Was the Meridian Coffee House haunted? – Alton Telegraph

Halloween is just around the corner and a pre-read book that recently arrived at my shop neatly complements this season. “Ghost Stories of Illinois” by Jo-Anne Christensen, published in 2000 by Lone Pine, sold promptly — but not before I had a chance to skim through it.
Yes, the Riverbend is represented in this volume. Readers will learn all about Harriet Haskell, principal of Monticello Seminary, who allegedly haunts Lewis and Clark Community College, which now occupies the site of old Monticello. There is also a chapter titled “The Meridian Coffee House,” which was located at 10 East Broadway — just next door to the current location of my book shop!
When the Meridian opened in 1998, The Second Reading was still in the Mineral Springs Mall at 301 E. Broadway. Nonetheless, I patronized the place on a regular base. Coffee houses attract writers and poets much like milkweed attracts monarch butterflies.
The Meridian’s second floor had small rooms with tables and chairs that were ideal for meetings of the long-defunct Metro East Writers’ Workshop that I coordinated at the time. We critiqued each other’s manuscripts before submitting them for publication. Members of the workshop agreed that one proofreads better while imbibing caffeinated drinks such as cappuccinos and mochas.
I also recall staking out a room just for myself when I wanted to get some writing done. Lacking a laptop, I scribbled words on a notebook that I later keyboarded into the DOS dinosaur that I was then using at home. Some of my best articles, columns and poetry owe their genesis to the Meridian.
The owners, Brenda French and Scott Baalman, closed the Meridian at midnight and had a unique way of letting patrons know it was time to drain their drinks and leave. They played the song “Closing Time” by Semisonic. Live bands occasionally performed, including the Wise Guys that consisted of college students who played jazz on Sunday evenings.
The Meridian was supposedly haunted. “Ghost Stories of Illinois” states that on “The day before the renovated coffee house was to open,” Brenda saw “a male figure in a striped shirt sitting in one of the small, second floor rooms. The apparition lasted for only a moment before vanishing.”
Christensen wrote that after the Meridian opened for business, “the spirit continued to make its presence felt in a number of ways to staff and customers alike.” She cited an incident when the business’ security camera caught this ghost, again wearing a striped shirt, entering the establishment. “She heard footsteps on the stairs outside the office door.” The Meridian was closed at the time, so she went looking for the intruder to tell him that he would have to leave. Brenda found no one in the building, however. The intruder had been the ghost.
The author quotes a conversation that Scott had with writer and paranormal investigator Troy Taylor. “We knew that something was here and we didn’t want to just boot it out,” Scott told Troy. “We told the ghost that we didn’t want to get rid of it, we just asked that it try not to scare anybody or hurt anybody. As long as it was okay with that, it could stay.”
Christensen began this chapter by noting how many different businesses and professional offices had been located at 10 E. Broadway over the years. She implied the high turnover was due to a ghost. She concluded the chapter by writing that after this “spectral deal was struck…the constant change in ownership has ceased.”
Uh, that’s not the case.
Liz Randall (now Lizzy Shake) succeeded Brenda and Scott in 2001 as the Meridian’s proprietor. A Twin Peaks fan, Liz renamed the place The Bookhouse but everyone still called it the Meridian.. Dan Warren, who owned the building, ran the coffee house from 2002-2003. Its final owners, Sarah Miller (now Sarah Mullens) and her then-fiance renamed the coffee house The Red Spoon, which delighted readers of “Alice in Wonderland.”
The coffee house closed for good in 2004. Any number of businesses have occupied 10 East Broadway since the coffee house’s demise. It’s currently Funky Planet Toys. I have no idea what became of the ghost-man in the striped shirt. If he took up residence in my book shop, he’s been very inconspicuous.
John J. Dunphy is an author, the Godfrey 15th Precinct Democratic Committeeperson and recording secretary for the Godfrey Democrats.