GHOSTS OF THE PRAIRIE

HAUNTED ILLINOIS


THE MINERAL SPRINGS HOTEL
ALTON, ILLINOIS


Even though the place hasn’t actually been a hotel for quite a few years now, you almost expect to see guests strolling through the lobby of the Mineral Springs Hotel. For a number of years now, the place has been a busy antique mall. When you walk inside though, you will find that traces of the old hotel still exist, including shops now housed in what were once spacious sleeping quarters; the hotel’s original safe, which still boasts the lingering aroma of cigars that were once stored there by the hotel’s tobacco shop; and in the far reaches of the building, unused rooms that appear just as they did decades ago.

As I mentioned, you can almost expect to see the guests of yesterday walking up and down the corridors or lingering in the hotel bar..... and according to some, they still do.

The Mineral Springs Hotel opened in 1914 and it was a pretty spectacular place. Early advertising boasted that the hotel featured the "largest swimming pool in Illinois", mineral spring "cures", and the biggest table in the city of Alton, said to seat 26 people.

The hotel was constructed by August and Herman Luer, successful meat packers, who intended to open an ice storage plant on the property in 1909. As excavations began on the site of the new ice storage plant, a natural spring was discovered during the digging. A chemist tested the water and he declared that the water had medicinal qualities. He recommended that the brothers build a spa on the site instead of a building for storing ice.

Construction was started in October 1913 with the excavation of the basement swimming pool and the hotel opened the following June. The building was five stories high and done in a beige stucco in Italian Villa style. The ornate interiors contained terrazzo floors, marble staircases, decorated plaster cornices and designs and art glass throughout. It was elaborate and luxurious and an immediate success, especially after the mineral pool opened on the lower level.

This was the biggest draw for the hotel and was said to have caused "remarkable cures". It became a popular place for swimming lessons, water polo clubs and for those seeking the healing powers of the mineral waters. A man named "Doc" Furlong also organized hydrotherapy baths and while his methods may have been questionable, the guests and customers went away pleased.

Thanks to some savvy advertising, the water was soon being shipped to customers as far away as Memphis and New Orleans. In July 1914, the hotel was bottling and selling more than 100 bottles every day. Consumption of the water increased that year to 350 gallons weekly and the hotel boasted that its curative powers equaled those of water found in Hot Springs, Arkansas. People began pouring into Alton to partake of the healing waters and the hotel held its grand opening in September 1914. It was said that one point, the swimming pool attracted over 3,000 people in a season.

The hotel enjoyed its heyday throughout the late ‘teens and the early 1920’s. In 1918, Hollywood actress Marie Dressler spoke at the hotel on behalf of the Liberty Loan committee. A number of new rooms were added to the hotel in 1925, the same year that an orchestra was hired to play on Sunday afternoons and for the evening dining.

August Luer sold the hotel in 1926 but it continued to thrive for many years afterward, although it finally began to deteriorate in the 1950’s. In 1971, the Mineral Springs closed down for good, despite efforts to restore the place to its former popularity with the addition of a huge ballroom. In 1978, it was restored by Roger Schubert, who developed the building as a mall featuring shops and restaurants. Years later, it would see life again, thanks to further renovations by the Love family.

Once the hotel re-opened again, this time as an antique mall, stories started to be told about the place. Only these tales had nothing to do with "miracle cures" and the golden days of the hotel... these stories had to do with murder and ghosts.

You see, the Mineral Springs Hotel is a very haunted place.

The legends of the place say that three very different ghosts haunt the corridors and rooms of the Mineral Springs. The first is said to be that of an itinerant artist who was unable to pay his hotel bill many years ago. His ghost apparently haunts the former hotel bar. This section of the building is an antique store today but the saloon that once existed here was decorated with fine woods and marble, ornate trim and gargoyle-like figures on the crossbeams. All traces of the bar have since vanished and all that remains behind is an unfinished mural of the city of Alton that has been pained on one wall. The stories say that the artist who lived here was allowed to paint the mural in exchange for his bill. Unfortunately, he died before he was able to finish it and his ghost has remained here ever since. Building tenants and visitors who have encountered him say that he is more of a benign presence than a frightening one. He is usually seen simply standing around, as though he has no idea of exactly where he is. Many have described him as looking slightly drunk and others, not realizing that he is a phantom, have recalled the faint smell of liquor around him.

If any of the ghosts in the old hotel are truly frightening, it might be the phantom that allegedly haunts the hotel swimming pool. It isn’t so much because of his tendency to scare the living but more because of his reason for lingering behind. That reason is a thirst for revenge.

During the early days of the business, the swimming pool was one of the big draws to the place. When it was built, it was called "the largest swimming pool in Illinois" and throughout the 1920’s, parties and receptions were often held in the pool area and guests used the pool on a daily basis. Today, the pool is located in a basement area of the building that is closed off to visitors.

