The Enos Apartment building, located on Third Street in Alton, is perhaps the best known Underground Railroad station that remains in the city. This former mansion is unique in that it was designed to serve as a hiding place for escaped slaves when it was constructed by Nathaniel Hanson back in 1857. According to the stories, Hanson, who was a wealthy farm implement manufacturer, was closely involved with the abolitionist movement in Alton. When work began on his home, which is located on a bluff overlooking the Alton riverfront and the Mississippi, he asked that tunnels be added to the basement of the house so that runaways could be hidden there in safety. The tunnels, although bricked off at the end, still extend from the lower basement of the house and outward under Third Street. The foundation of the structure is fifteen feet below the level of street and there are numerous rooms and narrow passageways carved into the limestone.
The lingering spirits of escaped slaves may explain some of the odd things that occur in this building but it cannot explain them all. The old mansion seems to have two very distinct types of hauntings, one located both in the basement and another among the upper floors of the house. The weird activity beneath the earth very well may be connected to the Underground Railroad but the ghosts upstairs are likely a part of a later era in the house – a time period when scores of people actually perished within the walls of this stately mansion.
In 1911, the house was purchased by Dr. W.H. Enos and he turned it into a tuberculosis sanitarium. Three years later, he literally raised the roof of the building and added a fourth floor beneath the spacious attic roof and the cupola. He also added the smaller structure on the right side of the building to be used as nurse’s quarters. The sanitarium, or hospital, was designed to treat patients who were diagnosed with tuberculosis. It was still a fatal disease in those days and considered incurable. The best treatment available was to expose the patients to fresh air, of which the former Hanson house had plenty, since it stood on the high bluff over the city. As the reader might imagine, this type of treatment proved to be mostly unsuccessful and many of the patients who came to Alton died.
One couple that I interviewed from the house told me of an occasion when they came home from work with a nice bottle of wine that they planned to have with dinner. While they were in the kitchen cooking, the bottle was left on the dinning room table. When dinner was ready and they came in to eat, they found that the bottle had vanished. It turned up again three days later – unopened and sitting on the back of the toilet in the bathroom. They had no explanation as to how it could have gotten there.
These stories were common and a number of the tenants spoke of them without realizing that others in the building were telling of the same things. This seemed to be more than just a coincidence to me and I couldn’t help but feel that the experiences were genuine. Strangely though, I noticed that the incidents with the vanishing items seemed to be confined to the upper floors of the house, leading me to connect them not with the ghosts of escaped slaves from the days of the Underground Railroad but with the unfortunate patients of the sanitarium instead. I surmised that if only one ghost was at work, it might even be that of a child because the culprit seemed to be attracted to smaller, shiny objects. Whoever the ghost was, it was undoubtedly a prankster though.
As I collected the stories from my interviews, I noticed (as noted already) that many of them were very similar but I did not see how I was going to connect them to the Underground Railroad station in the mansion, which was an important part of the history for me. As it turned out, I didn’t have to link them together, since a number of former occupants of the house made the connection for me. The chilling story that each had to tell provided a ready explanation for why they had moved out of the house!
John Turner and his wife, Lisa, (names changed for the book) had heard rumors about the Enos Apartments being an Underground Railroad station long before they had moved in. They had grown up in the Alton area and the house was to be their first place together after they were married. There were other tenants who had lived in the building and John recalled seeing the secret chambers in the basement back when he was in high school.
They had been living in the house for about a month when the first strange occurrence took place. They were just on their way to bed, as both had been up late watching television, when they heard a soft rapping sound coming from the door to the basement. It was if someone was gently tapping on the wooden panel with one knuckle. John and Lisa were standing in the kitchen at the time and they plainly heard the sound. Puzzled, John walked over and opened the door. The basement stairs were empty.
The next time was about a week later and on this evening, Lisa was home by herself. John had gone to play basketball with some friends and she planned to watch TV until he got home. She was in the kitchen, pouring a glass of tea, when the tapping sound came at the basement door again. The sounds were much louder this time, leaving Lisa unnerved.
After John came home, and Lisa told him what had happened, he checked the basement once again. He was convinced that no one could have gotten in there but was spooked by Lisa’s story. “We didn’t know what to think,” he admitted. Within a few weeks though, they began to think the place was haunted!
Both John and Lisa woke up several times in the night, sure they heard footsteps in the hallway outside of their room. Other times, the lights in the living room would mysteriously turn on and off. Later, they both claimed to smell a pungent odor like a dead animal in various parts of the apartment and they also discovered that the toilet had a habit of flushing by itself. Things had become pretty unnerving, but they reached a breaking point one night in March when John and Lisa were shaken out of their sleep by the sound of a man screaming. They described the choking, rattling cry as coming from all around them, and especially from beneath the bed they had been sleeping in just moments before. This was the last straw for both of them! They moved out of the house two weeks later.
In 2002, the Enos Building was put up for sale and it was eventually purchased by Christine Velloff and her brother Mark Adams. They soon began an extensive restoration project of the building and at the time of this writing, they have already done some wonderful work. They estimated that it would take about five years to restore the place to its former glory but they are well on their way. Ms. Velloff commented that she and her brother had heard rumors about the building being haunted but had experienced nothing paranormal there for themselves. By that time, I had not heard much about the building either, leading me to believe that perhaps the haunting had quieted down. As it turned out though, I was wrong.
In a newspaper interview that I did in October 2002, I had warned that perhaps the renovations that were starting in the house could “wake things up” again . For some reason, remodeling seems to disturb whatever energy is in a house and places that were once actively haunted, but quieted down, often become lively again. This seems to be what has happened in the Enos Building.
I recently spoke to a young woman who moved into an apartment in the mansion and she had an unusual tale to tell. She said that she had moved into the house about three weeks before and during the entire time, she had all sorts of problems with her upstairs neighbor. He walked around, banged things, and even moved furniture in the middle of the night. One night, she and a friend had come home late and once again heard the sounds of banging and thumping and heavy-soled shoes walking back and forth. This went on for an hour or so and finally she couldn’t take it anymore and she decided to go upstairs and to tell him to quiet down. She marched to the upstairs apartment door and banged on it heavily with her fist. As she did so, the door silently swung open to reveal a dark and empty apartment behind it. No one was there. The place was empty and besides there being no sign that anyone had been walking around just minutes before, there was no furniture in the apartment either. When she inquired about the tenant the following day, she was told that the place had been empty during the entire three weeks that she had been living there!
Today, the haunting at the old mansion continues, with many new stories and strange encounters. It remains one of the most popular sites on our tour!
© Copyright 2007 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.