Glascock Island Murders and the Haunted Rowboat
Did a ghost boat once haunt the waters of the Mississippi River near Hannibal in the early 1890’s? According to Bruce Carlson, author of “Ghosts of the Mississippi River,” many of Hannibal’s inhabitants claimed to see a large ghostly rowboat roam the waters at night from the early 1890s through the turn of the century.
People of Hannibal claimed they would be sitting in their own boat and realize that the ghost boat with one “solitary rider” had quietly slipped up behind them. After it was seen, the boat “would simply back away” although only a tiller was used. There was no evidence of a paddle or pole being used. The vessel seemed to just back away on its own.
The lantern of the boat hung from a vertical pole in the bow. Rather than a yellow light, the lantern “gave off a blue light.”
The driver of the boat had “eyes that would seem to look right into a man’s soul” causing the occupants of the other craft to row away from the ghost boat.
In 1903, a couple of fishermen who lived on the shores of the river in a small cabin decided upon their third visit from the ghost boat that they would give chase.
Unfortunately, these two strong men were not able to catch up with the individual in the ghost boat and it disappeared into the darkness.
On a Fourth of July holiday sometime after this, the town held a picnic. Amid the laughter and fun, two men suddenly began yelling and pointing at a corn field where a ghost boat was “merrily sailing down the corn rows.” The ghost boat hasn’t been seen since this time.
Most people in this area know the story of the Flying Eagle Disaster that took place June 3, 1903 when the steamboat hit the Wabash railroad bridge and sank killing four people. Of course, I found many reports of drownings in the Mississippi River during that time including suicides, accidents while swimming and deaths from flooding, but most of these stories didn’t include a boat.
In my research to discover what might possibly have been haunting the Mississippi River near Hannibal during that period of time, I found some interesting information about Glasscock’s Island a/k/a Glascock’s Island a/k/a Pearl Island a/k/a Tom Sawyer Island a/k/a Jackson’s Island a/k/a Pete’s Island that might provide a clue.
According to the 15 Nov 1933 edition of The Palmyra Spectator, Peter Cardinal, who also used the name “French Pete” built a “two-story building” on Glasscock's Island in 1875. “The place harbored infamous women, gamblers, thieves and crimes of all kind, including murder” for nearly two decades.
In the late 1870s, Pete was convicted of robbery in Hannibal and sent to the Missouri State Penitentiary for ten years.
The 16 Aug 1881 edition of The Leavenworth Times (https://www.newspapers.com/image/76979782/) reports there was a “horrible murder” at the “Notorious Bagnio on an Island Near Hannibal” in the early morning hours of August 14, 1881.
This story indicates that the structure on the Island was a house of prostitution “kept by a woman named Anderson,” who goes by the alias of “Slim Jim” after Pete Cardinal was incarcerated “for highway robbery.”
A raftsman named Jack Gibbins was “engaged in a night’s carousal with the girls, dining, drinking, and, as one of them expressed it, raising h—l generally.” A fight ensued between Gibbins and Went Barnes, from the west side of Hannibal. Went shot Jack in the side with his pistol.
An eyewitness reported later that Jack had also been stabbed in the back and neck by another individual. Jack immediately died and Went immediately took out on a skiff across the river to Hannibal.
The coroner was not able to confirm the eyewitness’s testimony of the stabbing, and Barnes was charged with the murder.
According to the 13 Jan 1884 edition of The Decatur Herald, on January 12, 1884, a fire destroyed the structure that had been known for nearly two decades as “the most noted refuge for criminals on the Mississippi River.”
The story goes on to say that “a number of beautiful but hardened women” had lived in the home on Glasscock's
Island. These women were rumored to lure men to the Island for “a night of revelry.” The fun-loving ladies disappeared after the fire, and it was believed they had “been murdered and their bodies sunk beneath the waves” of the Mississippi River outside of Hannibal.
The February 23, 1897 edition of The Quincy Daily Journal reports the drowning of Abraham Johnson who was on a skiff in the River duck hunting.
Another death in the River near Hannibal reported in the 18 Oct 1904 edition of the Quincy Daily Herald occurred when Richard Browning of Quincy fell overboard from a boat and drowned. It is possible that Mr. Browning’s spirit stayed behind in this realm as he was reported by family and subsequent resident Harley Haines to haunt his previous home at Nelson Court.