LaBinnah Bistro & Gratiot Street Prison

The LaBinnah Bistro-Hannibal

The building is an 1870 Victorian home located at 207 N 5th St in Hannibal’s Historic Millionaires Row. It has been converted into a fine dining bistro, serving up mainly Mediterranean fare. LaBinnah is Hannibal spelled backward. It has been named the best restaurant in Hannibal, and reservations are highly recommended. But this is not a show about restaurants or fine dining. Let’s talk about the history of this house. Normally, when we do these, I feel a need to apologize for the immense amount of history on the locations, but that is mainly because I’m a nerd when it comes to history and it all fascinates me. Probably more so than other people. Anyway, this house built in 1870 (some sources say 1862), belonged to Captain William A. Munger. Do you remember that name? Last week, you may remember hearing that name when we spoke about the party the Stillwell’s attended the night Amos met his fateful end. So, this time, we don’t really have much history, because you already know the story. The Stillwell Mansion, where the murder took place, was demolished to make way for a bank parking lot. Nice, I know. Anyway, if you remember the story, I told you that Mr. and Mrs. Stillwell left the party at the Munger’s and walked home that night. Their house was just 2 blocks away. There is a lot of speculation about the hauntings being related to the murder since their house was so close, and since Amos visited the residence on his last night alive. He also spent many other nights in this house celebrating and socializing among the elite of Hannibal. So, I guess it could be possible. There is an apartment on the second floor. At one time the apartment was inhabited by a lady from New Orleans. She witnessed a translucent figure that moved quickly across the dining room, transformed in to a glowing, blue dot, and then disappeared. She moved out a short time later, but a within a few weeks another occurrence much like it happened to someone else. This guest caught an image of a child-like figure looking out the glass on the front door. This figure was also translucent and had a blue glow. In 2009, Arif Dugin, the GM and owner moved into the apartment alone. Right away he noticed the sounds of footsteps and other strange noises but shrugged them off. His business partner, Chris, had a dog named Jungle. The first incident that really caught Arif’s attention happened Jungle. Arif was sitting on the couch, and Jungle came over to the couch and appeared to be interacting with someone sitting next to Arif on the couch, though no one could be seen there. Jungle seemed to be affected a great deal by the activity. During his time in the building, he was lethargic and didn’t have much interest in anything. Once he left the location, he was energetic and playful.

The closet in the living room of the apartment seems to be somewhat of a hotspot. One evening, Arif was entertaining friends when there was a loud ruckus heard coming from the closet. Multiple witnesses saw the doorknob jiggling and turning before the door swung open on its own and the room grew cold. Everyone fully expected to see someone walk out, but no one was there. Arif had a dog named Milo, and he took notice. He walked over to the open door a peered into the closet. He then began running and jumping up and down the hallway as if he were playing with someone the group could not see. Milo seemed very happy and excited, but after a little while he suddenly stopped, walked back into the living room and looked once more into the closet before sighing heavily and returning to lay on the floor. One of the scariest things Arif has experienced is the mimicking of voices. He has heard his name called by his partner when the man was no where near the restaurant.

There have been several psychics visit the restaurant. They seem to believe the building is home to the spirit of a young boy named Nathaniel. During a séance, guests reported to have made contact with a friendly spirit named George. George Pascal is a former owner of the building. Whomever may be haunting this location, everyone agrees that it is friendly and in no way scary or threatening.

Gratiot Street Prison- St. Louis, MO

We have talked about how brutal and bloody Missouri was during the Civil War. St. Louis was a Union stronghold, where troops came to train, get care of guard the city. Confederate men or southern sympathizers came there mostly as prisoners. The Gratiot Street Prison was one of the worst prison camps of the Civil War. Let’s talk history…

