Missouri's hauntings reach back centuries to the Native Americans of the region who had traditions for keeping the dead from returning to this world. Today, there are dozens of haunted spots in the Show-Me State. Many of the sites are open to the public (such as the Lemp Mansion), or you can visit them during special events.
1. Lemp Mansion, St. Louis
Among the most haunted sites in the United States, the Lemp Mansion continues to welcome guests, who can dine, stay, or celebrate in the lovely surroundings. But the house was not always so happy, and members of the Lemp family still return, long after they were laid to rest. The house was built in 1868, then renovated and expanded in the 1870s for the wealthy Lemp family, who owned extensive breweries in St. Louis. The family suffered death and tragedy: in 1904, William Lemp committed suicide in the house. His son, William Jr. married and remained in the house with his family, but went through a bitter divorce: it is said that his first wife, who wore only lavender colored gowns, still haunts the house. In 1920, William's sister, Elsa, committed suicide. Two years later, William followed, shooting himself. In 1949, William's son, Charles, took his own life. The house has had reported hauntings since the 1970s, and visitors still claim to see shadowy figures and hear odd sounds. Some guests have left in the middle of the night without explanation, and ghost hunting is a popular event at the Lemp Mansion.
2. The Screaming House, Union
When the LaChance family rented a home in Union, they had no idea that they were going to face one of the most violent hauntings in generations. The house had the usual noises and creaks of an old building but not long after the LaChances moved in, a dark figure believed to be a man named John Crowe, appeared and disappeared, stalking and terrorizing the family. Stomping and banging sounds, doors that locked on their own, pictures falling from the walls, and a screaming shadow drove the LaChances from the house. Lorraine Warren, the paranormal investigator, believed that the Screaming House had a demonic presence. The building still exists on Christina and is visible from the street.
3. The Black Carriage of Overton
Right near the Missouri River was the small river town of Overton. Folklorist and singer Bob Dyer wrote about an old man and woman who took in travelers, giving them room and board. One night, they murdered a guest, took his gold, and dropped the body into the river. They built a new home and prospered. Years later when the woman was on her deathbed, she made her husband promise to keep their secret and never marry again. He agreed.
A year later, the widower went to St. Louis and returned with a young wife. The local people had never liked him, and decided to keep the couple up all night with catcalls, rifle shots, and drums. The man stomped down to the front porch to give the people a piece of his mind when he stopped and stared. Everyone turned to see a black carriage drawn by a black horse coming up the drive. It drove slowly to the front of the house where it stopped and the door swung open. The men could see an old woman as pale as death in the carriage, staring straight ahead and dressed in black. Slowly, the man got into the carriage, the door shut, and the vehicle drove off. Not long after that, people reported seeing a black carriage and horse on the back roads of Overton, where it is still considered an omen of danger. As recently as 2012, the carriage appeared one night near the railroad tracks off Route 98, just before a train rattled by. Visitors can access Route 98 from I-70 at Overton, Missouri.
4. Jesse James Farm, Kearney
The James Farm was the scene of much heartache and violence, so it is no wonder that the site is considered a haunted haven for unknown spirits. The farm, which is open to the public for tours, is where Jesse and Frank James were raised by their mother, Zerelda, and stepfather. When Jesse was a boy, his stepfather was savagely beaten by Union troops searching for Frank and other bushwhackers in the area. Later at the farm, Jesse's half-brother was killed and his mother wounded by a bomb thrown by Pinkerton guards searching for Jesse and Frank.
According to Legends of America, the grounds of the home may be haunted. People report hearing hoof beats and whispers and sometimes gunshots. Jesse was buried on the farm just after his death, and his mother charged people to visit the grave and take away some pebbles from the site. Jesse's remains were later moved to Mt. Olivet Cemetery, also in Kearney.
5. Jefferson Barracks and Cemetery, St. Louis
Jefferson Barracks has been an active military site since 1826 and with a national cemetery next door, ghosts are almost expected. Troy Taylor's book Haunted St. Louis notes several hauntings on the two sites. The cemetery has a child ghost who is seen wandering among the headstones, although no one is sure why she is there. Two other ghosts apparently meet at sundown and acknowledge one another: one, a Confederate soldier and the other, a Buffalo soldier and member of the distinguished black troop.
On the post, the most haunted building is the Post Headquarters, now more than a century old. It was here that a local soldier saw a light coming from a room one night and when he walked over to the window and looked in, he saw a 19th-century military officer writing by candlelight. The ghost stood up and disappeared, and the soldier made a quick departure. Jefferson Barracks is open for tours, and the cemetery allows visitors.
6. Ravenswood, Bunceton
This grand mansion was built in 1880 for a wealthy couple, Nadine and Charles Leonard. With 30 rooms, more than a thousand acres, carriage barns, and other luxuries, Ravenswood was a showplace of central Missouri. The Leonards loved to entertain and would string lanterns through the trees surrounding their property, hire an orchestra, and invite their friends to dance away the night. Nadine loved the house and her family, and Ravenswood was furnished and decorated with treasures from all around the world. After a long life, Nadine passed away at 90 in an upstairs bedroom, and her body was removed to a nearby town for the funeral services.
