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What fun during October, to share ghost stories from some of the most amazing cities in the world. Dublin, Venice, Edinburgh and London, with their long and oft times intense histories, are considered paranormal hot spots.
I’m ending the series with my own hometown. While Joplin, Missouri does not have the ancient history, it certainly has an interesting past. The truth is, of course, that ALL cities, towns, communities and even houses, have histories and stories. And some of those stories veer sharply into the dark side.
The five ghost stories from Joplin are a mere sample of the hauntings in this area. I’ve included these because I have personal experiences with each one.
Joplin the Mining Town
Tucked into the southwest corner of Missouri, Joplin began as a mining town. After the discovery of lead, prior to the Civil War, mining camps sprang up in the area. By 1871, John C Cox filed a city plan and named the community Joplin after the earliest known settler.
Because the nearest sheriff resided in Carthage, about 15 miles away, lawlessness flourished in Joplin, along with saloons and brothels. In fact, this historic time is referred to as the “Reign of Terror”. Zinc became the primary mineral mined and railroads connected this booming town to other markets, making it a hub for the area and the lead and zinc mining capital of the world.
Construction focused primarily on Main Street with fine homes clustered in surrounding neighborhoods. Stores, bars and hotels lined Main Street. The three story House of Lords became Joplin’s most famous saloon, with a bar and restaurant on the first floor, gambling on the second and a brothel on the top floor. Secret tunnels connected several downtown businesses with the House of Lords, so that Joplin’s wealthy patrons could enter the building discreetly.
Although no longer a mining town, approximately 75% of Joplin is undermined with mine shafts up to 100 feet deep. These tunnels beneath the city are flooded and sealed, however, they contribute, I believe, to Joplin’s paranormal activity.
Ghost Stories from Joplin
Check out these five tales from my hometown.
The Ghosts of the Former Joplin Public Library
This one story building on north Main Street appears ordinary looking. Built in 1980, after outgrowing a prior location, the new library soon developed a reputation as haunted. Staff reported hearing footsteps of someone walking up behind them, however found no one there when they turned around. They heard the sounds of books dropping from shelves onto the floor, but couldn’t find anything amiss upon investigation. And they heard whistling or music at night, when no one else was in the building.
Another building occupied that lot, before the city built their library there.
The Connor Hotel, built in 1908, was magnificent, even by today’s standards. Nine stories tall, the hotel boasted more than 300 fire proof rooms, parlors, restaurants, a barbershop, a formal ballroom, two nightclubs and a stunning rooftop garden.
The beautiful, luxury hotel welcomed celebrities and also hosted its share of gangsters and criminals. And, the building knew tragedy.
Two construction workers died during the building of the hotel, in separate accidents on site. And two died during the deconstruction of the grand old hotel, after the city purchased it. In 1978 the building suddenly collapsed during high winds, trapping three men inside as they prepared explosive charges to bring it down. Only one survived, rescued three days after the collapse.
Additionally, at least ten people committed suicide in the hotel over the years. Those tragic deaths, combined with people making shady deals in some of those fancy rooms, create some heavy energy that lingers still in that spot.
Paranormal investigators picked up unusual activity there, including a disembodied male voice that spoke to them. They confirmed what the librarians already knew…the library is home to unseen occupants.
My Experiences in the Library
I never saw or heard ghosts during my visits there. However, I always felt a heaviness in the building. Occasionally I passed through inexplicable cold spots. And often, while perusing books among the stacks, I’d glance up to see if the lightbulbs above me had burned out. They shone. But the light seemed dull and the room darker than it should have.
After the May 22, 2011 EF5 tornado tore through Joplin, the library built a new building on the corner of 20th and Connecticut. I LOVE this new library. It feels spacious, light and bright to me. The former library stands dark and perhaps not so silent, awaiting its next transformation as a satellite school to the university.
The Haunted Olivia
Another grand historic property in Joplin, The Olivia is a five story red brick building built in 1906. Anton Bendelari named the structure after his mother and when it opened, “nothing more elegant, more stylish, more convenient has yet been erected in Joplin”, said a local newspaper. The building offered 34 luxury apartments for Joplin’s wealthiest citizens and featured a beautiful lobby with pillars, a carriage house and a fifth floor restaurant where residents could dine together.
