Sunday, April 22, 2018

Denver's Mysterious Alonzo Thompson Mansion




In my line of work I have discovered all sorts of interesting stories. From mysterious deaths, suicides and murders to over the top urban legends. But this story I will be sharing with you has proven to be one of the strangest of cases. It isn’t about a murderous villain or even a helpless victim. No. This story is about the history of one, Alonzo Thompson and the peculiar details of his life as well as the history of his home. A home that was purported to be a real “Haunted Mansion.”

One thing that I noticed during my research into this story, is that no one had ever written about Alonzo or his house before, at least nothing online anyway. I could find no trace of any books mentioning it either. So what I am sharing with you is straight from the sources and just as they appeared in the headlines back at the turn of the century (or before).

The house that is situated on Humboldt Street in Denver, looks like any other beautiful, stately mansion, but it’s not just the house itself that intrigued me, but instead what happened inside this home that has pulled me in so much that I was compelled to write about it.  Before getting to all the particulars of the home’s eccentric history, first let me start out with the history of its very first owner, Alonzo Thompson.



Who Was The Original Owner?

Alonzo Thompson was born on February 22, 1832, in the town of Centerville, Illinois to parents Amos and Irene Thompson. The 1850 Census for St. Clair County, Illinois lists Alonzo as a “student” living with his parents along with his brothers and sisters. His father, Amos was listed as a “Farmer” although he was much more than that as I will highlight later on. When Alonzo was just 20 years old his mother Irene passed away. Alonzo graduated from McKendree College in Lebanon, Illinois, and he was one of 16 founders of the Platonian Literary Society.

Alonzo began teaching at a private school in Belleville, Illinois after graduating college, and he traveled to Maryville, Missouri and Louisiana to teach there as well.  His obituary noted that from 1856 to 1861 he took charge of the local Union troops, and later was elected into local Missouri Legislature in 1862. By 1864, he had become the Missouri State Auditor.  He remained in that position for four years, but in that time frame he also found himself in a huge scandal that sullied his name.

In 1865, the newspapers published an anonymous letter claiming that Alonzo had orchestrated a scheme that allowed him to steal money from unsuspecting out-of-state landowners who were being sent notices that they would be heavily fined for not paying their taxes on time. The letter also alleged that Alonzo created a fictitious business that acted as a middle man for the landowners to the State, claiming that if they paid him directly, including his “fee” for acting as their agent, he would make sure it got taken care of on time. In reality he had no right nor authority to collect any sort of taxes, but he used his title as the State Auditor to advertise this service to unsuspecting property owners, and thus he swindled a lot of people out of their hard earned money. ---

By 1868-1867, Alonzo became a real estate entrepreneur in St. Louis, and eventually moved back to Maryville, Missouri. Soon he went on to promote a railroad that went from St. Louis to Omaha, and even later settled in an Indian Reservation, building a beautiful and large home in Fullerton, Nebraska. Census records list him as a Capitalist, or Land Agent (real estate). 

Alonzo was married three times during his life. His first marriage was on December 6, 1857, to Mary Visonhaler.  This union brought forth three children: Hattie, Fannie and Elmer. Fannie died at just four months old. Elmer died when he was 26 years old. His wife, Mary passed away on March 1, 1877.  His daughter, Hattie outlived both her mother and father.

His second marriage was on April 12, 1880, to Mary Adams. She died exactly one year and a day later on April 13, 1881. They had no children together. His third and final marriage, to which he would later regret was to one Annie Elizabeth (Heard) Jones, on October 30, 1881, only six months after his second wife had passed.  The couple had one son together, Alonzo Thompson, Jr.

Third Time Wasn’t A Charm

So, Alonzo’s story really doesn’t take a turn for the strange and mysterious until he married his third wife, Annie, which was a huge mistake on his part.  It was during a séance with a medium known as Mrs. Lively in 1881, Alonzo was told to marry Annie, the divorced wife of Knox Jones. In another séance he was warned not to marry her, and later he claimed that was the one and only time he “disobeyed” advice from the spirit world.  You see, Alonzo was a spiritualist and had been dabbling in that field ever since the death of his mother in 1852. In the book “What Converted Me To Spiritualism,” Alonzo was given an entire chapter that tells his account of his original skepticism of life after death and what convinced him to believe otherwise.


