Thursday, October 28, 2010

Part 4 of St Louis folklore and ghosts from the research of Devil At The Confluence.

In the book Devil At The Confluence the stories behind the songs from St Louis are revealed. But not all stories had surviving songs for them and so for this week of Halloween there will be a story from the leftover research of the book.

The Collins Street house

Described as an "ancient brick 2-story" in the 1880s, the house on Collins Street was less than a half century old. The second owners of the house were a young man and his wife and no one ever knew why she committed suicide a year after they moved in. The next family, a man and wife with two young children, were the first to report strange noises in the upper rooms. Dissatisfied for that or another reason, the family put the house up for sale and packed their belongings. On the day they were to leave, the wife took sick and died. The coroner's report found no cause for her death. Talk around the neighborhood of demons and ghosts and a series of tenants that never stayed in the house very long caused the rent to drop to $75 per month. Then $50 per month. Five or six years went by without occupation and the house began to show disrepair. 

A man and wife with two grown daughters, a niece, nephew and servants took the bargain priced lease and it seemed for some time afterwards that the house was rid of the curse. The family was happy and life in 1866 St Louis was good. But at supper one night the noises began. The husband took his revolver with him when he went upstairs to investigate the rattling windows and slamming doors. Finding nothing and seeing no one, he headed for the door to the stairs.  The door refused to open and it took much of his strength to get it slightly ajar. When partially opened, just enough to get his foot out, he felt an electrical shock go through him. He bolted through the door as it slammed at his heels and he ran down the stairs.
The next night his daughter was awoken at 11 o'clock by the sensation of a cold hand over her mouth. She could not hear her scream although she tried with all her might. In panic she tried again and again and eventually a scream was released as she bounded out of the bed and down the hall to her parents room. There she said that she thought she saw a white spirit form bending over her in her bed. The father returned her to her room with his lamp and made a search of the room to calm her. He was in the hall bidding her goodnight when he heard a mocking hollow laugh. The family gathered downstairs after that and stayed awake until morning when they packed and left the house.

Although necessary repairs were made, the next few years went without occupants because the house had become known as haunted to just about everyone in the city. But the new paint and repaired windows and the long uneventful period made it seem like the evil had moved on. Assuming that the hauntings were over and the rental price of $30 enticed a woman with five children and a servant girl. Within a month all five children took ill suddenly one night and died. This time the coroner found a cause of death: there were sufficient levels of arsenic in their systems. The police investigators went to question the servant but she could not be found.

The woman moved out and a period lapsed before a man his wife and four children moved in. The couple were awoken one morning having heard a groaning in the house. Doors and windows opened and shut while groans, voices and laughter echoed throughout the upper floors. This couple were not annoyed much by these occurrences that happened every other day or so and they might have stayed in the house if that was all the spooks were going to do to them. But one day the wife saw a figure of white in the mirror on the second floor. Only in the reflection could it be seen and the invisible hands forcibly grabbed hold of her and lifted her into another room. Her husband found her unconscious on the floor in the back of the house.

So many manifestations and six deaths within the house were proof to the neighbors of a great evil within the dwelling. Of course, most of the murders were caused by human hands but many believed that the spirits had possessed the killers. The house on Collins Street was well-known and talked about around the city. And the facts above were from the witnesses, the neighbors on Collins Street. The young bride's suicide, the couple chased out by the ghosts and taking the life of the woman before she could get away, the tormented families and the murder of the five children, these were the first-hand accounts. But there was another death that no one knew anything about. When the laborers were hired to repair and make changes to some rooms they made a grim discovery while cleaning out the basement. In the dirt of the stone wall cellar they found the body of a woman and a year old child. The identities of those remains were never determined. 

It seems that it was a gamble to live in the Collins Street house. A chance that was only worth taking if the price was low and if the odds were in your favor. The odds work out to be a 1 in 3 chance that one would live to walk out of the house. Like every good ghost story, it's the irony in it that guarantees it a supernatural basis. And it's ironic that the Collins Street house is now a parking lot for a casino. A place where the odds are in the house's favor.

Devil At The Confluence is available at the Chesterfield Arts and The Illustrated Art Museum in Crestwood ArtSpace.

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