In 1908 Marvin Reynolds, a desk clerk in the building, went into the basement. He didn’t realize a leak had filled the lower level with gas. When lights didn’t click on, he struck a match, igniting the gas in a huge explosion. Sadly, he died.
Eventually, the luster wore off this building and it became low income apartments. Years later, the building in need of updates and repairs, the last residents moved out. However, those who have owned The Olivia since report someone or something still occupies the apartments. They tell stories of footsteps in the empty halls, the sounds of children running and laughing and various unexplained noises and occurrences.
Paranormal investigators explored this building too, recording distinct ghostly voices, the sounds of phantom furniture moving in empty rooms and other inexplicable noises. The Olivia is vacant still, and currently owned by a development company out of Springfield, Missouri. Future possible plans include apartments for the elderly.
My Experiences in The Olivia
In addition to writing blogs, I’m a realtor with 17+ years of experience in the Joplin area. My first scare at The Olivia happened before I got my realtor’s license however. After dropping someone off there and escorting her to her apartment, I exited the building and walked toward my car. The night seemed very dark. I turned to see several people, dressed head to toe in black, walking behind me. What disturbed me was the silence. I couldn’t hear footsteps. They didn’t talk or laugh or even breathe, it seemed. I kept glancing behind me, watching them. And then suddenly, they just weren’t there. They vanished, without a sound.
At one time, I listed the Olivia and frequently showed the property. I’ve had numerous paranormal experiences there, including photographing an orb outside, at night, that seemed playfully engaged with a flag and hearing all kinds of unexplained noises inside.
The most curious thing that happened involved the third floor. Whenever I showed the property, that floor creeped me out the most. One apartment in particular puzzled me. Every time I entered the apartment, I’d find French doors leading to a balcony standing open. I’d shut them and continue the tour of the rest of the building. Then, checking everything before I left, I’d enter that apartment to find the doors open, again. Every…single…time. The owner tried securing the doors so that they couldn’t open at all. I’d still find them standing ajar.
I disliked that third floor and the basement the most. Once, I accidently locked myself inside The Olivia. It was all I could do to stay calm. The weight of those five empty floors above me felt oppressive. I pretended not to hear the noises echoing down the grand staircase. And the dark doorway into the basement seemed menacing. How grateful I felt when the owner arrived to let me out!
Peace Cemetery’s Restless Spirits
You’d think a cemetery called Peace might exude that quality. You’d be wrong. Located north of the city, Peace Cemetery is one of the oldest burial grounds in Joplin, the resting place of early pioneers to the area. Visitors there report mysterious sounds, disembodied voices and strange lights. Some even tell stories about attacks that include scratches and being pelted with sticks or rocks.
And then there is the shadowy figure of a man that’s said to prowl among the tombstones. He is the most infamous person buried in Peace Cemetery.
Billy Cook, a 21 year old Joplin native, began a 22 day killing spree in 1950 – 51. Traveling through six states, Billy murdered six people, including a family of five and their pet dog, and a deputy sheriff in California. He dumped the bodies of the family members in a mine shaft near Joplin. Authorities caught him in Mexico. Billy spent time in San Quentin Prison before dying in the gas chamber.
Because of his crimes, no one wanted to claim his body when it returned to Joplin. Ultimately, he was buried in an unmarked grave, just beyond the edge of the cemetery. Billy’s restless soul cannot find peace.
My Experience in Peace Cemetery
My grandson Dayan and I used to have fun geocaching. One of the caches we tracked down lay hidden in Peace Cemetery. And, of course, it was near the Cook plot. Although Billy’s grave is unmarked, it’s not hard to figure out the general area of its location, even without a headstone.
Creeping toward the tree where the geocaching app indicated the prize lay, Dayan and I felt a strange heaviness in the area. In fact, Dayan, who was a young teen at the time, stopped walking and refused to go any further. In complete disclosure, he doesn’t like spiders and feared one might drop out of the tree. And yet, he also felt a strangeness that he didn’t like.
I located the container, tucked into a hole at the base of a tree, and marked it found. Billy’s grave was nearby. And I felt so disoriented, so dizzy. I stood frozen, staring at Dayan, who also stood very still, staring wide eyed back at me. Some sound broke through the weirdness…I believe it thundered…and everything returned to normal. We did not linger but jumped into the car and drove away.
