“The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?” Edgar Allan Poe
Sitting picturesque on the banks of the muddy Missouri River, is Atchison, Kansas. Monikered the ‘Most Haunted Town in Kansas’, it is full of spooky tales of lonely ghosts wandering the Victorian mansions, malevolent and demonic spirits terrorizing families, and more than one urban legend.
Founded in 1855 as a pro-slavery town in Kansas, Atchison has grown from a territory town to an industrial leader in the region, at one time trying to establish itself as a major railroad center, but being surpassed by neighboring Leavenworth and eventually Kansas City. The disharmony that plagued Atchison’s entrepreneurs proved their undoing, with their forces scattered instead of concentrating their efforts to establish economic trade links in all the wrong directions, and instead of partnering with Chicago for eastern connections, Atchison reached out the St. Louis, which proved to be the weakest link. Although known in it’s hey-day for its fine flour mills, car-repair shops, foundries, wooden ware, and furniture factories, it is now a town of little more than 11,000 people.
The industry barons of the late 1800s left their legacy in the beautiful mansions they built along the river bluffs. Homes that many claim are now haunted by the ghosts of their former occupants, their dreams of grandeur and unrealized contrivances leaving their indelible mark on their surroundings.
These august edifices, securely anchored in the scenic glacial hills of northern Kansas, offer a unique combination of history and elements for what is commonly known in paranormal investigations as residual hauntings.The geology of the region shows a vast presence of limestone and shale, punctuated by the Souix Quartzite, transplanted here by encroaching glaciers 600,000 years ago. Many believe that the sedentary composition of limestone combined with the magnetic properties of quartzite can trap energies. Add the presence of flowing waters from the Missouri river and the innumerable underground streams and caverns deep underneath the bluffs the homes sit on. To amplify the effect, Atchison is a crossroads. It was a major rail hub in it’s day and many of those iron tracks still run through the heart of the town. Many believe that crossroads are often portals between worlds, an opening for spirits to travel through. Take all of these ingredients and combine it all with human tragedies and unfulfilled dreams and you have the perfect recipe for hauntings.
The majority of the Atchison stories reflect residual hauntings, like that of the Muchnic House. Built in 1885, the 14 room, three story mansion was purchased by the Muchnic family in 1922. Known for their gala parties, with orchestras often entertaining up to 200 guests late into the night, they hosted many lavish parties. It was after one such party that a young maid awoke late the following morning, exhausted from her laborious work during the preceding night’s festivities, and rushed to the kitchen to assist in the preparation of the families breakfast. As she scrambled down the back stairwell, she tripped in her haste and broke her neck tumbling down the remaining steep stairs. The lights in this hallway will flicker off and on, immediately followed by a strong smell of bacon coming from the kitchen without explanation.
Urban legends abound in this quaint town of the heartland. There are stories of relocated cemeteries where local legend says over 100 bodies were never found, to a mysterious woman whose siren song from the riverbanks call men to come join her in the depths of the murky waters where her horse buggy crashed through the ice and was swept away so many years ago. Molly, the ghost that haunts Jackson Park was the victim of a hanging, whether by her own hand or that of another is unknown. Phantom trains have been seen laboring down out of service tracks and specter’s of monks have clamored about the dormitories of the small Catholic University on the north side of town.
The Glick home was originally constructed in 1873 as a Gothic Revival Victorian style home, construction on the home was continued for the next 39 years. In 1912 the home was remodeled to its current Tudor Revival Manor style by the one of the original owner’s daughters. She lived in the house until her death in 1944. Although no apparitions have been reported, strange noises, doors opening and closing and the sounds of footsteps are often reported. Today, the Glick Mansion is a Bed & Breakfast, hosting curious visitors and sometimes even television crews from across the nation.
The Waggener House is better known in the area as the Gargoyle house. Built by Balie ‘B.P.’ Waggener in 1884, a prominent attorney with the Missouri Pacific Railway Company for the State of Kansas. Balie was a well known Mason, being a Knight Templar and 32nd Degree member of the Scottish Rite as well as a Shrine member. He amassed so much wealth and power so quickly, it was said that Balie had made a deal with the devil. In reality a very generous and well-humored man, he had two iron Griffons installed on the top of his new harm to stave off evil forces.
