Ghosts of the Prairie
GHOSTS OF ST. CHARLES
BY TROY TAYLOR
is excerpted from Troy Taylor's book BEYOND THE GRAVE (Whitechapel Press
2001) For more information about the book, click here for the
It is the old cemetery that is blamed for many of the hauntings on South Main Street. In 1789, the St. Borromeo Cemetery was established in the 400 block of this district. Although the bodies were exhumed and moved to a newer graveyard on Randolph Street in the 1800’s, many people believe that a number of bodies were left behind. One of those people is John Dengler, the owner of the reportedly haunted Farmer’s Home Building. Dengler is a past president and board member of the South Main Preservation Society and a member of the St. Charles Historical Preservation Society. He is sure that many of the bodies buried in the old cemetery were never found.
“Evidently, that cemetery was pretty good-sized and went all the way up to Third or Fourth Street,” Dengler stated. “There were bodies there, and in fact, they are still there.”
He distinctly recalled some work that was being done behind a corner building that is sometimes called the Armory or the French Armory. A construction crew was excavating to enlarge a nearby structure and when they dug into the hillside, they found a large number of bodies that had not been removed. At another site, a cluster of forgotten bones was encased in concrete when the floor of the building was laid.
“Almost every building on South Main Street has a story to tell,” Dengler once wrote in an article for St. Charles Living Magazine, “and sometimes these ghostly happenings are more apparent.”
One such building with a story to tell is Dengler’s own place, the Farmer’s Home Building, where he owns a tobacco shop. This building was constructed directly on top of where the old cemetery once stood. I have had several opportunities to visit with this charming and delightful man and he never shies away from recounting the hauntings of the shop, even though he maintains a healthy skepticism about the supernatural.
The building was constructed around 1815 and up until 1856, it was the Farmer’s Tavern, a popular hotel and restaurant. John Dengler’s Tobacco Shop, which has been in operation since 1917, is located in what was once the ladies’ dining room of the inn and sometimes the smell of ham and green beans wafts through the air, even though no one is cooking.
Dengler and his wife, Tru, use the second floor of the building as living quarters, while he rents out the other shops on the first floor. The other staff members in the building have also had some rather strange encounters that they have trouble explaining away. Peggy Behm of “Country Stichin’”, once accused John of playing a prank on her. She was walking down a staircase in the back part of the building and distinctly felt a hand fall on her shoulder. Then, a voice whispered eerily in her ear. “Peggy, Peggy”, it said. Startled, she hurried down the steps to find Dengler just walking in the door from a meeting that had kept him out of the building all morning. Even though she first assumed that he had played a trick on her, she quickly realized that she had no explanation for what had just happened.
They have also heard heavy footsteps on the same stairs and in the hallways of the building. Dengler’s daughter, Laura Dengler Muench, was once terrified by the sound of laughter that came from nowhere and Tru Dengler had another strange experience while painting one day. “For about four days, “said John Dengler, “a French-speaking apparition seemed to delight in playing tricks of floating cigarette packs in the air and hiding them. Unexplainable too was how the KMOX radio talk show would suddenly be switched to rather unusual classical music without the dial being changed. On the fifth day of the Frenchman’s visit, a baby was heard to be crying, whereupon it was soothed by a calming French voice.”
So, who are the ghosts that haunt the Farmer’s Home building? Are they former guests of the hotel or the spirits of those left behind from the St. Borromeo Cemetery? John Dengler has no idea but as far as he is concerned they are welcome to stay... “but they’ve got to behave themselves”, he said with a smile.
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© Copyright 2001 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.