Dr. Joseph McDowell founded McDowell Medical College. It was initially a department within Kemper College until lack of funding force the college to drop the program. I am not going to go too deeply into Dr. McDowell because we will definitely be doing an episode on him in the future. Spoiler alert: he also has ties to Hannibal. In 1847, after being dropped from Kemper College, McDowell constructed his own college at Ninth and Gratiot Streets. The building was designed with two large wings that flowed out from an octagonal tower. At the top of the tower, was a deck fitted with six cannons to protect the school. The school was also stocked with muskets and ammunition that could be used by students in the event of an attack. Again, I will skim some here, but during the time it was a college, there was strong belief and possibly proof that the students and McDowell robbed graves to supply themselves with cadavers to learn from. At the start of the Civil War, McDowell’s son Drake took two of the school’s cannons and join the Confederacy. McDowell also went to serve the Confederacy as a medical director. In 1861, the Union seized the Medical College and used it as a recruiting office, then a barracks before starting to house Confederate prisoners of war being held in a smaller nearby prison. In December of the year, the prison was renovated to convert it to a prison. James M. Tuttle was placed in charge of the prison, and the first prisoners arrived on December 22 by train.

The prisoners that arrived that day were in horrible shape on arrival. They had no uniforms; their clothes were torn and tattered. Many of them wore rags rather then shows on their feet. No coats were worn. The men instead had blankets, quilts and buffalo robes about them for warmth. The crowd that came to the depot to see the prisoners brought in became unruly, and soldiers from Iowa and Indiana had to be called in to settle them down. They formed two lines that ran from the depot straight to the prison and marched the sad-looking men to their fate. On this first day, there was already three times more prisoners then what the building was meant to hold, and it was apparent that the planning of this prison had not been conducted properly. The holding areas were not ventilated properly for the number of men in them. There were waste buckets placed in the rooms… also not enough for the number of prisoners in the rooms. The same is true of the latrine in the yard. They decided to make the prisoners responsible for cleaning the prison to help with the conditions. They were to sweep each morning and scrub or deep clean every two weeks. The large numbers of prisoners made this nearly impossible to enforce and when they did enforce it, it only made matters worse. When they did scrubbings, dirty water seeped down into lower rooms.

All types of criminals were housed together. From Confederate prisoners of war, suspected southern sympathizers, bushwhackers, and spies to Union deserters, Union soldiers arrested for criminal acts and even women accused of sympathizing with the South or harboring fugitives. All of these people pushed together, I would think there were quite a bit of fights and murders during that time. Guards were told to shoot anyone that tried to escape. Not only that, they were told to shoot anyone that stuck a head or arm or leg out of a window. Some guards took shots at prisoners to practice their aim.

The population was always a problem, but so was the food and medical care of course. Sick and dying people were left lying on the floor, and the hospital was always past capacity. In March of 1863, there was an outbreak of smallpox followed by typhoid that killed many and made matters worse. Lice and bedbugs infested the prisoners and the horrible conditions led to 1-4 deaths per day.

In April of 1863, an independent agency, the Western Sanitation Commission, sent two physicians to inspect the prison. Here are some of the findings from that investigation. Bunks were so close to one another that men could barely squeeze between them. The bedding was made up of scraps of blankets and carpet, and the stone floors were so covered in waste and debris that they looked like dirt floors. By the time the prison closed in 1864, the conditions were beyond inhumane. Dr. McDowell returned to the summer of 1865 and cleaned a renovated the building. He left one room as it was from the days of the prison so show what it had become. This room, he called “Hell.” McDowell died in 1868.

In 1878, the south wing was demolished and just four years later, the rest of the building was destroyed. So this is not a location that you can visit. Sadly. I feel like this would be quite and interesting place to visit if they could have saved it. The spot where the Gratiot Street prison stood is now the parking lot for the Ralston-Purina plant.

Some folks claimed the site was always haunted. Reports go back as far as the glory days of the medical college. It was known as a dark and mysterious place where crazy medical experiments were being carried out. Prisoners would say that among the screams and wails of dying men, they could hear other, unearthly sounds. After the building was condemned, many locals claimed to hear the sounds of screaming coming from within the walls. One popular claim of that time was that people passing by the crumbling prison would see people peeping out of windows. Any investigation turned up no living people inside to make the screams or peer from within the windows. Employees of Ralston-Purina claim to see Confederate soldiers walking around in the parking lot and the surrounding grounds.

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