When he met Annie, she too was also involved in spiritualism. As years went on though Alonzo realized that she had been playing games with him, and he believed she had deceived him completely from the very beginning, pretending to be truly interested in his other worldly interests in order to entice or trap him by “appealing to the spirits in which the widower believed thoroughly to be the first aid to cupid.” She also gave him hundreds of letters that were purported to have been scribed by the spirits of his dead loved ones. Later on he stated that he felt all those letters were completely fabricated to make him believe she somehow had a direct line to those he missed. He also admitted that Annie managed to use her “connection” with the dead to “induce him to part with large sums of money.” Basically she was a gold digger.

After building a beautiful home in Fullerton, Nebraska and living there for a good twenty years or so, they just up and left, moving this time to Denver, where he would construct his magnificent 9 bedroom, 6 bathroom home on Humboldt Street in 1905, after purchasing four adjoining lots from Mr. Moffat.  It appeared that by the turn of the century Alonzo and his family went from doing so-so to living a moderately wealthy lifestyle. The question was how? What changed?

Courtesy of the Denver Public Library (Digital Collection)


Courtesy of the Denver Public Library (Digital Collection)


In 1901, Alonzo’s father passed away. Already being involved deeply in spiritualism for a good 49 years, he admitted that his real success finally came when he started communicating with the spirit of his dead father. Allegedly he started immediately holding séances where he would ask his father for advice on all matters of business. Once he built his mansion, he had a secret chamber or hidden room constructed, that was strictly for his communication with his father’s ghost. He claimed that every night like clockwork his father’s ghost would visit him at his home and join him in his secret room. It was reported that Alonzo would “never engage in any transactions or business dealings without consulting with him.”

The secret room that is hidden within the home was so secret even his own wife and son were never allowed to enter. To this day no one has ever written about the home besides what we find in archived newspaper clippings from 1912, so there is no way to know if the room was discovered by future owners down the line or if it remains still, a hidden room.

Courtesy of the Denver Public Library (Digital Collection)


Back to the Story

By 1912, Alonzo had just about enough of his marriage to Annie and filed for divorce, seeking not only to keep his newly made millions from her grasp but also to disinherit his son, too. But why?

Well, according to the newspapers of the time, Alonzo claimed that his wife and son were conspiring against him and that they intended to have him committed. According to Alonzo, they had been following him all over, even from state to state where he owned several properties, seeking to have the authorities arrest him and lock him up in an asylum. He was convinced that they wanted to take all control over his estate, and were going to use his “spiritualism” as an excuse to claim he was senile.

Alonzo stated that his father’s ghost had warned him that this was going to take place, and so he preemptively made the first move. Using his attorney, James A. Harris, Alonzo transferred or converted over $500,000 worth of property into cash that his wife and son could not get their hands on. He also changed his will, leaving his wife out and making conditions that his son could not inherit a dime of his estate unless he proved over a length of time that he could “be a man” and support himself. He felt his son was spoiled and needed to learn how to earn a living, instead of riding on the back of daddy’s coattails for the rest of his life. Once Alonzo filed his petition for divorce, Annie filed a counter claim, ultimately spilling the beans on her husband's licentious dalliances.



The Scandal Is Out

According to Annie Thompson, her husband had been unfaithful to her for many years, even going as far back to their time in Fullerton, Nebraska. It seems that their decision to just up and move to Denver was because of the fallout from an extra marital affair he had with another “medium” named Margaret Helsley, who also happened to be married.  Annie claimed that the affair caused such a “drain on them they had to move to another state.”

It didn’t stop there.  Annie went on to make the most surprising and humorous claim that Alonzo was also having dinner with the spirits of dead women. Of course you can imagine that the newspapers had a field day with this accusation, even going so far as to have the newspaper sketch artist draw up some sensationalized drawings of Mr. Thompson sitting in his “secret chamber” dining separately with the ghost of Cleopatra and Dido. Her list also included such names as: Sappho, Nell Gwynn and Juliette Recamier. But it wasn’t just his “dead affairs” Mrs. Thompson was worried about.

You see, moving to Denver didn’t seem to stop Alonzo’s wavering eye, and soon he caught sight of yet another woman. This time it was Mrs. Noyes, who lived on Lincoln Street.  Apparently, Annie started to notice that every time Mrs. Noyes would go on long trips out of town, so would her husband, so she decided to start following them and found that they were having an affair.  

“Cleopatra is not demanding a new motor boat, Queen Elizabeth is not pouting for a new castle, Marie Antoinette does not sign for a chateau to add to her collection….but the living “soul mate” or some other charmer still in the flesh, is alleged to be drawing extensively on the aged man’s plentiful finds.”

