The Haunted America Conference is a paranormal soiree I’ve wanted to attend for years. It calls itself the supernatural event of the year. The biggest and best ghost conference in America is filled to the brim with speakers on ghosts, hauntings, the paranormal, the unexplained and offers workshops, ghost hunts, special events, and haunted tours. The conference is the premier event for Troy Taylor’s publishing company, American Hauntings Ink. As an admirer and consumer of Troy’s work for years now, it’s his fantastic American Hauntings Podcast that officially sold me on the need to make the trip to Alton, Illinois. I believe the impressive detail that goes into each episode led me to think that the conference would be a top-notch experience. So on June 24th, which was a beautiful sunny day, I took the tops out of my Jeep Wrangler and drove I-70 straight to the Mississippi River.
Sometimes I’m reminded of the fact that men typically do not live as long as women. I think it was at some point past Effingham, Illinois, that I realized my effing-forehead was starting to remind me of a shadeless nudist colony on Tatooine. It turns out that driving four hours into the sun without sunscreen or a hat can wreak havoc on someone with a meat head, such as myself. So I arrived at Alton topless with a sizzled noggin, but I hauled a shit-ton of enthusiasm over for my weekend full of curiosity and was ready for laughs with like-minded weirdos. Don’t worry; weirdo is a term of endearment to me.
I knew as soon as I walked into the Best Western Premier Hotel that I was in store for some magic. There in the lobby stood a man that fueled much of my childhood wonderment — Mr. Robert Wadlow — well, at least a to-scale cardboard standup of him. As a kid, I was an aficionado of Ripley’s Believe It or Not. I vividly recall looking at pictures of Robert’s 8’11” frame and thinking how he almost convinced me that my mother’s biblical tales of the Nephilim, a great flood, a bunch of animals on a boat, and a dude named Noah were potentially true. And there I was, in the hometown of a real giant. Can you imagine the size of his ghost? I mean, what’s the average length of a male specter? Never mind, and moving along.
As I said before, I’m a fan of Troy’s work. And when I’ve reached out to him previously, the exchanges were always pleasant. I already knew he was a good guy who produces outstanding products worth supporting. After multiple books, years of the podcast, and given this was the 25th anniversary of his conference, I suspected, because Troy pisses excellence, that it would be next level compared to others I’ve went to. And I won’t speak disparagingly of those ghost carny flea markets I’ve attended. Nope, I met some great people at them. But would my expectation of the Haunted America Conference fit my experience?
Firstly, I was anxious to meet Troy and Cody Beck. These guys probably can’t fathom how much time their podcast listeners invest in and are enthralled by their episodes. All the times I’ve carpooled, eaten meals, and showered with these two men is incalculable — sorry, gentlemen, it’s true. Now go brand some AHP soap!
Secondly, I loved mingling with the speakers and vendors. I’m sure there were probably a couple that I missed. And I don’t know if they went through some vetting process or if it’s always the same vendors there year after year, but what a friendly and informative group with lots of unique offerings. Being a sucker for books, it was a total literary candy shop.
I was excited to meet writer, anthropologist, and paranormal researcher Amanda R. Woomer and buy her new book, Harlots & Hauntings. Check out her website over at Spookeats! She’s such a powerful and positive presence in the paranormal. I’m looking forward to following her career.
Speaking of meetings — finally, Richard Estep was there. Richard has been a paranormal investigator for 25 years. He is the author of 28 books and writes a regular column for Haunted Magazine. He appears regularly on TV shows as well. Long before I ever held a Richard Estep book in my hands, I greatly appreciated this guy merely based on his social media presence. I was completely honored when he reached out to interview me for his book On Dark Ground: Investigating the Haunted Monroe House. He expressed the no-nonsense, no-embellishment style I take with my research and blog is very appreciated. He was also instrumental in providing insights into my post, The Hunt for Herb Baumeister — A Paranormal Journey. So it was a complete honor to meet him. I cannot recommend enough you follow his work and get his books. He’s one of the most genuine researchers who fully comprehends that you don’t need to exaggerate ghost lore to tell a great tale. The actual history is fantastic of its own accord. His presentation on Saturday on haunted hospitals was a highlight for me. So refreshing to hear someone spell out Waverly Hills Sanatorium’s historicity vs. the nonsense you hear on TV or from a lot of ghost hunters about that place.
