POTOSI – If you’ve ever wanted to find a disembodied spirit hanging out in Southeast Missouri, it appears that in the city of Potosi you might stand more than a ghost of a chance.
Ghost Hunters Unite
It was early on a recent Saturday evening when a small group of amateur ghost hunters gathered outside the Sweet Memories Sandwich Shop to meet up with members of the St. Louis-based Paranormal Task Force. They had put down good money to tour several historic Potosi landmarks throughout the night and into the early morning hours in hopes of running into a genuine apparition. Their guides, PTF President Greg Myers and his team, were ready to do all they could to help.
“We’ve done several of these and they’re always fun,” said Myers, as he and his team huddled in a circle for a brief meeting before the evening’s “hunt” began. “There’s also been some pretty interesting things that participants have observed and heard. It’s one of our most popular activities.”
Paranormal Task Force describes itself as “a nonprofit organization comprised of diverse and experienced paranormal professionals who utilize a unique combination of humanistic values and scientific techniques which result in a well formulated approach to paranormal research.”
That’s a mouthful — but there’s more ... “With adherence to a strict set of protocols, our ultimate goal is to provide superior client satisfaction resulting in full closure and the better understanding of their special situation while collecting quality evidence and data which is beneficial to the overall progression of the paranormal field.”
What all that means is that these are ghost hunters who take their job very seriously.
As the sun began its slow descent into the west, Myers introduced Steven LaChance to the crowd. LaChance is the founder of Missouri Paranormal Research — the organization that was renamed Paranormal Task Force in 2007.
LaChance is a big man with a commanding voice who reminds one a little of Penn Jillette of Penn and Teller fame.
“I used to spend summers in Potosi when I was a kid,” he explained. “I remember listening to all the old men telling their stories on the liar’s bench in town.”
The reason LaChance formed a paranormal research group is understandable. While living in Union, Mo., he had some pretty frightening run-ins with some awfully scary spirits. In his best-selling book, The Uninvited, he calls these spirits “demonic attackers” and “supernatural predators.” According to the successful author, paranormal lecturer and radio host, these nasty spiritual beings drove he and his three children out of what is now known as the “Union Screaming House.”
This particular evening he was jovial and laid back. He said he was looking forward to what was going to transpire during the hunt. Meanwhile, most of the amateur ghost hunters listening to him speak didn’t look too excited about the prospect of running into — or especially out of — any screaming houses.
The agenda for the evening was a simple one. Jim Richeson, vice president of Potosi’s Mine Au Breton Historical Society, would first provide a guided tour of the three locations during whatever was left of the daylight. Next, the ghost hunters were invited to go back at their leisure to any of the places they had toured and ask questions of the PTF team members who were on hand. Finally, the ghost hunters were free to go back on their own to the location of their choice to do their very own paranormal research — in the dark. Note that during every segment of the evening there was always at least one PTF team member within screaming distance of the guests.
These are the three historic locations toured by the amateur ghost hunters:
• The James Long Home (also known as the Long-Banta House)
This Victorian-style house was built by James Long around 1865. Connected with the smelting and mining business, Long was a very prominent and respected man in Potosi. Long served as sheriff and collector of the county for four years and was treasurer for six years. At the time they moved into the home, the family consisted of James and Bettie Long and their young daughter, Lily. While living in the home, the couple saw the birth of two more daughters — Mattie in 1866, and Minnie in 1870. The house soon became a social center for the town with its many piano recitals.
This charming and beautiful building has been home to generations of the Long family. It has also been the building where James Long, Bettie Long and all three of their daughters died within its walls. They are buried in the nearby Presbyterian Cemetery. Throughout the years many generations of the Long (Banta) family lived in the residence. This historic site is currently maintained by the historical society. Much of the furniture in the house originally belonged to the Long family.
Paranormal history of the Long-Banta House has included unexplainable noises similar to those of books or large objects dropped on the floor, people being touched by unseen hands and an ethereal note played on the downstairs piano.
The shadowy figures of a female and children have been seen in the windows by passersby. An odd grunting sound was also reported. The unexplainable movement of decorative candles in a second floor bedroom was witnessed by paranormal investigators.
The front portion of the building was first erected from logs by Moses Austin — the father of Stephen F. Austin — around 1797. Over time the store has been added to and expanded, creating the building as it stands today. Travelers of The Trail of Tears bought supplies at the store when passing through in the 1830s. Confederate Rebels ransacked the building during The Raid of 1864.
