As October 31st looms closer, a subtle change creeps across the land. An unnatural chill haunts the air and darkness falls too quickly….
Yep, it’s October. The Pumpkin Spice lattes are back at Starbucks and kids can practically smell candy in the air. For me, October is jam-packed with ghostly tales, spectral science and Homecoming happenings. What, you may ask is my occupation? As much as I like the title “Jill of all Trades”…my actual job is coordinating non-credit and community-based programming at Southeast Missouri State University.
So how does a nerdy naysayer turn into a walking dictionary or Cape’s weird and macabre occurrences? It all started when budget cuts forced my division to become self-supported. In layman’s terms that meant I suddenly found myself having to hustle to find ways to make workshops like Landscape Photography, Opera Appreciation and Ballroom Dancing profitable…in our region that can be quite a challenge. I began searching across the country to see how colleagues in similar situations were managing tough economic times and a pattern began to emerge: ghosts, spooks, specters. If it was creepy, schools were selling it and (much to my surprise) people were signing up for non-credit workshops (and even college courses) in record numbers. Never one to let the grass grow under my feet, I dove headfirst into researching the possibilities for haunted tours in Cape Girardeau.
What I found was astonishing. Did you know that Cape has been visited by some of the most famous parapsychologists and paranormal investigators in the country? If you’ve seen the movie The Exorcist or the recent blockbuster The Conjuring then you will know that Ed and Lorraine Warren were involved in some of the most documented cases of the 20th century…including a house right here just blocks from the river! Who knew? From haunted graveyards to tales of gruesome murder, eerie natural disasters, spook lights, poltergeists, spectral soldiers and even UFO’s – Cape’s history read like a Stephen King novel. In fact, I found so much information that it became overwhelming.
Thank goodness for Tom Nuemeyer and Dr. Frank Nickell – both of whom shared their wealth of collected history and folklore. In 2007, Tom became my partner in crime when we introduced the Haunted Downtown Walking Tour. Together we have walked miles and introduced hundreds of people to the rich, wonderful and occasionally bone-chilling history of downtown Cape Girardeau.
So, at this point, I know what you are all thinking…tell us about these ghosts!! Hahaha (evil laugh) to that I say, “Join me on the tour!” Seriously guys, a girl has to make a living and your tour fees help us provide community-based programming like our free Halloween Science Night event which serves over a thousand children and their parents each year! Afraid it won’t be worth your time or money? I recently helped a friend and colleague, Dr. Joel Rhodes, with his book, “Haunted Cape Girardeau: Where the River Turns a Thousand Chilling Tales.” Dr. Rhodes wrote this about Old Town Cape
Business ventures occupying the historic storefronts, banks and public buildings have changed over the years….yet ghost stories persist. Visit virtually any boutique, coffee shop or restaurant in the older parts of the district and you may hear unique stories of phantom customers or otherworldly tenants. Sometime, these ghost stories have been known to play out before an unsuspecting patron’s very eyes.
Old Town is layered with history. If you close your eyes on a dark October night it isn’t hard to see it, to feel it, even to smell it. Take a deep breath. Is that cigar smoke…funny there isn’t anyone on the sidewalk…or maybe it’s the sooty smell of a coal powered locomotive that hasn’t run for nearly a century. Was that the neigh of a horse or the rustle of silk…did you see a flash of something white inside that closed storefront? Surely it’s just your mind playing tricks on you….