Q: Are there any places in Belleville that are thought to be haunted? Is there a "most haunted" place in Belleville?
A: From reports of an invisible little girl singing softly on the stairs to a feisty spirit who sets small fires because she hates drinking, Belleville has its share of ghost stories.
I didn't think Belleville was a supernatural hotbed of activity until I started to ask around about "haunted places." Turns out, there's rumors about ghosts on almost every corner.
But few people wanted to go on the record about it.
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I ran into the same problem when I wrote a story last year about UFO sightings in Southern Illinois. After experiencing something they couldn't explain, many people didn't want to risk their jobs or reputations in the community by talking about it.
This is a common concern, according to Luke Naliborski, who has been a paranormal investigator for 17 years. He and his investigative partner Len Adams have completed many explorations in the area.
Naliborski, owner of the I Had That! vintage toy, game and record store located in the back part of Collector's Corner at 125 E. Main St., has published four books about the paranormal. He has also been a guide for haunted tours in Alton for 12 years.
"People are always concerned that others are going to think they're crazy," Naliborski said. "Fortunately, this sort of thing has become more mainstream."
According to research in October 2017 from Chapman University, about three of every four people believe in some sort of supernatural phenomena, including the existence of ghosts, which is one of the most common paranormal beliefs.
Most of the information I discovered about haunted locations in Belleville is in the form of anecdotal stories which Naliborski called "ghost lore."
Naliborski said, "Ghost lore is when you have a location where something may be already going on and a story is concocted to explain 'why.' That doesn't take anything away from the haunting, but it's not always accurate."
After examining the ghost lore, the "Ask Heidi" nod for "most haunted" Belleville location goes to the Belleville Labor and Industry Museum. The Lindenwood Auditorium, the historic Lincoln Theatre and Papa Vito's at 318 E. Washington St. are runners-up.
I'm open to adjusting the list if I hear some more ghostly happenings going on somewhere else in Belleville. Feel free to send your ghost stories and tips to email@example.com.
Invisible children and a spirit named Posey
Judy Belleville, curator of the Belleville Labor and Industry Museum, said multiple museum volunteers have experienced paranormal happenings in the building at 123 N. Church St.
Belleville said, "Once, a retired doctor, one of my best volunteers, was upstairs in the museum by himself." He told Belleville he heard children playing on the stairs, which are original to the house. There was no one there.
After that, "He said, 'Judy, I'm not coming back,'" Belleville said.
In another instance, volunteers were pulling laths, thin and flat strips of wood, off the walls and ceiling of the second floor of the museum in an effort to clean the upstairs. Two young men "saw something," like a woman's skirt twirling, and they ran downstairs and left.
Bob Poole, a volunteer for three and a half years at the museum, was at the museum by himself on a Saturday. He said he heard footsteps upstairs.
Poole said, "I yelled, 'Judy, you up there?' and went upstairs to see, but there was no one there." He remembered going back downstairs, and the loud footsteps started again.
Instead of going up again, Poole said, "I yelled, 'I don't know who's up there but you're welcome to stay.'" The mysterious footsteps stopped. Unlike other witnesses, Poole is not afraid to be alone in the museum but said during the event, "The hair stood up on the back of my neck."
Belleville said another of her longtime volunteers heard a child singing something like a nursery rhyme on the stairs in two separate instances about two years apart from each other. The singing was too soft for the words to be understood.
Finally, in the most spectacular sighting of the bunch, a volunteer saw a full apparition in the middle of the day in front of the museum, sweeping the memorial stones of the sidewalk.
When it happened, the volunteer didn't know it was an apparition. Turns out, the woman with the broom was a spirit named Posey, and she’s haunting a house across the street from the museum. Why the spirit ventured across the street to sweep near the museum is a matter of speculation.
Naliborski called the sighting of a full apparition at the Labor and Industry Museum the "holy grail" of paranormal experiences. In his 17 years of investigating, he's viewed full apparitions only five times. "Which isn't very much when you consider how long I've been doing it," he said.
