9 p.m.

Crown Candy may well be the best place to end the evening. The 1930s soda fountain, the jukebox in every booth, and the Coca-Cola memorabilia are as infamous as the ultra-thick malts that need spoons instead of straws. The homemade chocolate and hearty sandwiches make the local eatery a St. Louis tradition.

Grecian immigrant Harry Karandzieff opened CCK in 1913. Friend and fellow traveler, Pete Jugaloff, owned part of the property, but not the business. Karandzieff grew the business while Jugaloff worked diligently alongside him. Jugaloff never married and lived in the building, or one nearby, until his death in 1984.

"Uncle Pete," as Karandzieff's grandchildren called him, had always been a part of the family. After his death, CCK's owner, Andy Karandzieff, Harry's grandson, and waitresses began to glimpse silhouettes of someone walking past the window, especially when business was down. After a while, Andy began to notice that the image was about the shape and size of Uncle Pete.

Like most old men, Uncle Pete liked to putter, mainly in the basement. Over the years, the staff has heard strange noises while they were working there. Uncle Pete doesn't make many visits any more now that CCK is a hot spot again. And with the new renovations that have taken place, Uncle Pete may not feel the need to dabble. But that doesn't mean that his spirit isn't loitering somewhere, waiting for the staff to slow down long enough to see him.