As told in Missouri Ghosts, when a family servant tried to enter Nadine's room and gather some clothing, he found the door locked from the inside. Someone went outside and climbed a ladder to look into the room, which was empty. There was no way for the lock to set itself. The family tried several ways to open the door, but they finally agreed it would have be broken and forced open. A servant went to get the tools, but when he returned the door was open. Other manifestations have occurred enough that they are sometimes expected: Christmas tree ornaments are tossed down the central staircase, a broken music box plays happily, and people have claimed to hear music and laughter coming from the lawn and seen lanterns in the trees. Ravenswood is open for tours and has sponsored ghost hunts.
7. The Governor's Mansion, Jefferson City
This gracious house is set in lovely gardens and has been home to Missouri's governors since 1872. Thomas Crittenden and his family were among the first Missourians to enjoy the home. The apple of his eye was daughter Caroline, who was born in 1873. Less than ten years later, Caroline died in the mansion after a bout with diphtheria, and it was said that Governor Crittenden never recovered from the loss.
Just a century later, the mansion was undergoing restoration. A contractor was working in the attic all day and when he was finished, he stopped by to talk with the housekeeper. He asked about the little girl who was playing upstairs as he worked, describing her as pretty and blond and about 10 years old. The housekeeper said there was no one else in the house, and the governor and his wife did not have any children. When the man realized he had been keeping company with a ghost, he left the house and refused to return. The mansion is open for tours.
8. Hermit of Knob Noster
Right next to Whiteman Air Force Base is the town of Knob Noster (a "knob" being an old name for a hill or small mountain). At one time, as noted in The Haunted Heartland, a hermit lived up on the hill and as hermits do, kept to himself and avoided people as much as possible. The man had a slave who was well-liked by the locals but one summer, people realized they hadn't seen the servant in some time. The next time the hermit came to town, he was asked about his slave but all he did was glare and walk away. Rumors of a murder began to circulate through the town.
One night, there was a terrible lightning storm and someone reported he had seen a lantern moving slowly along a ridge on Knob Noster, when a bolt struck the hill. The next day several men went up to check on the hermit and found him dead with a look of terror on his face. Not long after that, people reported seeing the lantern moving along the ridge during storms, and the ghost light is still spotted 140 years later. Knob Noster is just off Route 50 in Missouri, right next to Knob Noster State Park, where the light still bobs on stormy nights.
9. Thespian Hall, Boonville
Thespian Hall is the oldest operating theater west of the Appalachians. Built in 1857, the brick building has served as a theater, dance room, library, movie theater, skating rink, stable, Civil War hospital, and church, and it has a reputation for hauntings as well. Thespian Hall hosted great musicians including John "Blind" Boone, as well as traveling actors and shows, but a recent story told by a performer shows the hall hosts someone else.
An opera singer had just completed a concert, and the hall was empty when her son went onstage to take a photograph. Later, when the family reviewed the pictures, they saw a woman standing in the back of the theater next to a column. She had grey hair, wore a white blouse with a collar and a dark skirt, and was carrying a pocketbook. However, her face was blurred. The family identified the woman as their grandmother who had died several years earlier and loved opera. Mrs. X also apparently likes to sit in the audience and has been spotted at rehearsals listening and then disappearing from the seats. Other ghostly occurrences at Thespian Hall include sounds of ragtime music and moving wig stands, which turn and face the mirrors when no one is there. Tours are available to visitors.
10. Central Methodist University
Central Methodist University in Fayette, Missouri has its share of spooky stories and reported ghost sightings. In 1958, Dean of the Swinney Conservatory, N. Louise Wright, was performing a piano concert when she completed a difficult keyboard run, collapsed, and passed away, never again to play her beloved piano; at least, not in life. But N. Louise still appears with her friend and music partner, Opal Hayes, and the two women can be heard in the Conservatory playing duets and rehearsing for another, otherworldly concert.
The second musical mystery stems from a school concert in the 1960s when the conductor, Dr. Thomas Erskine Birch, suffered a heart attack as he was leading the band, toppled over, and died. That was horrifying enough for the audience, friends, and family, but to add to the terror? Dr. Birch was conducting Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, a tone poem based on the works of painter Viktor Hartmann that includes a section called "The Catacombs," which describes in music the eerie burial chambers beneath Paris, France. Not long after his death, Dr. Birch began to make appearances around campus, according to an article in The Collegian. Students meet a man in evening dress who is standing in the shadows and smoking a cigarette. "Nice night for a concert," is one of his friendly comments before he fades away.
Explore the Ghosts of Missouri
Missouri hauntings are plentiful and accessible. You can visit many of these places to try to catch a ghost in action, or to hear first-hand stories of what others have experienced. Wherever you go, and who or whatever you see (or don't see), haunted Missouri is the paranormal place to be.