Most of us who have grown up in Hannibal have had an opportunity to tour our beloved historical Rockcliffe Mansion at least once over the years. Tourists to our hometown usually include a visit to Rockclilffe Mansion as well. I have talked with many people over the years who are adamant that the historical home is haunted.

Completed in 1900, Rockcliffe Mansion was built by local lumber baron, John J. Cruikshank for his second wife, Annie, and their four daughters. The family lived in the beautiful mansion until John’s death in 1924. Many believe that John J. Cruikshank still resides at Rockcliffe Mansion.

After John’s death, his widow, Annie, released the staff, packed a few belongings, and moved in with her daughter next door. The 30-room home stood empty for 43 years. Empty, that is, except for the elaborate furnishings, artwork, marble and tile fireplaces, Tiffany lamps, and even personal belongings of the Cruikshanks.

I remember my mother telling me about the caretaker of the house allowing her to roam through the rooms freely when she was a child. Many other local children would sneak inside on a dare to run up to the third floor to grab a piece of an old wall map hanging in the school room of the mansion. Strangely, none of these children vandalized Rockcliffe in any other way. None of the gorgeous hanging chandeliers were even damaged in any form.

In the late 1960s, the family decided to have the mansion razed. Two weeks before the date of destruction, several local families saved Rockcliffe. Upon entering the mansion, underneath the years of dirt and dust, many beautiful and fine artifacts and furnishings were discovered still intact.

Rockcliffe Mansion has changed hands several times over the last few decades, and remains open for tours and more. I actually had the opportunity to spend the night in the mansion one Halloween years ago. I have to admit, I encountered no ghosts.

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of talking with the previous caretakers, Mary and Jerry McAvoy, about the possibility that the mansion might be haunted.

Mary had no doubt that she had encountered the spirit of John J. Cruikshank many times while staying at the home. She “would hear him come in through the servants’ entrance at 2 o’clock in the morning.” Mary went on to say that he would come in, slam the door, and wake up them up, always trailing the smell of cigars. Every morning Mary had to remake John J. Cruikshank’s bed because there would be an indentation of a man’s body as if someone had been sleeping there.

Mary also talked about an interesting experience that occurred in the winter of 2004 when a film crew came to Rockcliffe Mansion. One early morning when the crew came out of their bedrooms to begin filming, the equipment was already working by itself, although not plugged in to an electrical source. In other rooms, the equipment would not work at all.

The current owners of Rockcliffe Mansion, Warren Bittner and Juan Ruiz-Bello of Florida, have not had any paranormal encounters since they took over in 2010; but, Mr. Ruiz-Bello admitted to me that this could very well be because they are non-believers and not open to any type of paranormal activity.

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