I visited the cemetery today, to take a few photos. That weird feeling came over me again and stayed with me as I slowly drove down the dirt lane.
Prosperity School Ghosts
Prosperity is a former mining community just east of Joplin. The big red brick school house, built in 1907, served as a school for children until 1962. After it closed, it sat abandoned for 30 years. Stories began then that the old school house wasn’t as empty as it seemed. Reports of ghost children running in the halls and of a spirit nurse circulated.
Eventually someone purchased the property and turned it into a bed and breakfast. The classrooms became small apartments, available for a weekend or for a longer lease.
Guests and tenants confirmed the stories about ghost children. They claimed the lively little spirits came into their rooms at night, played with toys and rearranged objects or even crawled into bed with them. Lights and other electrical appliances turned themselves on and off. And shadow figures slid down hallways or disappeared through the walls.
Recently, one of the owners of Prosperity School died. The property went up for sale but no one would buy it. It went into foreclosure and sold. It is a private residence now. I don’t know how the new owners are doing in the school house!
My Experiences in Prosperity School
I joined a paranormal research team one night, in this property. Hearing the stories and creeping through the darkened building is unnerving. However, I got to watch the team work and see how the scientific equipment is used. It was exciting and a big step for me in overcoming my fears of the supernatural.
The team picked up voices using a spirit box. And we caught shadow figures moving in the upstairs hallway. In one of the bedrooms, a child communicated with us by turning lights on and off in answer to questions. I felt cold spots and my scalp and upper back constantly tingled with energy.
I did fine in the property, with other people. It is not a place I’d want to be alone after dark!
The Joplin Spook Light
Joplin’s most famous supernatural phenomenon, people have reported sightings of this ghostly light for more than 100 years. Located south and west of Joplin, just across the Missouri – Oklahoma line, it’s also called the Hornet Spook Light, after the community that existed there long ago.
Most often described as an orangish white sphere, the light bobs up and down the dark country road called The Devil’s Promenade by the locals.
According to legend, the light may have been seen by Native Americans along the infamous Trail of Tears in 1836. However, the first published account of the light appeared in a pamphlet called Ozark Spook Light in 1881.
The sphere of light appears as a single orb that may split into two or more smaller balls. Spinning, rising and hovering, the light may soar above the trees or skim along near the surface of the road. It can be baseball or basketball sized and may suddenly bloom larger before disappearing. People have tried to approach it, by car and on foot, but it is usually elusive. However, some people, and my mother is one, have seen the light approach and bounce over the car or disappear and then reappear on the other side of the vehicle. Others claim it’s come into their car.
Studies of the phenomenon are inconclusive. Theories ranging from swamp gas (Joplin doesn’t have swamps) to headlights from cars on distant I-44 (the light doesn’t look like headlights or move like a car) to a luminescence created by rotting organic material seem to fall short of actually explaining what the spook light is.
Origin stories include a Quapaw maiden looking for her lost love, a miner looking for his missing family and an Osage Chief who was decapitated looking for his head.
Whatever it is, the ghostly phenomenon seems here to stay. The Joplin Spook Light is seen almost nightly.
My Spook Light Sighting
I really intended to visit the spook light before writing this post. That has not happened…yet. However, I did see the spook light myself, many years ago. My son and younger daughter, both in their teens at the time, went with me.
We parked on the dark road and didn’t wait long until the bright light appeared down the road. We watched it for some time. It would move, grow dimmer, grow brighter and disappear for a short time before bouncing back. I have no explanation for what it is.
And, I have no photo of the Joplin Spook Light, however, below is the best video I found. See what you think!
The End of the Stories…or Is It?
This post concludes the October Ghost Story series. Thank you for reading along. I’ve appreciated and enjoyed your comments!
I have a lifetime of paranormal experiences. I could tell so many more ghost stories, especially from the Joplin area. And in fact, I intend to.
I’m currently writing a book, tentatively titled “House H(a)unting: An Intuitive Realtor’s Journey Beyond Fear”. As a realtor, I’ve been in many, many houses. And as an intuitive, I can tell you whether they are haunted…or not…if you really want to know.
I’ll keep you updated on the book. And as always, I’d love to read YOUR stories in the comments below.
Check out this Joplin area paranormal group. They often host investigations and interesting talks. Paranormal Science Lab
And check out these books from Amazon:
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