in Rockcliffe Mansion’s main entryway, tour guide Candace
Klemenn demonstrates how to use copper wands to detect
ghosts. The historic Hannibal bed and breakfast is one of a number
of businesses capitalizing on Hannibal's Haunted reputation for
ghosts and strange occurances
In 1903, Mark Twain
penned a fictitious tale about a strange presence he once encountered
during a stay in the abandoned upstairs of an old mansion.
He wrote: “I
seemed groping among the tombs and invading the privacy of the
dead, that first night I climbed up to my quarters. For the first
time in my life, a superstitious dread came over me . . . I became
conscious that my chamber was invaded — that I was not alone.”
than a century after Twain wrote “A Ghost Story,” citizens
of his hometown say they too have experienced similar odd happenings.
In the river town of Hannibal, along the banks of the mighty Mississippi,
tales of ghosts are almost as common as the barges that float past
town. Like Hannibal’s
favorite native son, its citizens relish a good yarn with a mysterious twist.
Hannibal has its share of ghosts and isn’t afraid to show them
off — or at least their earthly abodes. Historic Rockliffe Mansion
recently began offering tours and cemetery walks of Hannibal every weekend
in September and October. The trolley and walking tours highlight the town’s
many ghosts, including one who never made it to the age of 30, a victim
of an unsolved murder and an apparition with a Napoleon complex.
the two-hour sightseeing tours, visitors travel to different haunted
sites and hear stories from property owners. The tour even encourages
guests to detect supernatural beings on their own.
and Andrea Williams, residents of Tehachapi, Calif., examine
a grave during a guided, night-time cemetery walk in Hannibal’s
Old Baptist Cemetery.
ghosts and ghouls is nothing new to Hannibal. In October 1996, a
downtown revitalization group called Hannibal Main Street hosted
a fund-raising event called the Ghostly Gala. An old-fashioned trolley
carried people to different sites, where costumed actors from the
community theater helped the stories come alive.
At a downtown hardware
store that’s no longer in business,
a heavyset gentleman holding a pipe portrayed the ghost of Percy Haydon,
the man who originally opened the store in 1919 and was believed by recent
owner Jerry Adkins to haunt the building.
was a lot of fun,” recalls Kirstin Hildahl-Dewey, who
guided the tour that night. “But we pretty much exhausted all
the stories that year. You can’t exactly find new ones.”
that night, nearly a decade ago, no other organized events gave visitors
the chance to hear about Hannibal’s haunted sites — until
Rick Rose and Chris Bobek, co-owners of the Garden House Bed & Breakfast,
learned the B&B’s restored 1896 Victorian Queen Anne
building had been listed by several publications and Web sites
as one of the “Great
Places to Sleep with a Ghost.” The two decided to capitalize
on the discovery by offering haunted tours.
of the Garden House Bed & Breakfast often report strange
occurrences, which some attribute to the ghost of Albert Pettibone,
Jr. The wealthy son of a saw mill founder, Pettibone died at
the age of 29.
had been kicked around by several people, but it really took off
when we found out the Garden House was on that list,” says
Rick, who also owns Rockliffe Mansion and LaBinnah Bistro.
and Chris gathered local paranormal enthusiasts like Candace Klemenn
and Kae Blecha to host regular tours throughout the fall. They
decided to start the tours at the Garden House or Rockliffe, then
travel around town on a trolley and stop at various sites, where
locals could give personal accounts of ghostly encounters. At night,
they began offering cemetery walks, in which guests could traipse
through a graveyard after sunset and learn about notable graves.
its first year, the cemetery walks included Mt. Olivet Cemetery,
resting place of Mark Twain’s parents, the Osage Indian who
inspired “Tom Sawyer” character
Injun Joe and many ancestors of the town’s wealthy
families. After only a few trips, however, families of the
“They said, ‘How
can our loved ones rest with people shining lights in their eyes?’” recalls
Kae, who leads the cemetery walks with her boyfriend, Bill
Winn. “I respect their point of view, but it doesn’t
make a lot of sense to me. They’re dead.”
the only cemetery stop is at Old Baptist Cemetery, located
on the west side of town.
On a recent Friday
evening, Darrell and Andrea Williams of Tehachapi, Calif., took a
nighttime stroll through the graveyard on one of the tours. As they
walked, Bill snapped pictures with his digital camera and examined
the viewfinder for orbs, or blue circles that ghost experts
claim to be spirits. To his delight, several orbs appeared
in the pictures.
a natural interest in the afterlife, and this is our way of proving
it exists,” he explained. “But
you need to ask permission from the spirits to take photos. You don’t
want them following you home.”