I also appreciated Ken Gerhard. He is a widely recognized cryptozoologist, author, and lecturer, and frequently appears on television — and is a super nice guy. I recognized Ken from some of the shows on cryptids. Even though cryptids are a bit out of my wheelhouse, I’m versed enough to harass a guy like Ken and buy a book — and have a great conversation. I also thoroughly enjoyed his talk on Saturday, Nessie vs. Bigfoot — I mean, what kind of monster would you have to be not to love that?
So many moments and people I appreciated from the conference — just too many to mention them all. I had a great time talking to Tobias Wayland about Charles Fort’s influence on John Keel. I spoke of old newspaper articles concerning unearthed skeletons of giants here in North America with Adam Benedict. I had a great convo with Sherri Brake on building a unique pendulum board. I got to discuss the potential of double-blind spirit board experiments with Deanna Erskine. I attempted to flex my pineal glad and exercise my “clairs” at Friday night’s workshop with Kari Bergen. I made time to sit down and face Cody Beck’s majestic mustache and tell him about The Ghost of Henry Dixon and Indiana’s Big Tunnel. And, of course, I finally got to meet Troy in person and pick up a copy of Taking Up Serpents. I mean, who can resist a great book on religious nutbags?
Sadly my friend, author, and ITC researcher April Slaughter, could not attend. April is a regular presenter at the Haunted America Conference, and we greatly missed her.
Probably my biggest surprise was the raffle. Holy shit. I wasn’t prepared for the fervor surrounding it. But this isn’t your momma’s church raffle. This raffle was several banquet tables full of odd awesomeness. From quirky tchotchkes to a spirit trumpet from the days of the spiritualists, an exorcism kit, postmortem photography, a slightly used glass eye, a cursed ring from Italy, and much more. Why? Why not is the better question. You’d be surprised how many folks apparently fantasized about admiring their cursed Italian ring through their slightly used glass eye as Baphomet whispered sweet dirges through their spirit trumpet. I know I did. I’m sweating thinking about all that goodness right now.
Saturday ended for me heading to downtown Alton for some paranormal reconnaissance with conference compadre Lynsey Heideman (for the record, I usually refuse to hang out with people who insist on wearing flip-flops when not in the Caribbean, but I guess the Mississippi River was a gray area for me.) Alton is known as one of the most haunted towns in the United States, and the McPike Mansion is considered one of the most haunted houses in the country. Lynsey and I drove by to snap a pic. We got lucky and ran into the owner, who invited us for a short friendly chat.
Later that evening, we had our after-hours ghost hunt at the Mineral Springs Hotel. The guide who accompanied us was Luke Naliborski. I’m not going to dive into any historical info on the Mineral Springs here. Still, once again, the information provided by Luke exhibited the difference between tai chi and chai tea when it comes to giving historical facts that might lend to the hauntings vs. letting haunted hype write the history. Excellence. If you follow this blog or my efforts in the paranormal, you probably know I generally avoid public investigations like drunk proctologists. As usual, it’s like cats trying to herd cats in the dark — and my time in the Mineral Springs Hotel that night was no different. But that was my expectation, so I wasn’t bothered by it. I merely signed up to see this iconic haunted location.
So did my expectations match my experience at the 25th anniversary of the Haunted America Conference? I’m going to say yes. Troy Taylor has one hell of a team in place to pull off such a great event. Kudos to all of them. And I’ll be there next year.
In a moment of such cultural unrest and uncertainty on this planet, I don’t care that some might say the paranormal is just a distraction like fiddling as Rome burns. But if anyplace could use a little magic, it’s right here, right now. Just imagine if Bigfoot, Nessie, and the ghost of Robert Wadlow ran the world? Welcome to The United States of Haunted America — where things might seem a bit more kooky but a lot less spooky. Maybe then, we’d all have much less to worry about and more to dream for.
— Evel Ogilville