If you want to explore the "most haunted" location in Belleville for yourself, the annual Belleville Museum Open House Day will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 2.
Constructed in 1924 as part of the old Belleville West campus, the current site of Lindenwood University-Belleville and its auditorium has played host to a variety of events over the years, from Philharmonic concerts to numerous theater productions and even last year's Belleville mayoral debate.
Some say it is also the home to the helpful ghost of a former teacher.
According to the Southern Illinois Ghost Hunting Team paranormal investigators and other ghost hunter websites, a teacher was sick and unable to teach, but she loved the theater so much she checked on the children the days before she died.
She died but still returned to the auditorium to check on the children. Ghost lore says she is most active in the days leading up to a play.
Lindenwood University-Belleville officials declined to comment.
Footsteps and shadows
The historic Lincoln Theatre opened on Oct. 6, 1921. Since it's been in business, it has shown countless films and played host to stars, including Ginger Rogers and the Marx Brothers.
According to a Belleville News-Democrat story from Oct. 12, 2006, by Jennifer Kapiolani Saxton, it also is the home of five spirits — maybe more. Reported ghosts include a boy, a stage hand, a handyman, a doctor and a performer named Aretha.
Sandy Schoenborn, who was the general manager of the theater in 2006, said: "Occasionally, you'll hear footsteps and there is nothing there. Or you'll catch a shadow out of the corner of your eye and no one will be there."
She said the spirits protect the theater and "watched over the building."
The Lincoln Theatre's current owners were unable to be reached for comment.
Pyromaniac spirit dislikes booze
Prior to housing the Papa Vito's Restaurant, the building at 318 E. Washington St. had a storied history. At one time, it was a Pasta House; prior to that, it was the Carriage House Restaurant and, even earlier, it was a school. That's not accounting for all of the restaurants and businesses that have occupied the building in between.
For the Oct. 27, 1991, edition of the Belleville News-Democrat, columnist Michelle Meehan interviewed Belleville psychic Terry Engle about her experiences at the building. Engle has since died.
In 1978, the building was experiencing a series of small fires. It was believed someone was setting them. Engle had a different theory.
She performed a paranormal investigation after hours with the owners of the property, at that time. "We met an energy I interpreted as female," Engle said in 1991.
Engle claimed the energy conveyed the idea she was "an old schoolmarm" and "dearly loved" the building.
"She said she didn't like booze and there was something that needed to be repaired," Engle said. Repairs were made, and the fires ceased.
The current owners of Papa Vito's Restaurant were unable to be reached for comment.
More Belleville ghost lore
Belleville reference librarian Freda Blanchard and her supervisor, Anna Kimball, insisted the public library on Washington Street is haunted.
Blanchard said you can "feel energy drain from your body" as you walk through the main doors up the staircase to the nonfiction and reference area.
Kimball shared stories of library patrons "sensing" someone sitting down in a chair next to them, hearing the creaks and settling noises of a body coming to rest. But, again, there was no one there.
The longtime Belleville News-Democrat jack-of-all-trades and front desk person Sylvia Hammit shared anecdotal stories of "things" moving around and lights turning on and off when she was the only person in the News-Democrat building at 120 S. Illinois St. She directed me to the mysterious "Room 13" where the newspaper keeps its microfilm archives as "the most haunted place at the Belleville News-Democrat."
I've spent an inordinate amount of time poring through the microfilm records, and I've never experienced a single spine-tingling moment.
Naliborski, one of Belleville's resident paranormal investigators, hypothesized I was too focused on the archives to notice whether something uncanny was going around me. I'm in support of this newest piece of ghost lore.
Of the four books he's written and published, Naliborski said he has a soft spot for "The Lighter Side of Darkness: Misadventures into the Unknown." If you purchase a copy from the author at his shop, word on the street is he will sign it.