According to Annie, her husband became obsessed with Mrs. Noyes, who claimed to have some power to use her body to communicate with his dead father. It appeared that Annie was no longer manipulating her husband, and now he had a new love interest who was sinking her claws into Alonzo’s back, and his pocket book.

His Side of the Story

Alonzo’s quoted statements tell a different side of the story:

 “I want to see my wife humiliated so that she may realize what I have done for her, and I want to see my son, who has posed as the ‘best dressed man in Denver’ for years, at my expense earn his own living.”

“I don’t object to my wife and son living in my home, but I do mean to see Alonzo (Jr.) works for a living and supports his mother….I want to see my wife suffer for the suffering she has caused me. Perhaps she will then realize what I have done for her.”

“Mrs. Thompson says that my spiritualistic studies have unbalanced my mind. I wonder if she remembers that we were poor until I finally established communications with my father, whose advice has given me the fortune that my wife and son now seek to rob me of.”

Alonzo Thompson’s estate comprised of his stately mansion, and a combined worth of millions of dollars of property that spanned from Denver, Tennessee, Nebraska, Missouri and North Dakota.

In the end he did leave a share of his estate to his son, “provided that he makes a man of himself within a reasonable time.” The rest of his estate he bequeathed to charity and “benevolent institutions” to the promotion of spiritualism.


Salida Record (4/11/1913)
Alonzo’s Death

On April 10, 1913, Alonzo passed away at the age of 81 after battling a long illness. The newspapers claimed he had boasted that he had been told by the "other side" he would live to be 96, but obviously that was not to be.  Shortly after his death, his body was taken from Denver and buried at Green Mount Protestant Cemetery in Belleville, Illinois. 

But this story is far from over. 

According to the November 26, 1913 issue of the San Francisco Call, it states that according to the keepers of the property, a “ghost” made an appearance every evening in the home. Now of course the newspaper assumed it was Alonz, given the fact he had just passed away seven months prior, but if you recall, it was Alonzo who claimed that his father’s ghost would visit nightly like clockwork to visit with him in his hidden room. So who or what was creating such a stir in the home? Unfortunately, no more could be found about the home or its “haunted history” after that one article.

Recently, I reached out to the current owners of the home but I have yet to receive a response back from them. I was hoping I could speak to them firsthand to hear what they have to say about the mansion, whether or not they know about this secret room, and whether they feel it’s a “haunted mansion” or not. Unfortunately, I have yet to communicate with the owners of the home to see if they have something to add to this story so I cannot give you a definitive answer.

Still, Alonzo Thompson’s personal story alone is one built on a lot of secrets, scandals and ultimately superstition.  Was his home ever truly haunted, or was that a farce all along? Did he really communicate with the other side, or was he just a very clever con-man?

Who told the truth between his or his wife’s stories, or was the truth found somewhere in between?  And lastly, was Alonzo Thompson insane as his wife and son claimed, or were they just after his money the whole time?

So many questions that we may never find all the answers to.

HAPPY HISTORY HUNTING!


---Note: The Alonzo Thompson Mansion is a historical home, but it also is a private residence. I am asking everyone reading this blog PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB the current owners/residents of the home. I cannot stress this enough. History is wonderful, and it’s nice to drive by a home that has a fantastic story behind it, but it is still someone’s home, and we MUST show respect and not disturb them. Thank you! --


(Copyright 2018 – J’aime Rubio – www.jaimerubiowriter.com)

A special thanks to Coi Drummond-Gehrig at the Denver Public Library for photo permissions!
and a big thanks also to  John Marshall for added research!

Sources:

Denver Public Library (Digital Collection)
St. Louis Post Dispatch (7/28/1912)
Springfield Missouri Republican (7/21/1912)
Denver Post (7/21/1912)
San Francisco Call (4/21/1913)
Herald Democrat (4/10/1913)
Salida Record (4/11/1913)
San Francisco Call (11/26/1913)
The Engineers Record, Volume 51
The Day Book, Chicago, (7/22/1912)
St. Louis Daily Missouri (c/o Columbia Daily Tribune)
Acts of the General Assembly of the State of Missouri, Jan. 3, 1883
United States Census (1850, 1880, 1900, 1910)
“What Converted Me To Spiritualism- 100 Testimonies,” (pg 33-34) Circa 1901.
Genealogical and Family History of the State of Maine – (Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1909).

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