Monticello, Arkansas – Behind a black iron gate sits a house that seems to be something out of a dream. White pillars, red domed roof, surrounded by trees, the home is an ideal setting for a fairy-tale existence, a happy home where nothing could ever go wrong. But within, not everything is as it seems. There is an unhappy air, a sadness that paces the floors, accompanied by the sounds of crying and faces peering back out of mirrors. She didn’t die a violent death, nor was it much of a surprise to her when she died. She took her own life.
In every city, there are houses that “they” say are haunted. Ask around, and you’ll most likely find people who say things like “oh, that house is supposed to be haunted” or “people say it’s haunted.” It is a rare house indeed where the whole community puts no qualifiers on their statements. It’s not supposed to be haunted, no one says “people say” it’s haunted. In Monticello, the fact that the Allen House is haunted is accepted as fact.
The house that would become known as one of the most haunted houses in America began as a palatial home for a wealthy businessman named Joe Lee Allen. Allen, whose businesses began with a livery stable, expanded his holdings to include the Allen Hotel, a private school, a car dealership, and even a horse-drawn hearse rental service. He also was the first President of the Commercial Loan and Trust Company and served as the President of the Southeast Arkansas Fair Association. In 1905, he moved his then home across the street to make way for the new house, a mansion befitting his status and large enough for his wife and children. The Allen’s had three daughters, Lonnie Lee, Ladell, and Lewie Manker. A son, Walter, died at only nine months old.
For a time, things went well in the Allen household. Joe’s status made him remarkably wealthy and provided prominence for his family. He doted on his children, but it seemed Ladell was his favorite as, when he was allowed to name a new town south of Monticello, he named it for her. She married a billards hall owner named Boyd Randolph Bonner, and a year later gave birth to the couple’s only son, Elliott. The couple moved to Ft. Worth, Texas.
Less than two years after the birth of Ladell’s son, her father Joe died suddenly of an apparent heart attack while demonstrating an automobile to a buyer in Collins, Arkansas. Devastated by her father’s death, Ladell returned to Monticello. Texas had not been kind, it seemed, to her marriage and she filed for divorce from her husband. It was also around this time that she was rumored to have begun the early stages of a drinking problem. She took over managing the Allen hotel.
Her son, Elliott, went on to success in school, writing humorous columns and founding a mirthful society, and seemed to have the world at his feet. But at the age of twenty eight, he died of pneumonia. He was flown from New York back to Monticello to be buried. A short while later, Ladell’s ex husband also died. She slipped further into depression until, finally, on December 26th, 1948, at her mother’s Christmas party, she prepared a plate of food for herself, went upstairs, and drank a lethal dose of mercury cyanide. Her mother closed off Ladell’s suite as a memorial, and it stayed closed off for more than thirty-five years.
After the death of Ladell’s mother, the house was divided into apartments that were owned by Joe’s grandson. Over the next thirty years, tenants claimed to hear and see strange things in the house, including the apparition of Ladell walking the halls. While no one knew for sure exactly why she committed suicide, it became apparent that she was not at rest. The activity was so strong that author Carolyn Wilson wrote the book The Scent of Lilacs based on her experiences while she lived there.
In 1985, the house was sold to Bill and Bobbie Painton, and for the first time in more than three decades, Ladell’s room was opened. Still sitting on the windowsill was the bottle of cyanide she used to kill herself, but still no explanation as to why she did the ghastly deed. It wasn’t until 2009, when owners Mark and Rebecca Spencer took possession of the house, that another clue came to light. While effecting renovations, beneath a floorboard, they discovered what they believed to be the cause of Ladell’s death: a rum bottle and eighty-one letters that revealed a secret love affair with a married oil executive living in Minneapolis.
There have been so many reports of paranormal activity in the Allen House that many assign it the dubious title of Most Haunted House in America, though there are dozens of others that make the same claim. At the Allen House, however, there might be some validity. The least of the phenomena reported include footsteps, moans, and other strange noises accompanied by cold spots throughout the second floor. Strange sounds, coupled with furniture that seems to be moved about by unseen hands, would be enough to unsettle most people, but there are more phenomena to be reported.
There have been several incidents in which tenants have captured the image of a woman, presumed to be Ladell, both in mirrors and out. In one case, a doctor captured her likeness in a mirror and in another, a man was taking a photo of his wife. When the photo was developed, a second woman appeared seated next to her. Perhaps one of the most interesting accounts came from a young couple who believed they trapped Ladell in a closet. After seeing the closet door open and close unaided, they rushed to close the door only to be met by a powerful resistance from the other side and what they described as giggling. Also, people have seen her, as well as what they describe as children, in the windows from outside the house.
There have also been claims of the apparitions of three girls playing in the downstairs area, and a female party guest who swears she was trapped in a downstairs bathroom by an unseen presence. There is even a theory that the ghosts do not like commercial uses of the home, as a gift shop in the downstairs area was a constant target for paranormal tantrums.
The house was sold in 1995, and again in 2007 to its current owners, Mark and Rebecca Spencer. That October, the Spencers opened up the home to more than six hundred curious people, and allowed the first paranormal investigation of the home two years later. The results were astounding, with more than forty EVPs recorded and numerous photographic and video anomalies. Still, the house is considered a private home, not a hotel, bed and breakfast, or tourist-trap. The Spencers do offer tours by appointment, and rent the house out for special occasions such as weddings and family gatherings. As for the haunted occurrences, they still happen. While the Spencers do feel there is something in the house, they also feel that they’ve made peace with Ladell and whoever else might be hanging around.
Though available for tours and for rental, the Spencers maintain the house as a private home. Therefore, traipsing about without permission is not reccommended. However, should one want to visit, the best time to do so is during October, when paranormal group LA Spirits host a “Dinner and a Ghost” event. The home is also available for group parties and tours, but only by appointment. There is no overnight service in the home. To find out more about the Allen House, vist them online.
Special thanks to Rebecca Spencer for her photo of the house.
Also, thanks to Patty Wooten for the photo of the letters.
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