ALTON, Ill. -- Although class is no longer in session at the old Milton School, there still seems to be plenty of activity there.
"We've had people run screaming from the building," said Marlene Lewis, co-founder of Right Brain Activities and business manager for Antoinette's Haunted History Tours. "The vibe there is so intense that people have actually become physically ill."
Gearing up for this fall's series of tours, the ghost hunter team investigated the Alton school last month for evidence of paranormal activity. As legend goes, a young girl was murdered in the building. The tour's psychic investigators believe that the spirits of both the child and the murderer still roam the halls of the school.
Milton is just one of many locations the tour has featured since forming in 1992. A city as rich in history, folklore and alleged ghostly activity as Alton seems tailor-made for haunted tours.
In the early 1990s, Lewis was searching for ideas while attempting to build a localized tour. One inquiry that intrigued her was a letter she received asking about haunted locations in the area. Researching the possibilities, Lewis quickly learned that locals were filled with stories of homes and businesses that were reputed to be haunted. Lewis wanted a psychic to assist her in investigating some of these occurrences, and that's when she met Antoinette Eason.
A popular and successful enterprise was born, and 15 years later, Lewis said Antoinette's Haunted History Tours are "still providing goose bumps for area thrill seekers."
Over the years, many public establishments and private homes have been featured on the tour. Visitors are taken to the locations, given a brief history of the site and told of ghostly happenings that have supposedly taken place.
In addition to Milton School, this year's tour also features a visit to the Alton Cemetery as well as a stop at the McPike Mansion, which is often listed as one of the scariest places in the United States. Lewis is excited about featuring McPike as it is the first time in years that the tour will be allowed to go inside the building itself. The evening's festivities will include a visit and a "darkroom session" in the wine cellar, which some believe is the center for ghostly activity in the house.
Guests are also given the opportunity to participate in supernatural investigations. Hands-on involvement includes allowing the guests to interact with sophisticated detecting equipment.
Gary Hawkins is celebrating his 12th year as a participant and tour guide for the tours. He boasts an extensive collection of ghost hunting devices, including night vision goggles, digital cameras to pick up movement in darkness and laser thermometers, which can read the temperatures of people and objects from several feet away.
Over the years, the tour has reported incidents of guests being physically touched by a ghostly presence, unexplainable scents and photographs taken that capture supernatural activity.
Although the team said there is no real danger on the tours, they do everything they can to be absolutely sure, including protecting the guests by performing spiritual protection rituals.
"Positive ghosts affect you in positive ways," guide Alixandria Andrews said. "Negative ghosts may attempt to hurt you, and can sometimes make a person nauseous."