Ghost hunting isn’t just for Halloween anymore. If you ever wanted to see real life “paranormal activity,” you need to visit to one of the metro area’s lesser known haunted places, the Morse Mill Hotel. And you should do it quickly, before this 140-year-old Jefferson County mansion is transformed from a ramshackle derelict into a charming French-Colonial bed and breakfast.
The hotel is located about 30 minutes from South County in Morse Mill.
Some of the hotel’s history has been lost over time, but we know that John Morse built his home and the mill in the 1870s. He also built the nearby iron bridge over the Big River, which you can still cross on foot. A county park (also reported to be haunted) is on the other side.
After Morse died, the place became a hotel and saw many famous guests. Charles Lindbergh and Charlie Chaplin are said to have stayed here in the 1920s when Morse Mill was a popular tourist retreat. The town declined during the 1930s Depression, and the hotel repeatedly changed hands and became rundown.
The hotel is now owned by Patrick Sheehan who bought the property for its rehab potential unaware that it was haunted. That changed after the Travel Channel contacted him for permission to film the hotel for “Most Terrifying Places in America.”
Sheehan decided to open the hotel for supernatural sightseeing while he works on returning the building to its former glory. The building is not ready for true hotel guests and the rooms have only been furnished with thrift store finds that match the peeling wallpaper and warped hardwood floors. No effort has gone into making the place look nice—yet—and that rundown atmosphere is what makes visitors feel like they could really encounter the supernatural there.
Sheehan said he will keep the paranormal tours going even after construction starts, though he may need to close off certain areas for guest safety.
The hotel is reportedly haunted by several ghosts. Annabelle is a friendly ghost child who plays in the attic. Tourists have left toys for her, which they said Annabelle has moved around the rooms. A pre-Civil War slave is said to lurk the “dungeon,” a dark room in the basement that still bears evidence of shackles. People also have heard cooking noises from the empty kitchen, and witnesses said a door has been repeated slammed shut, perhaps by an angry guest from long ago days.
If you visit, bring bug spray and a flashlight—Sheehan likes to keep the interior dark for guests and the ghosts. Three types of tours are offered: guided and unguided overnight investigations and a two-hour guided tour.
The tour starts an hour before sundown and (if time allows) includes a visit to the nearby grave of Bertha Gifford, a local healer who was accused of poisoning her patients. She was arrested in 1928 and sentenced to life in a mental hospital. Bertha, her two husbands and a handful of her 17 victims are all laid to rest in the small country cemetery. Her connection to the hotel is sketchy, but how can you pass up a visit to the woman who could be the country’s first female serial killer?
The hotel tour starts in the creepy gloom of the cellar and works up to the attic, with a guide pointing out where others have reported supernatural activity.
After the tour, visitors are allowed to select a room in the hotel and wait in stillness for something to happen. Visitors have reported hearing footsteps on empty stairs, seen unexplainable shadows or even touched by unseen hands. Naturally, your experience will vary, but go in with an open mind and see what happens.
Overnight guests are invited to hang out with local “ghost hunters” who will seek out the paranormal with scientific equipment. Experienced paranormal groups can arrange for a private stay. Overnight guests can bring a sleeping bag into the hotel, but it is recommended to bring a tent for backup.
The hotel plumbing is not functional as yet, but there is a port-a-potty on-site. Sheehan also offers afternoon float trips on the Big River for visitors who want to make a day of their visit.
Morse Mill does not have any services. Cedar Hill, MO, is six miles away, and there you can find gas, groceries and a great little burger and ice cream shop.
Guided tours start at $30 a person, with discounts available for groups. Float trips are $50 per canoe, or free with an overnight stay. The tour is not recommended for children. Reservations are required; contact the Morse Mill Hotel for available times.