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The Mansion House
History & Hauntings of one of Alton's First Ghost Stories

Stories are based on the Book Haunted Alton by Troy Taylor

One of my favorite “historic haunts” of Alton involves a place called the Mansion House. It is perhaps the most legendary site in the city. It is located on State Street in Alton and was built in 1834 by a Captain Botkin, who operated the place for many years as a hotel. He offered lodging to travelers and to those who were living in the area on a temporary basis. For a short period in 1836, it was the only hotel in Alton.

The building was later used as a Catholic boarding school by nuns of the Ursuline Order and the Daughters of Charity. In 1864, during the height of the smallpox epidemic at the Alton Prison, the house was turned into a hospital and in fact, was the very first hospital in the city. Three Daughters of Charity nuns from St. Louis responded to a plea from President Lincoln to come to Alton and try to get the smallpox epidemic under control.  They began treating the sick townspeople at the hospital and at the isolation camp on Smallpox Island. Gradually, under their watchful care, the epidemic began to subside. The legends say that many people who had come down with the dreaded disease died in the Mansion House and claim their ghosts still walk here, restless and frightened of the illness that suddenly ended their lives. And if these ghosts walk here – they may not walk alone.

According to stories, anecdotes and even historical records, this house was haunted long before the Civil War. In fact, the Mansion House has the rather dubious honor of being one of the first documented haunted houses in the city of Alton.

The most famous otherworldly resident of the place is the ghost of a man named Tom Boothby. He was a grizzled, old Indian fighter who came to live in the hotel in 1836. Boothby had seen more than his share of adventure during the Indian battles of the War of 1812. As a result, he had retired to Alton with only one arm and one eye, an arrow having put out the other one. Boothby took a downstairs room in the back, left corner of the house and quickly became known as an eccentric recluse. It is believed that he did not leave his room until his death in 1838 and the stories say that he had a boy who would deliver his meals to him each morning. The following day, Boothby would leave a payment, and the empty tray, for the young man to exchange for a full one.

Boothby soon became well known at the Mansion House. He was obsessed with the idea that the ghosts of the Indians he had killed in the past were coming to kill him and would often wake up screaming in the middle of the night. Needless to say, this would also rouse the other tenants in the house and soon, someone would be pounding on Boothby’s door to settle him down. Although he never opened the door, he would normally murmur a few words of apology to the guests in the hallway outside his room and the rest of the night would pass in peace.

How often this late-night screaming would occur is unknown, but apparently it happened often enough that Boothby gained a reputation among the guests. Only the most recent tenants ever bothered to venture out into the dark corridors when Boothby began crying out in the night. Soon, they too learned to ignore the chilling sounds. And so it went for the next two years. Whispers spread throughout the city that Boothby had been moving from town to town along the Mississippi, always hoping to stay one step ahead of the ghostly attackers who pursued him. He was dismissed as a lunatic but perhaps Tom Boothby was not as crazy as everyone believed that he was…

One night, Boothby’s screams were different than in the past. Instead of his crying that the Indians were coming to kill him – this time, they had found him! In fact, as Boothby yelled for help, he stated that the savages were strangling him! If his screams roused anyone that night, they did not come to his aid. The other guests had been awakened so many times before that they had trained themselves to simply ignore the ruckus. Perhaps they flinched in their sleep at the urgency of Boothby’s call but if they did, they did not come to help him.

The next day passed like all of the others. The young man who came to deliver Boothby’s meals picked up the empty tray and left a full one, just as he always did. It would not be until the following morning when he realized something was wrong. The tray from the day before had been untouched, something which had never happened in the previous two years. Concerned, (probably more for his future salary than for Boothby’s welfare) the young man fetched the owner of the hotel, who opened the door to Boothby’s room. They found the old man inside, sprawled sideways across the bed. His night shirt was ripped and torn, as if he had been involved in a struggle, and his one good eye stared wide with fright.

The Indians were strangling him, Boothby had screamed – but it was the man’s own good hand that was so tightly holding his throat!

As the years have passed, it has been said that Tom Boothby has never rested. His cries and frantic footsteps have often been heard in the house and still continue to echo there today. During the period when the Mansion House was still used as a hotel, it was said that only guests who were unaware of the story of Tom Boothby were given his old room. That way, when they were awakened by the sounds of his spirit screaming in the darkness, they would think that it was coming from some other room!

The house today is leased as private apartments and is not open to the public, however this does not stop new stories about Tom Boothby from being told. In October 2000, I was chatting with some new arrivals in Alton and they were telling me about the strange incidents that were taking place in their new home. They described the sound of a man’s footsteps and even the sound of cries that were sometimes heard in the night. I asked them where they lived and to my surprise, they gave the address of the Mansion House. They also stated that their apartment was downstairs – in the back, left corner of the building!

“Have you ever heard the story of Tom Boothby?” I asked them.

They told me that they had not, so I proceeded to scare them right into looking for a new place to live!

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© Copyright 2007 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.