My name is Wayne Hensley and I do the haunted tours in Alton, Illinois, at the old Mineral Springs Hotel (now a mall), with my co-workers Janet Kolar and Crystal Beacon, and I also own the barbershop in the building,which I have operated for the last 28 years.
The Mineral Springs Hotel sits near the Mississippi River.Years ago there was an island near the Missouri side call McPike Island. During the Civil War it was home to Confederate prisoners of war who suffered from smallpox. The island disappeared while the Alton Dam was
being built in the 1930s. The water level rose and it was washed away.
After the Civil War one of the best known residents of McPike Island was William “Deaf Bill” Lee. Bill was a fisherman.
He had been kicked in the head by a mule, resulting in hearing loss.Thus the nickname Deaf Bill. Bill died alone and
penniless at the County Poor Farm in 1915. Officials at the poor farm tried to locate relatives, but were unsuccessful.
Bill Bauer was president of the Illinois Funeral Directors Associated at the time Bill died.He also owned a funeral home
that happened to handle Bill’s arrangements. The law at that time said that a body had to be buried or embalmed
within 24 hours of death. If not buried within 24 hours, a body became the property
of the possessor.
Bill’s body was placed in a closet until it was decided how to dispose of it. Meanwhile, Mr. Bauer was doing an experiment. He wanted to see how well his embalming procedure would preserve a body. When Mr. Burke, Jr., later bought the funeral home business, he inherited Deaf Bill’s body, still in the closet. According to Burke, the atmosphere in the closet had dehydrated Bill.
I obtained much of my information on Bill from my dad’s great uncle John, who like Deaf Bill was a fisherman on the Mississippi River. I also have customers like Bernie from West Alton,Missouri; Bernie heard stories passed down from those who actually remembered Deaf Bill.
Bill ended up standing in the closet at Burke Funeral Home for 80 years. His age at the time of his death was 52 years. Cause of death may have been lung cancer or cirrhosis of the liver due to his lifestyle. Bill was a part-time preacher who sometimes delivered his sermons drunk. That landed him in jail more than a few times.
Burke’s handled the arrangements for my grandmother’s and father’s funerals. My first visit to Burke’s was when I was in the seventh grade. I went there to view the body of the father of one of my classmates. I opened the closet door and came face to face with Deaf Bill. He was dressed in diapers for the sake of modesty. I thought it was a joke and did not believe Bill was real. When I learned he was real, I remember feeling sorry for Bill because
he was not properly buried. We can only guess what Bill’s spirit thought of it. He was finally buried 80 years later.
Many school children have seen Bill. It’s possible he did not go to the next level until he learned he was buried properly, and he may not have found his way to the light yet.
Deaf Bill smoked a pipe and also rolled his own cigarettes. When Bill was alive, the Mineral Springs Hotel sold tobacco at the main desk, and the lower part of the building was used for tobacco distribution before it became a hotel. Sometimes on our haunted tour we can smell
pipe tobacco. The Mineral Springs is a nonsmoking building. Bill may have bought tobacco from the distributor in the building. One night during our haunted tour we heard the toilet flush by itself and Ronnie saw pipe tobacco being flushed away in the bowl.
Bill used to come to Alton in his fishing boat. The bridge had not been built yet.He earned his living from fishing and ferrying passengers from Missouri to Illinois in his boat, which he had to row against the current of the Mississippi every day. That required strong arms. My uncle John said, “Bill never lost an arm wrestling contest, which he often bet on for a beer.”
Bill was a fisherman, and sometimes we smell river fish when there is no fish or food of any kind around. We also smell beer, which was Bill’s drink of choice.
We end our haunted tours with a séance. When you open a window to the spirit world, anyone may come in. Bill may have arrived during such occasions just to see what was going on.
During a party at a friend’s house, Deaf Bill came up in conversation. Someone described his skin as “green leather.” I recalled that when we shoot pictures on our haunted tours, what looks like a green thimble sometimes show up. We refer to these pictures as our little green man. We’ve never been able to explain it. This only happens in the part of our building that housed the tobacco distributor.
Deaf Bill died in November 1915. Paranormal activity is high in November at the Mineral Springs, and several psychics have identified a man named Bill as one of our ghosts.
The newspaper account of his burial stated that he was buried in West Alton, Missouri, at the Immaculate Conception Cemetery, but that was incorrect. My wife Joan and I found his grave at the City Cemetery in Des Sioux (see picture) eight miles from West Alton.
We will continue to try to make contact with him during our séances.— Wayne Hensley, Godfrey, IL