Hannibal’s Favorite Urban Legend: Screaming Johnny’s
Anyone growing up in Hannibal during the late 1950's, 60's and 70’s has heard the tale of Screaming Johnny’s. According to the local legend, a young boy suffered a tragic death in the church building long ago, and his screams can still be heard coming from inside the abandoned Bear Creek Baptist Church late at night.
I have to admit that I didn’t encounter any paranormal activity on any of those visits all those years ago. However, on my recent visits while working on this story, I captured some images that are the creepiest I have seen anywhere…ever.
Screaming Johnny’s is comprised of Bear Creek Cemetery and the remains of the Old School Baptist Church stone building on Shinn Lane.
The earliest burial in the Bear Creek Cemetery is from 1810. The Old School Baptist Church was built for the congregation in 1856; and, the last service in the church was held in 1913.
Accounts have always varied about why the spirit of a young boy named “Johnny” hangs out at the church screaming in the dark.
Some say the boy was picnicking nearby with the church community. He ran back into the church to retrieve a forgotten item, accidentally knocking over a candle and burned alive. Other stories allude to KKK involvement in a church fire that killed the boy.
Debbie Lowery, Founder/President of Springfield Ghost Society conducted an investigation with her husband and partner at Screaming Johnny’s on March 22, 2015. Her account of the story indicates that 8-year-old “Johnny” was playing near an open well in the area. He fell into the well and drowned. Supposedly the well was filled in with dirt and sand after families living in the area heard the child screaming. This evidently didn’t help as reports of the screams continued.
Lowery’s report continues that the church building was constructed over the location of the well, and that Johnny’s grave is located in the cemetery. She claims that when the fire department arrived to put out the fire, a fireman glimpsed a young boy standing in the cemetery who turned away and disappeared. There is no date in her report of when this fire occurred.
The late local historian and author, J. Hurley Hagood, wrote a story about the church history after a fire that occurred on April 18, 1982 destroying the wooden parts of the building including the roof, floor, window and door frames. This fire was believed to have been started by vandals.
The current caretaker of the cemetery, Tim Hayden, remembers a time when there would be “100 cars lined up on the dirt road in front of the church waiting their turn to hear Johnny scream.” He has never experienced anything ghostly at the church and cemetery, and claims the screams were actually teenagers trying to scare their friends (this is corroborated by many locals). Some are convinced that the screams came from a cougar trapped in nearby White Bear Caves.
Many, though, believe that they have heard the spirit of Johnny screaming and nothing will convince them otherwise. There have also been a few paranormal encounters reported by some of the people who have homes near Screaming Johnny’s.
After my recent visits and the images I captured, I have to agree that something resides in the Old School Baptist Church building.
My first visit was late on a Saturday night. I took many photos capturing numerous orbs in most of them. As I was leaving, I walked out of the church, down the sidewalk and to the road. I turned around to take a final photo of the doorway. In the photo, there is very obviously at least one image standing in the doorway looking at me. He appears to have dark hair and is wearing a hat of some kind. I didn’t discover this until I was home looking at the photos on my computer; but, I did not feel any negative energy during my visit.
Ava and Doug Potterfield of Aegis Investigations checked out the location a night or two after my visit. They did see shadow figures and felt a negative energy. They were not comfortable staying there for long.
A few nights later, I returned and took more photos. Nothing strange occurred while I was in the church building, but when I got home and started going through the photos I began to notice a black misty shadow appearing about halfway through the photos and continuing until the end.