Haunted Hannibal trolley tours, visitors can see and learn
about the town’s many haunted buildings. At each stop,
the guide and local residents tell about ghostly encounters.
at the cemetery, the tour usually continues to LaBinnah Bistro, a
notable site because of Hannibal’s unsolved Stillwell murder.
The story goes that one night in 1888, Amos J. Stillwell began
his evening by playing euchre at the mayor’s house, the building
where the restaurant now resides. In attendance was the town’s
doctor, a man rumored to be having an affair with Stillwell’s
wife, Fanny. After the card game, Stillwell and his wife retired home
and went to bed.
In the middle of
the night, Fanny awoke to see a dark figure standing over the bed
with an axe. The person called out, “Is that you, Fanny?” before
swinging and severing Stillwell’s head.
The mysterious stranger then disappeared. Fanny
was later seen running around town in her nightgown
and knocking on doors for help. By the time police
arrived, she and several neighbors had cleaned
up much of the bloody scene.
A year later, Fanny
and the doctor were married. While Stillwell’s
murder remained a mystery, the case had been
solved in the court of public opinion. Passing
neighbors would yell to Fanny such things as, “Axe
me no more questions.” Fanny
and the doctor eventually moved to escape harassment,
before being called back to Hannibal for a
trial. And while the evidence indicated otherwise,
the doctor was quickly acquitted by a jury
of card-playing buddies. Stillwell’s
case remained forever unsolved.
In recent months,
Melissa Sexton, a former resident of New
Orleans, moved into the house. One day, she walked into
the dining room and saw a translucent figure
scramble across the room and into the kitchen
before turning into a glowing blue dot, she
owner of Rockliffe Mansion, points out of one of the mansion’s
bedroom windows while telling guests an eerie story of Rockliffe’s
deceased previous owner, John Cruikshank. Rick also owns the
supposedly haunted LaBinnah Bistro and Garden House Bed & Breakfast,
voted one of the “Great Places to Sleep With A Ghost.”
The odd occurence
scared her so badly that she moved out. A few weeks later, a
guest snapped a picture of a strange form, much like
the one Melissa saw, peering through the
front window with a blue dot in the photo’s
corner. On haunted tours, Melissa shows
this picture to guests and tells about her strange
the only one to claim to experience such strange
occurrences. Rick, who lives in Rockcliffe
Mansion, says camera crews have come
to film movies and their cameras lock up.
He also talks about how guests sometimes
say they smell smoke in a room where
Mark Twain, a notorious smoker, slept after
giving his last speech in Hannibal in
1902. He even claims to have once seen the impression
of a 5-foot, 4-inch figure — the
same height as the mansion’s original
owner, the eccentric John Cruikshank — in
one bed’s sheets.
“Do I feel
comfortable in the mansion at night?” Rick
says to visitors. “Maybe
once every 30 days.”
the mansion, guests are given copper
wands used for detecting ghosts.
The guests are instructed to hold the bent
rods loosely as the wands turn, as if pulled
by a strange force. Candace, who leads
daytime tours, says ghost experts attribute
the phenomena to electromagnetic waves
given off by spirits. Some people, she
says, are more sensitive to these waves.
For instance, she says she doesn’t
wear watches because her body’s
electromagnetic field will make them
After the two-hour
daytime tour, which also includes stops along
Row on South Fifth Street, the
former residence of Union commander
Moses P. Green and several downtown
stores, guests can spend the night
in the Garden House Bed & Breakfast.
It’s believed the ghost of
Albert J. Pettibone, the house’s
original owner and wealthy son
of a local saw mill founder who
died at the age of 29, still wanders
the halls and upstairs rooms at
Blecha, a local palm reader and tour guide for cemetery walks,
reads visitor Andrea Williams’ palm while sitting in
the LaBinnah Bistro. The historic restaurant is also supposedly
Louis resident Melissa Thibodeau
recently took the tour and spent
the night at the Garden House with
her husband, Mike, for their 11th
wedding anniversary. That night,
another guest ran out of her room
in terror, claiming Pettibone’s
ghost had entered her body as
she slept and her friend was unable to rouse her. Although Melissa doesn’t
believe in ghosts, the experience shook her.
“I know I
was a little uneasy,” she
said after the trip. “It’s
amazing what the mind does
So why is Hannibal
haunted? Some say it’s because it was a bustling river
town with plenty of brothels,
bars and crime at the turn of the century. Others say spirits travel along
the town’s original ghost tour guide, has another
“We live in
a town that’s very
old and tied to a historic
figure like Mark Twain,
so we look at what happened
while he was here,” she
focus on the past, which
is tied so closely to the
really brings Hannibal’s
history to life.”
To learn more about the Haunted Hannibal tours, call 314-494-2918, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.hauntedhannibal.com.
For more information about Rockcliffe Mansion, call (573) 221-4140
or visit www.rockcliffemansion.com.