Jefferson City, MO — For a man who considers himself somewhat skeptical when it comes to the supernatural, Jason Offutt has had several brushes with ghostly phenomenon himself.
Offutt has published his new book — "Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to the Show-Me State's Most Spirited Spots."
Do you believe in ghosts?
"I get that question a lot," he said. "Belief... you don't have to have evidence to believe something. But I like to have evidence to believe that something exists.
"That being said, when I was 10, I saw the ghost of a little boy standing in my house."
He writes: "He was dressed in a flannel shirt and jeans, his hair was dark and tousled. He didn't smile. He didn't frown. He didn't say anything. He just looked at me and I just looked at — and through — him. Yeah, through."
Offutt said he never told anyone about the boy because he knew people wouldn't believe him.
"There are things we don't know about. Things that wander in and out of the shadows in your home," he added.
When Offutt was in college, he took a writing class filled with people who said they wanted to write a novel. But none of them did.
"I didn't want to be like one of those people," he said, so he wrote a fantasy novel upon graduation that never was published. "I tried to reread it. Now I know why it was never published... it was awful."
His newest book — his third — apparently is more engaging; a steady flow of interested buyers flowed into the Downtown Book and Toy recently for a book signing. At the Borders bookstore in St. Joseph, visitors lined up before the appointed time to get their copies signed.
Many of the visitors want to relate to him their own paranormal experiences.
The book is a guide for people interested in visiting 32 of Missouri's public haunted spots.
Offutt said he had three criteria for including a site. "I wanted every place to be historic, open to the public and haunted," he said. "I wanted people to be able to visit every place I talk about in the book."
His favorite story in the book is the tale of Dr. Joseph Nash McDowell, a St. Louis surgeon who founded the Missouri Medical College. It takes place in what is now called Mark Twain Cave.
McDowell was trying to discover how to petrify a human body and was conducting scientific experiments in the cave's stable atmosphere.
But the story takes a macabre turn when McDowell's 14-year-old daughter died of pneumonia during Twain's boyhood.
Reportedly, the doctor filled a glass-lined copper cylinder with an alcohol mixture.
"He put in his daughter, and hung it from the ceiling in a cave room," explained Offutt.
Horrifying to children and adults alike, the situation drew the "baser order of tourists, who would drag the dead face into view, examine it and comment upon it," wrote Twain in Life on the Mississippi.
Hannibal's citizens eventually demanded McDowell remove his daughter.
But ever since then, it's been said the girl haunts the cave.
Offutt said the paranormal doesn't scare him. But it does give his wife, Kim, the heebie-jeebies. And so, he usually visits the sites alone.
"She does not like any of this stuff," he said.
The creepiest place he ever visited was Peace Church Cemetery, where "Badman Bill Cook, mad dog killer of six persons" is interred.
"The tombstones lie on the ground like broken teeth," recalled Offutt.
Not all the ghosts are frightening. Carrie Crittenden, a former governor's daughter who died of diptheria, reportedly haunts the Governor's Mansion.
In 1982, a workman said he saw a young girl playing in the attic. Although he never returned to the job, others haven't been frightened.
"She's a friendly ghost," said Mary Pat Abele, director of Missouri Mansion Preservation, Inc.
During his research, Offutt experienced some of the paranormal activity others had reported before him.
For example, at the Lemp Mansion in St. Louis, Offutt walked into "an area of cold deep enough to raise goosebumps on my arms and dry the sweat on my temples."
Offutt — a journalism instructor at Northwest Missouri State University — said he wanted to retell other people's ghost stories. He's not as interested in experiencing, or debunking, the paranormal himself.
"I'm a journalist," he explains. "I'm not a ghostbuster."