Edwardsville Journal
October 29, 2003

'No one was ever there'
So what is behind the footsteps and other strange noises at the Stephenson House in Edwardsville?

By Julie Belschner

The best scientific minds declare that space and time are flexible, that they fold over on each other, and that time is a river with corkscrew bends. So maybe it's not so surprising that a 180-year-old house has occasional problems staying grounded in the 21st century. Benjamin Stephenson, an affluent statesman, built himself a country estate outside of Edwardsville in 1820. The house is on its way to becoming a tourist attraction today - but it might already be a tourist attraction in the misty world of yesterday's memories.

Jackie Burnside moved into the house in 1975, only to soon realize that she shared her home with haunting, nagging . . . somethings. "There were odd noises in the house that were not made by anybody," she said. "Our bedroom was at the top of the staircase and we'd hear footsteps coming up the stairs - but everybody was in bed." "I told my kids about what we heard, but they were teenagers and just said, 'Ahh, mom.' There was a big back porch that has been torn off now (the original 1820 porch as been reconstructed). We were sitting at the dinner table one night eating. Somebody walked across the porch. My son got up to see who it was - and there was nobody there." Burnside said the noises or presences never worried her. "I raised five kids," she said. "I'm not scared of too much of anything."

In 1982, the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity bought the house - and bought the members a lot of spooky moments. Whether because of the residents' age or imaginations, the odd occurrences increased.
Don Conoyer had brothers living in the house at the time. He's heard the stories over and over; servants looking out of mirrors, glimpses of people in military uniforms. The boys' bedroom were upstairs. "One of my brothers was by himself in his room," Conoyer said. "He'd hear footsteps coming up the stairs. Except they were going the other way."

Today's staircase, and the staircase at the time the fraternity owned the house, heads up from the front door. In Stephenson's time, the staircase was built at a reverse angle. Steps going up at a wrong angle to today's staircase make sense - for an 1820s spirit.
"He's hear someone knock on the door, but when he's look, no one was ever there," Conoyer said. "Then it would happen again. Finally he's just duck under the covers and go to sleep."

So are ghosts real? Most of the fraternity guys would probably say yes. There are a lot of theories, though, to explain what people see, hear and feel. "High electromagnetic fields can cause hallucinogenic experiences, " said James Pinkston, a real-life paranormal researcher and ghost explainer. "One thing researchers find is large amounts of EM energy in instances like this. There are usually power stations nearby or high-power wires."
Pinkston is a member of Tripar, a volunteer scientific group that will check out a reported haunting when requested to do so (visit www.triparinvestigations.org for more information). Pinkston has several years of criminal investigative training and has been chasing ghost sighting for 12 years. "We go in and try to find a rational explanation for what is going on," he explained. "We try to prove the house is not active. There is no documented proof that ghosts exist. We do pick up unusual readings sometimes, but there is no data, no proof."
Unusual readings - high energy bursts, temperature fluctuations, sounds, unexplained large amounts of static electricity that weren't there moments before, changes in the air. "We'll find spikes in our equipment recordings that we can't explain, like maybe a electrical charge that moved around the room," he said "Rationally, there is no explanation for that. Unless electric fields are influenced by outside forces, which is rare, there is no reason an electrical field should move about the room."

The fraternity boys probably wouldn't buy rational explanations - their experiences didn't end with footsteps." A man in a general's uniform was seen a lot reading in the library," Conoyer said. "One bedroom faced toward the back of the house and one brother lived in that room. He heard a knock on the window - on the second-floor window. When he finally went and looked, he saw a woman in white, standing out in the little field (where the privy was) and she was screaming. It happened three times one night.
"The next morning he went down to breakfast, and the other guy who was (sleeping) upstairs was there. My brother started to tell him, but before he could, the other guy told him the exact thing that my brother had seen." The lights flickered on and off. The televisions changed channels. "You just got the general feeling that you were never alone," said Conoyer, who is now a Sigma Phi Epsilon member himself. The fraternity is now in another old building in town - one not quite as active.

So who - or what - might these specters be? According to the Stephenson House history, Daniel D. Smith was stabbed to death in the house in 1825. Palemon Winchester, James W. Stephenson and James D. Henry were indicted for the murder. Smith had stopped at the Stephenson House on Jan. 29 for a party on his way home from Vandalia. An argument ensued. "Smith was an entrepreneur, a charlatan," said Sid Denny, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville professor and archeologist at the Stephenson House site. "Sometime that evening, he came into the dining room. He was found lying on the floor with a knife wound. As they were picking him up, he said, 'Winchester' and died." "Winchester was Stephenson's son-in-law. Only Winchester was put on trial. The trail lawyer accused Smith of verbal assault and Winchester was found not guilty because of that - in other words, Smith deserved to die."

Col. Benjamin Stephenson died in the house on Oct. 12, 1822. He may be the footsteps on the staircase. He commanded a battalion during the way, so he could also be the military figure.
"I personally have not seen a (ghost) person, but I have had experiences I can't explain," Pinkston said. "I've been touched, felt cold spots, seen someone walking out of the corner of my eye. We pick up on little balls of what seem to be light moving across the room - and some of our sensors will react. Is this just a natural phenomenon? Are we just now finding this kind of thing because of our equipment?
Pinkston said that every since he could read, he's had a steady supply of books on things like ghosts.
"Things you can't understand,' he said. "I wanted answers for questions there are no answers for. I would tell my mother I wanted to be a paranormal investigator. It's always fascinated me.
"I don't like to venture into something where I don't know what will happen. I don't want to go into death without knowing if there's life on the other side or not. This is partly to prove to myself that there's something after death."

If the investigators find unexplainable occurrences, they don't tell the house owners that they have a ghost.
"We just say there's some things we can't explain." Pinkston said, "If they want to tell people they have a ghost, that's fine. I'll never be able to prove it one way or another to anybody but myself"
Burnside doesn't need solid proof. "There are bound to be spirits in a house that old," she said. "When a house has seen that many years, thing will just linger."