In 1932, Frank J. Flynn, a clerk at the Washington County Bank, took his own life in one of the upstairs rooms by a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the heart. At the time of the suicide the store was being used as a private residence. The Austin-Milam-Lucas Store is currently a museum maintained by the historical society.
Some people have reported seeing a shadowy figure of a man peering from the window where the suicide occurred. Others have reported a light flickering in the room. When the store was an apartment building, tenants told of unexplainable electrical problems, such as lights and other appliances turning on and off on their own. Reports have also included odd odors, moving cold spots, floating lights and the sounds of knocking. Disembodied voices and a black floating ball-like anomaly were recorded during a paranormal investigation. One person was even grabbed on the arm by an unseen hand and another was unexplainably scratched by something unseen.
• Old Presbyterian Church and Mine Au Breton Historical Society Museum
The Old Presbyterian Church, built in 1833, is Potosi’s oldest public building and is the oldest Presbyterian Church still standing west of the Mississippi River. The church had an upper gallery where slaves could attend services with their owners.
This building housed Presbyterian worship services from 1833 to 1907, when the congregation moved to the “New Presbyterian Church.” In the following years the Old Presbyterian Church gave varied service to the community. It served as a Masonic Auditorium, the first “gymnasium” for the earliest basketball teams of Potosi High School, a theater where silent movies were shown, and a meeting hall used by the Boy Scouts. The building today serves as a museum.
Some people and paranormal investigators describe a feeling that something is watching them from the upper gallery. Sounds of footsteps have also been heard walking across the upper gallery and coming down the stairs.
The Old City, Presbyterian, and Masonic Cemeteries sit just behind the Old Presbyterian Church. Much of the town’s history is buried within their boundaries. There you will find the resting places of the Long Family, Moses Austin, the Lapine Family and John Meyers.
People have reported hearing disembodied voices and seeing unexplainable shadow figures move about. Reports of paranormal investigators have included experiencing moving areas of electromagnetic fields, coupled with notable temperature drops during investigations.
The Ghost Hunting Begins
The initial tours were uneventful but fun. There was a constant feeling that something — or someone — could make an appearance at any moment. There were a few nervous laughs here and there, and a whole lot of photos were taken.
Phase two of the ghost hunting expedition took on a much more serious tone. It was now dark outside and many of the lights in the buildings had been turned off. It was definitely spooky.
Not helping matters any for the faint of heart were the stories of strange experiences — many told in hushed, reverential tones — as if the ghosts themselves might be listening. And, who knows? They might have been.
In the room of the Austin-Milam-Lucus-Store where the young bank clerk had committed suicide, the woman whose arm had been grabbed by an unseen hand was more than ready to retell her story to the ghost hunters.
“I was sitting in this chair when I got up to leave,” said PTF member Margaret Shelton. “A voice screamed at me to ‘Sit!’ Then, when I tried to leave again, I felt something grab my arm. I ran out of the house and when I looked down, there were red marks where I’d felt the hand.”
After hearing her chilling story, most of the ghost hunters didn’t stay very long in the suicide room visiting with Margaret.
Meanwhile, back at the Sweet Memories Sandwich Shop, LaChance was holding court at a table stacked with copies of his books he’d brought to sell.
There was a lot of laughter going on as people swapped ghost stories with each other.
PTF President Greg Myers told about an overnight paranormal search made at an unnamed Southeast Missouri location where he admitted that he and his team had left the next day more afraid of the building’s owners than any ghosts they might have encountered during their stay.
“Those people were really weird,” he said, laughing. “They scared the hell out of us!”
Back in the dining room, LaChance was having a ball — and selling a few autographed copies of his books to boot.
The final part of the evening was when things got really serious. That was when the ghost hunters were allowed to visit each of the landmarks on their own in complete darkness. A PTF member was there to assist the guests, of course, and moved the ghost hunters along to another location after a suitable period of time.
It was quiet, it was dark, it was somewhat disconcerting. It was everything the ghost hunters had hoped for.
While no one walked away from the night nursing a ghost-grabbed arm, PTF team members reported there had been several “unusual occurrences” and a few instances of “possible paranormal activity” reported to have taken place throughout the evening.
Whether or not all of the ghost hunters believed in ghosts when they arrived or even when they left, the guests seemed to have an unforgettable evening spent searching for ethereal beings alongside some awfully fun paranormal researchers.
Steven LaChance's website is www.stevenalachance.com.
For more information about Paranormal Task Force, go to www.catchmyghost.com.
Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at (573) 518-3614 or firstname.lastname@example.org