The Strange History of the Morse Mill Hotel

Morse Mill Hotel

The Morse Mill Hotel, or the “Blue Lady” as current owner Patrick Sheehan calls it, is located just west of St. Louis near the small town of Hillsboro, Missouri. Originally built in 1816 as a one room house, it was later expanded to its current size of 5,300 square feet, but there is some confusion as to when this expansion took place. Some say it was expanded in the 1830s by John Morse, and others say Morse expanded the building in 1847. I am not convinced of the accuracy of either source. The hotel was recently purchased by Patrick Sheehan, who specialises in restoring old buildings.

John Morse was a premier bridge builder and engineer who used the Morse Mill as his family residence. Since then, it has been used as a hospital for Confederate prisoners of war, a hotel, brothel, speakeasy, United States post office, and half-way house. It is also believed to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The Morse Mill was also home to the first known female serial killer in America, Bertha Gifford. Gifford was born Bertha Alice Williams in 1876 and died in 1952 in a mental institution. She lived in Missouri and acquired a reputation as an angel of mercy by showing up at the homes of sick friends and family, many of whom subsequently died. So many died that their deaths began to make people suspicious, and Gifford was eventually arrested for murder. She was tried and found not guilty due to an insanity plea, and she spent the rest of her life in a mental hospital. Gifford was believed to have murdered anywhere from 17 to 23 people and possibly more. A headstone with the name Bertha Gifford is located in a small cemetery down the road from the Morse Mill. According to some, however, she is not actually buried there.

Many other famous people are known to have frequented the Morse Mill Hotel. Frank Dalton (who claimed to be Jesse James), Al Capone, Charles Lindbergh, Charlie Chaplin and Clara Bow have all walked its hallways. It is located in Jefferson County, which was settled in 1799 by Francis Wideman, who was believed by many to be a sorcerer who, according to his own brother John, could “conjure up the devil.”

John Morse came to Jefferson County in 1847 and built a commercial grist mill on the Big River. He used slave labor to quarry the stones for the building. He also built a home in the town, which was named after his first commercial venture, Morse Mill. Morse would go on to be a state politician, own at least two general stores, a contracting company, and a hotel. His home was used as a stagecoach stop and, after his death, it became the Riverside Hotel. 18 sleeping rooms were added onto the home to accommodate all the guests. Morse Mill became a resort town, with people coming to enjoy the slow, cool waters of the Big River.

I first heard of the Morse Mill Hotel while doing an Internet search for haunted locations to investigate. I found an article about a documentary called the Morse Mill Project that was filmed in November of 2008. The article described how, during the filming, the investigators had reported seeing the shadow of a large man. They told of cameras levitating off the floor while turning 360 degrees. They also described how, while they were upstairs, they heard a loud metallic sound, and when they returned downstairs to investigate the noise, they found an iron fireplace poker twisted in a U shape. One of the filmmakers had been scratched through her clothes by some unseen force. The article also described how one group of first-time ghost hunters were slapped by unseen hands and had air blown in their faces. They also heard footsteps.

According to the article, during the first walkthrough of the building, one investigator was scratched down the neck by what appears to have been three unseen fingernails. I found another article in Haunted Times Magazine in which, during the time the Morse Mill was a homeless shelter, the residents there saw a black shadow person, which was described as some nine feet tall. Faces were even seen in mirrors. Overnight guests have told stories of shadow people walking about the property and down the road that passes by the hotel. These stories sounded almost too good to be true, so I had to see for myself…


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