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Missouri's Favorite Haunted Mansion

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Rockcliffe Mansion or Highpointe Manor?

July 23, 2018

Rockcliffe Mansion Postcard 1

Today I want to talk about Rockcliffe Mansion, or Highpointe Manor, for those of you who've read the novel. I wasn't too far into the book when I realized Wells, one of my central characters, needed to live in a classic haunted house.

Though I could simply have imagined the house, I like getting historical details right and I knew I'd handle those details better if I was working from a model. So I went shopping for a historic Missouri mansion I could borrow for the book. Though I loved all the research I got to do for the novel, I will say, house hunting for Wells was just about my favorite research project. I looked at a couple dozen gorgeous houses, in various states of repair.

Rockcliffe Mansion Postcard 2

But when I saw the first photo of Rockcliffe, I knew I'd found Wells's house! There was something about the square stateliness of it that appealed to me. I love Victorian houses, but I wanted something more imposing, more classic for Highpointe Manor. And, boom, there it was in all its Georgian splendor! I spent hours looking at photos of the place and reading snippets of its history in various sources.

Now, IRL (in real life), Rockcliffe Mansion is a museum in Hannibal, Missouri. Celebrated Missouri author Mark Twain once gave a reading on the steps of the Grand Staircase, yes, the stairs I'm currently standing next to in this photo from April of this year. Long after I'd invoked images of Rockcliffe Mansion for the book, but before I did the absolute final revision--I actually had the privilege of visiting the place on the way down to see some friends in Missouri. It was glorious! And it wasn't until I had visited Rockcliffe in person that I finally had a name I wanted to use for its fictional twin: Highpointe, to honor the steep rocky outcropping Rockcliffe itself occupies.

Photo of Marta at Rockcliffe Mansion's Grand Staircase

I should say also, all but one of the photos from this blog entry are reproduced from postcards available at the museum, as photography is forbidden except for special circumstances. Once I'd shared my connection to the house (and purchased a couple books on Missouri haunted houses), our tour guide had mercy on me and took the picture that appears here.

To be fair, in fictionalizing the place, I have added and embellished details at will. It's not that Hannibal's Rockcliffe is Casper's Highpointe, more that Hannibal's Rockcliffe served as the inspiration for Casper's Highpointe.

Rockcliffe Mansion Postcard 4

Regarding Rockcliffe's actual history, lumber baron John J. Cruikshank, Jr., built the house over two years time: 1898-1900. He wanted to showcase Missouri native timber and wood from around the world, as well as a number of fine woodworking techniques his company had patented. The result was absolutely sumptuous wood carving, parquet, paneling, and inlay throughout the generously proportioned mansion.

Rockcliffe Mansion Postcard 5
As to whether or not the place is actually haunted? Well...local tradition holds that for all its beauty, it was not a happy house. The family fell out over any of a number of possible causes and, apparently, the ghost of Cruikshank himself roams the place, bemoaning his lonely state. Tragic? Maybe. But I admire Cruikshank's choice of an afterlife. If I have to spend eternity somewhere, Rockcliffe is certainly on my list of excellent options!

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