First Unitarian Church Investigation

The church was originally built around 1830 as St. Matthew’s Catholic Church. In 1854 a fire burned the building down to its stone foundation and the Unitarian Society purchased the parcel of land and built a church right on top of the original foundation. The area where the church sat was often referred to as “Heathen Hill.” Then another devastating fire occurred in 1901 which again burned the church down to the foundation. It was rebuilt to its current configuration in 1905.

In 1928 the Reverend Phillip Mercer came to the church from his native England and was about 18 years old at the time. He was an eloquent speaker and well-respected preacher. People came from far and wide to hear his sermons and the church was packed to capacity. But something happened to him one Sunday in November of 1934. The strong-willed man was now shaking, trembling and stumbling over his words during his sermon. Later that day he disappeared and went to stay at the home of James McKinney. When nobody saw him for several days, McKinney decided to check the church and saw some lights on in the building. He found the Rev. Mercer hanging by his neck on November 20, 1934 in the doorway of the minister’s study. The office had been ransacked and to this day it is uncertain if it was a suicide or murder.

The obituary from the Alton Telegraph read: “The body of Rev. Phillip Mercer, 48, a suicide, was found at 5:15 Tuesday afternoon in the First Unitarian Church of which he had been minister for the last six years and in which his study was located. The church is located at 110 East Third Street.

A piece of sash cord about the neck, his body was found suspended from the transom of a door leading from the Sunday School room at the rear of the church edifice into a hallway from which there is a door leading into the yard of the church.

It is the belief of Deputy Coroner Klunk that the minister had been dead at least 24 hours when his body was found. His neck had apparently been broken, and a chair, standing near the body, indicated that he had stepped from the chair after the sash cord had been affixed.”


His body was eventually taken to the Grandview Mausoleum where it remains to this day. Down in the lower level was the first high school in Alton where classes were taught. The boarded up stairway is thought, by the current staff of the church, to lead up to where the Rev. Mercer’s office used to be.


It is also rumored that the basement was once part of the Underground Railroad. There is a small room that Luke crawled into during a TLC special that’s actually outside of the confines of the current church and is located underneath the outside front sidewalk area.


Located at: 110 E. 3rd St., Alton, IL. 62002

Telephone: 618-462-2462



Hauntings: It is rumored that voices have been heard emanating from the small underground room in the basement.

Since the Rev. Mercer’s death, shadowy figures have been seen moving across the walls, disembodied voices, the sound of the piano playing in the sanctuary and doors that open and close in the hallway by themselves.

The downstairs hallway is very active and isn’t part of the original church but another building that was eventually added onto the church. Doors open and slam shut and a large 6 ½ shadow figure has been seen walking that hallway on occasion.





The GRS investigated the First Unitarian Church on March 2, 2013 and the team included: Stan Suho and Dale Kaczmarek with help from Bob Davies, Dean Thompson, Len Adams, Luke Naliborski and open public event attendees. This was a public event.








Equipment setup: Since this was a public event, no actual command center or equipment was set up, however a static IR camcorder was placed in the basement facing the boarded up stairway along with the REM Epod and Geophone on the stairs.


Experiments performed: EVP, Ghostbox and Ovilus sessions were conducted in the Sanctuary, Minister’s Office area and the basement. Also employed both in the 2nd Sanctuary and basement session, the Darklight was used. Additional equipment employed included: digital IR camera, Tri-Field Natural EM Meter, Melmeter 8704-REM, digital tape recorders, hand-held IR camcorder, cellphone with “Ghost Radar” application and during the first Minister’s Office area session, three negative ion detectors. However none of these devices gave off any more than normal baseline readings.


Personal experiences: During the first EVP session in the basement, the Ghostbox was extremely active and did respond intelligently to questions asked. Someone’s IPhone application did say, “Gasoline” twice which I found to be unusual as there were two devastating fires at this location in the past. Bob Davies said that someone touched him in the basement and Dean felt this in the Sanctuary. I did not experience anything unusual or any heaviness in any location.


Evidence collected:


4.MPG during a Ghost Box session in the basement, a question was asked, “How many of you are down here?” The Ghost Box responds with, “Four.”


42.MPG during a Ghost Box session in the basement, a question was asked, “Paul are you seven years old?” The Ghost Box responds with, “42.”


Chicago.MPG during a Ghost Box session in the Sanctuary, a question was asked, “Tell me your favorite place to hang out besides this building” The Ghost Box responds, “Chicago.”


Eight.MPG during a Ghost Box session in the Sanctuary, a question was asked, “Are any of them from your congregation?” The Ghost Box responds with, “Eight.” Another follow-up question was asked, “Are any from your era?” The Ghost Box responds with, “Three.”


Emancipation.MPG during a Ghostbox session in the basement, the Ghostbox says the word, “Emancipation.”


False.MPG during an EVP session in the Sanctuary, a question was asked, “Are the stories I’m telling during the tours, are they true or false?” A true EVP whispery voice responds with, “False.”


Female scream.MPG during an EVP session in the basement, a female scream in heard in the background. This is towards the end of the evening and the entire group was downstairs at the time of this scream.


I am dead.MPG during a Ghost Box session in the basement, the Ghost Box suddenly says, “I am dead.”


I did.MPG during a Ghost Box session in the basement, a question was asked, “Who touched Bob?” In this recording from the IR camcorder, it vaguely sounds like, “I did.”


I don’t know.MPG during a Ghost Box session in the Minister’s Office area a question was asked, “Is there somebody with us right now?” The Ghost Box responds with, “I don’t know.”


I was murdered.MPG during a Ghost Box session in the Sanctuary near the corner where some people have seen a shadow sometimes appear the Ghost Box suddenly says, “I was murdered!”


Jefferson Davis.MPG during a Ghost Box session in the basement, a question was asked, “Can you tell me that last president that you remember?” The Ghost Box responds with, “Jefferson Davis, Davis.”


Mercer.MPG during a Ghost Box session in the Minister’s Office area, the Ghost Box responds with a deep male voice saying the name, “Mercer.” This was captured on the audio track of my camcorder.


Priest.MPG during a Ghost Box session in the Minister’s Office area, a question was asked, “Is there somebody who wishes to communicate with us?” The Ghost Box responds with, “Priest.”


Psalms.MPG during a Ghost Box session in the Sanctuary, a question was asked, “What was your favorite passage from the Bible? What was your favorite book?” The Ghost Box responds with something that sounds like, “Psalms.”



Conclusions:  This was an interesting place to investigate. Even though it was a public event, there wasn’t that much contamination of EVP or other evidence. The only session that was a bit noisy was the second EVP session conducted in the Sanctuary and corner of the Sanctuary. However we were running a Ghost Box at the time so it really didn’t hurt the recording that much.

There were many references to the past history of the area such as “Emancipation,” “Mercer,” “Priest,” “Psalms” and “Jefferson Davis”. These all seem to indicate intelligent spirits still confined to this area and believing that they are still living in the past. The instantaneous responses we received through the Ghost Box to numbered questions and especially the two chilling ones, “I am dead” and “I was murdered” make you wonder who we were asking communicating with. It did seem that the Rev. Mercer might have been there that evening as one response, a true EVP, “false” came true when referring to the stories being told by tour guides.

I would like to conduct another investigation in the future, under more controlled conditions with a more experienced group, more equipment and a Command Center to monitor results in real-time.

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