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Saturday, March 25, 2023

Take a Midwestern road trip to thrills, chills and ‘Eeek’

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It’s only a matter of time before the days are darker, the nights are longer and there’s a certain chill in the air, all telltale signs of Spooky Season. As a self-proclaimed scaredy-cat, it’s the one month of the year when I lean into things that go bump in the night and raise my heart rate.

One of the best ways to participate in Spooky Season is to visit historical places where the macabre happened a long time ago, and the only things left are legends and stories of the paranormal. These fall trips within driving distance are just the thing for fear-seeking Midwesterners looking for places that incite a healthy dose of scares and adrenaline. From courageous thrill seekers to scaredy cats like me, these spots have something for everyone looking to participate in festivities that don’t include jump scares.

The crown jewel of Alton, known as America’s Most Haunted Small Town, is the McPike Mansion, built in 1869. Many believe it is still home to the spirits of the McPike family, servants and residents who used to live there. While the mansion itself is undergoing renovation, to which your ticket price and donations will go toward, you can go on a weekend tour in October to visit the grounds and the cellar, the place that some say is the focal point of many of the energies felt in the mansion. You may even walk away with a photo of your own with mysterious orbs of light floating in frame.

This old white frame house is where six members of the Moore family and two guests were killed by an ax murderer on the night of June 9, 1912, a crime that is yet to be solved. You can visit the site and learn more about its history, including the resulting hunt for the killer and stories of paranormal encounters a century later. If you’re feeling truly brave, you can even book an overnight stay.

If the National Park Service has a dedicated page to the ghost towns of this small island, then you know you’ll want to tread carefully. You’ll find deserted shorelines, shipwrecks, empty campgrounds and creepy legends abound on and around South Manitou Island. Be sure not to miss the South Manitou Lighthouse, where people have reported hearing mysterious voices and footsteps they believe belong to former lighthouse keeper Aaron Sheridan, his wife and their infant, who all died in a boating accident nearby in 1878.

This mansion is ground zero to an extensive family history riddled with suicides, crypts and a series of unfortunate events. There are books on its fascinating history. The Lemp family that is said to haunt the mansion is the same one behind the William J. Lemp Brewing Co., a popular brewery in the St. Louis area before Prohibition. You can even stay at the mansion overnight or dine in its restaurant for a fully immersive experience. If you’re unlucky, you may see apparitions, lighting malfunctions, hear voices from nowhere and even a piano that plays itself. And with a “Gates of Hell” basement leading to caves running below the mansion, I’d use the buddy system just in case.

You’re probably familiar with Gen. George Armstrong Custer, killed at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in an overwhelming victory for the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes who fought against the U.S. government’s efforts to confine them to reservations after gold was discovered and previous treaty agreements abandoned. Custer, his wife and soldiers’ ghosts are said to roam the grounds at Custer House, a replica of the original. Is the house a gate, in more ways than one, to 1875? A hair-raising prospect.

If ghost inmates and faucets dripping blood is your idea of a fun time, you’ll want to schedule a tour at one of the largest prison-based haunted attractions in the country. It began admitting inmates in 1896, closed in 1990 and if it looks familiar, it’s because it was where “The Shawshank Redemption” was filmed. It is also home to “Escape from Blood Prison,” a haunted house experience that is definitely too scary for my personal tastes, but may be appealing to braver souls.

Baseball fans may already be familiar with this Milwaukee hotel famed for its strange noises, flickering lights and objects inexplicably moving around in the room, things experienced by some Major League Baseball players. Even Megan Thee Stallion tweeted about accidentally staying in this haunted hotel and her ghostly encounters, complete with a “Cloverfield”-style video of her dashing down the hallway where paranormal activities are said to happen the most.

Grace Wong is a freelance writer.

Big screen or home stream, takeout or dine-in, Tribune writers are here to steer you toward your next great experience. Sign up for your free weekly Eat. Watch. Do. newsletter here.

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