The two story building with a rooftop deck dates back to the 1800s and has a dark, industrial feel. I wandered the empty corridors then, while passing the second floor restroom door, which is permanently propped open, it slammed with tremendous force as if some furious queen kicked it. I knew I was the only one around but went in to verify.
I didn’t connect with the owners during that visit but a few weeks later one of them was looking at a painting in Joe’s studio when he asked, “Oh, did your little brother stop by the Eagle?” Joe replied, “Yes he did. He thinks it’s haunted.” The guy slowly turned to look at Joe, mouth agape, and asked, “How did he know?”
Apparently, it’s quite haunted, but the activity’s only noticeable when the bar’s empty.
Seeing as St. Louis is a haunted old city, I began looking for local ghost stories and there’s no shortage of them. Chances are you’ve had evenings of dancing and debauchery in rooms once used to embalm the dead. You’ve likely enjoyed a beer while sitting against a wall that entombs a colorful old drag queen – and you’ve probably laughed with friends in a building that, when the party’s over, takes on a dark and sinister vibe – a place where custodians have been tormented to the point of madness.
I began my research in the city’s oldest neighborhood: Soulard. On a Sunday evening, I sat side by side with Clementine’s owner Gary Reed in a quiet corner of his restaurant. I came inquiring about Midnight Annie, the old drag queen in the wall. Initially, he seemed surprised by the topic, and then simply asked, “What would you like to know?”
Midnight Annie, AKA Owen Pride Roach, died on April 6, 1995 at the age of 73. Gary befriended her when he bought the bar back in the 1980s and recruited her for their first drag show. To make the event more of a draw, Gary billed it as “Midnight Annie’s Final Performance.” Of course, it wasn’t, really. She performed her crazy numbers where she’d howl at the moon for many more moons.
Some say she earned her name back in the 1940s when she’d bribe a prison guard to “entertain” inmates at midnight. “She lost many fortunes,” Gary said, suspecting she came from great wealth and would inherit large sums from time to time, only to blow it all on shady characters.
In her later years, Annie lived a few blocks from Clems and was a fixture. When she fell ill she gave Gary medical power of attorney, which fortunately he never had to use. Because he was essentially her legal guardian, Gary refers to Annie as his only child, even though she’s decades his senior. Her ashes sat on a friend’s mantle for years until the time came to remodel the bar and the decision was made to place her in the wall, right behind the false doors on the Allen Street side.
Gary and several of his regulars talk of seeing something out of the corner of their eye in the part of the bar where she used to sit, leading some to believe Midnight Annie has yet to give her final performance.
At the other end of the block is Bastille, which is reportedly haunted by active poltergeists. Bartender Matt Harper had a lot to say about the history and haunting there. According to Harper, the building was a feed store, then a funeral home before Anheuser-Busch made it a tavern in the early 1900s.
“In the early 1900s there was a fire in the building killing a man on the second floor,” Harper said. “You can still see the charred beams. When entering that room random things will sometimes fall off the walls or be tossed towards you. In the rear of the bar the pinball games will turn on and off by themselves. You can also see a female figure passing back and forth along the rear wall.”
Faces, the massive after-hours mecca which operated in East St. Louis, from 1977-2007 isn’t just famous for the nightlife, but also for the afterlife. Having interviewed the employees and performers who knew it best, they all said even if they were the only one there, they were never alone.
There were countless reasons to find being alone at Faces unsettling. In the heart of East St. Louis, it was surrounded by crumbling, long-abandoned buildings–all which are connected by wet, rat infested tunnels once used by the mafia. And the structure was originally a funeral home. The outlines of the embalming slabs were still evident in the basement—one in front of the jukebox and the other behind the bar.
Danny Morris remembers hearing voices in the cabaret: “I’d think the drag queens were practicing. Went up and no one was there. Also one day I was hanging a speaker in the DJ booth when out of the corner of my eye I saw someone at the door. As I turned my head to look the bungee cord snapped and the hook cut the side of my face!”
Tyler Hill recalls things glowing in the cabaret when all the power was off, and Ed “Rosee” Abmeyer recalls coming in on Wednesday to find candles burning in the cabaret—when nobody had been there since Sunday.
During my recent ghostly inquiries, I kept hearing about Just John. Former owner Freddie Donaldson died in an apartment above, custodians claim to be terrorized by a dark presence when in the building alone – and one hung himself in the kitchen.
Owner John Oberkramer spoke about strange voices when the building’s empty and motion-censored towel dispensers activating when nobody’s around. He also told me about the tragic suicide that happened back in his bartending days.
“[The janitor] called the Daytime Manager upstairs asking him not to come down because he was mopping, which seemed strange. He came down later and found the guy hanging,” John recalled.
Upon investigating The Eagle NYC, I learned of a construction worker who died during the renovation and of several patrons who died with no identification, their bodies never claimed from the coroner.
People are attached to, and their energy is imprinted upon these old haunts. Heavy and traumatic events have occurred in many of them, from tragic deaths to funerals.
Many of you don’t believe in ghosts, but as you go about your business laughing over drinks, playing pinball or even drying your hands keep in mind these actions might echo in some future moment. Or perhaps one of these days when it’s time for your last call part of you will opt to stick around instead.
Happy Halloween from the Emperor!
By CHRIS ANDOE – VITAL VOICE WEST