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Stairway to Heaven

Is the Grand Staircase at Fort Belle Fontaine really haunted?

Photograph by Kevin A. Roberts

There is a legend, spoken of in hushed tones, of a man who appears out of nowhere on the Grand Staircase of North County’s Fort Belle Fontaine Park. This mysterious stranger, clad in a historic military uniform, shows up each October and scares the bejesus out of locals.

This haunting apparition, it turns out, is actually St. Louis County Parks curator Marc Kollbaum. Getting dressed up and telling spooky stories (October 16, is just part of his job. The story he likes to tell—about a New Orleans voodoo priestess, her missing daughter, and a certain curse—is complete “bunk,” he says, but it does reference locally relevant stuff, including Mississippi River steamboats and the New Madrid earthquake of 1811. “Sometimes I get everybody involved and tell them if they see a ship with eerie lights, it is a ghost ship, and they will be instantly transported to it and forced to sail the Mississippi forever,” says Kollbaum.

Cute, but is this really scary stuff? “They have certainly shrieked and screamed,” claims the storyteller. “It’s fairly scary just being up there at night. It’s very dark.”

The imposing Grand Staircase amid the fort’s 200-year-old remains is illuminated only by candlelight during the event, which does sound spooky—but wouldn’t it help if somebody ran out of the woods in a ghost costume or something? “At the General Daniel Bissell House, we’ve done that,” says Kollbaum. “We had an employee clanking chains on the stairway and shrieking. We have one person that has a very realistic shriek.”

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