The story of the ghost began in the 1920’s, during the heyday of the hotel. One evening, there was a large reception held at the Mineral Springs and people were gathered in the pool area for the party. One of the couples attending the event had an apparently volatile relationship, probably because the husband had quite an eye for the ladies. Throughout the evening, he flirted and danced with a number of young women until his wife could stand it no longer. In a fit of anger, she came over and started shouting accusations at him. Laughing, he attempted to just brush away her concerns but finally, she took off her shoe and smashed him in the face with the heel of it. Blood spurted out between the fingers of the hand that he pressed to his face and he stumbled over, colliding with one of the columns next to the pool. Stunned, he reeled and tumbled over into the water. Whether he was dazed by the blow to his face, or simply a bad swimmer, we’ll never know. Before anyone realized what was going on, the man had slipped beneath the water and had drowned. What became of his wife is unknown.

In the years after the tragic event, and after the hotel closed down, the man began to be seen standing near the side of the pool, or in other lower parts of the building. His ghost has been described as angry and brooding, but impeccably dressed in black tie and tails.

And he has is said to have a reason for staying behind here.... revenge. According to the legend, he is waiting here for the return of his wife’s spirit. It is believed that when he finds her, he intends to kill her by pushing her into the swimming pool and allowing her to drown. Will he ever find her? Perhaps someday he will and if that time ever comes, then maybe he will finally rest in peace. If not, well, then he may not be the ghost you would want to encounter on some dark night in the hotel basement!

Undoubtedly, the most famous ghost of the Mineral Springs is the legendary “Jasmine Lady”. The accounts say that she has haunted a particular part of the old hotel for years. This area is a staircase that is located a short distance from the former lobby. According to the hotel legend, this lady was once a guest at the hotel who had come here to take in the “healing waters” with her husband. While she was here, she became involved romantically with another guest and started an affair with him. One evening, while her husband was away, she took the other man up to her room, with disastrous results. Her husband returned unexpectedly and caught the adulterous couple “in the act”. Needless to say, he was enraged. In the course of the violent encounter, she ran away from him and started down the steps. What happened next remains a mystery....

The stories vary as to whether the woman may have tripped on the stairs or whether her angry spouse pushed her down the staircase. In the end, it didn’t matter, because somehow she fell and broke her neck and she was instantly killed. Her despondent husband then returned to their upstairs room and committed suicide.

In the years that have followed, staff members and visitors to the building have caught glimpses of this woman’s tragic flight down the stairs as her apparition replays the terrible event over and over again. Stranger still, they have also caught whiffs of her pungent perfume, a jasmine scent, near the staircase and in other nearby places in the building. Even people like Bob Love, the former owner and a man who is not a believer in ghosts, have puzzled over the coming and going of this strong odor.

I had contacted him back in 1998, when I first heard about the haunting of the former hotel. He admitted that he was unsure about the existence of ghosts but never could explain one odd happening that had taken place in the building. "I have to say I’m not a believer," Mr. Love had said, "but one morning I walked in the Alton Street entrance and I smelled a strong, almost putrid, jasmine scent. It was strange."

And employees of the place have not been the only ones to have unsettling encounters with the Jasmine Lady. One woman approached me about her own incident at the former hotel. She was shopping one day when she passed the staircase. "I had no idea the place was supposed to be haunted," she said, "I wouldn’t find out until later that everybody knew about the ghosts but me."

As she passed the bottom of the stairway, she caught a sickening, flowery scent but as mentioned, she had no idea that it usually signaled the presence of a ghost. What happened next though, shocked her. "Just after I smelled the perfume, I felt this cold chill, almost like a breeze blowing. It didn’t just hit me... it, well, I guess sort of brushed past me, but it was real cold, " she said. "Then, I looked up. See, there are these signs that hang out in front of some of the stores down the hallway.... and all of the ones close to me start swinging back and forth."

That was enough shopping for her that day. "I just left after that," she told me. "I have been back there since and nothing else has happened, but I’ll never forget that."

While these three spirits may be the most famous haunts of the Mineral Springs Hotel, they may not be alone here. Hotels are notorious for the ghosts the living leave behind. Imagine, if you will, just how many people pass through a hotel in a single year. Then, recall how many guests an old hotel might boast after decades in operation. It isn’t a reach to think there might be a ghost, or two, around. If you factor in the deaths, murders and suicides that sometimes take place in hotels.... well, then you may be talking about a regular infestation! And it is unlikely that the Mineral Springs is an exception to this rule.

Besides encounters with the notorious trio of spirits, the building boasts other strange encounters as well. Michael Love, the son of the building’s owner, once had an apartment in the building and he collected his own strange reports, including unexplained cold chills that have been reported by customers, items that have been seen to move about, voices and laughter than come from nowhere and more. He also heard distinct footsteps on the back stairs when he was home alone one evening. When he checked to see who had come to visit, he found no one there.

Do guests from the past still walk in the Mineral Springs Hotel? You’ll have to be the judge of that. I invite you to go down and do a little shopping some afternoon.... you just might find more than you bargained for!

The MINERAL SPRINGS HOTEL is located at 301 East Broadway in Alton, Illinois’ famed “Antique District”. The building now serves as an antique mall and hours vary depending on the season. The main staircase and the hotel bar are easily accessible to visitors, but the swimming pool is not open to the public.

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COPYRIGHT 2000 BY TROY TAYLOR. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.