Although the current owners profess to not having experienced any hauntings, the story of a suspicious death of a previous owner who tried to remove the Griffins from their perch was well circulated. After an unsuccessful attempt in removing what he deemed an ‘eyesore’, the new owner fell to his death on the main staircase. Although this story is unsubstantiated, ask any child on the block and they will tell you the cursed gargoyles watch you from atop the old house and that rather than ward off evil spirits, they stand as a testament to Balie Waggener’s pact with Satan himself, ‘cross my heart and hope to die’.
When the Travel Channel did a segment about haunted Atchison, Kansas, they brought two paranormal investigator two to the Waggener home who claimed to have felt the presence of ghosts and picked up the presence of ghosts on their special equipment.
In contrast to the stories of residual hauntings, Sallie’s house is a rather unremarkable domicile, almost directly across from the Glick home. Home to the ‘Heartland Ghost’, this haunting has all the hallmarks of a poltergeist, or even something more sinister. Some claim a demonic presence resides behind the simple brick walls.
In 1993, a young couple moved into the home and soon began experiencing frequent ghostly pranks, lights & appliances turning off and on, belongings scattered about As time went on, the pranks became more and more malevolent. Where once spirits were satisfied turning pictures upside down, now they seemed to have a much more evil intent. The man of the house complained of temperature drops and scratches on his body with no explanation. The television show Sightings visited the home and during the visit they filmed a scratch forming on the mans body start to bleed without anyone near to him.
Psychics claimed there were two spirits, a little girl, ‘Sallie’, and an older woman in her 30s. The final straw came for the couple when the husband was shoved with such force he almost fell over the upstairs bannister. When the couple moved out, the haunting ceased. Although many psychics have visited and claimed there is still activity in the house, the current owners do not report any problems. The Showtime movie Haunted Heartland with Beau Bridges was based upon this home.
Although by far not the most haunted house in Atchison, but the most photographed is the McInteer Villa on the west side of town. Built by an Irish immigrant, John McInteer, in 1889, the Victorian mansion has five fireplaces, a magnificent staircase and stained glass through out. The most striking feature is the tower, often pictures show the third floor tower illuminated, sometimes with a figure in the window, but there has never been any electricity ran to that part of the home. The owners tell stories of pocket doors sliding shut, not the kind wind can blow shut, and of banging and steps echoing down hallways.
Local children tell stories about a witch that used to live there. Isabel Altus, a retired professional violinist and an eccentric who lived in the home from around 1952 to 1969. She reportedly always dressed in black. The house is directly across the street from the Franklin elementary school, and many of the children would see her as they walked to and from class. Many are still scared of the witch and the house to this day.
The city of Atchison, with it’s high concentration of Victorian mansions and quaint downtown is hauntingly beautiful. While no orbs materialized as I processed my photos. I never felt scared while I was there nor did I feel threatened, but I did feel…comfortable and at ease. I felt welcome. The limestone bluffs that these edifices so gracefully perch upon, riddled with underground streams may offer all the right groundwork for the hauntings, but I can’t help but think of the personal stories behind these walls, the stories of people, and their imaginations or restless spirits, that has led to this being a ghost town hiding behind a beautiful facade of architecture. The human stories, like that of the noises that awoke a family in time to find their basement in flames and to save themselves and the house without harm . It’s always the human element that feeds the supernatural, without which, you could mix all other ingredients and still not have the right combination.
Autumn has just begun to reach out its dark fingers, draining the life from the land, the trees are bursting forth with color as they take the last gasp of summer, preparing to shed their frocks for winter. I can’t imagine this village wears any other season so well as this one and I am glad to have walked along its brick clad streets and witnessed this rare time. As I walked the streets, with leaves just then beginning to lightly dance ground wards in the chilly air, I gazed at the windows of the houses, wondering if somewhere within, a specter was gazing back at me.
The city of Atchison offers a haunted Trolley ride tour of the haunted homes in the area and although I chose to walk this tour without a guide, I recommend trying the tour out, its a lot of fun. Embracing their title, “Most Haunted City in Kansas” name, they sponsor haunted homes tours, cemetery rubbings, enchanted teas, and much more. For information and tickets for local events, go here -> clickie
To see more of the gorgeous homes of Atchison and some of the town, check out my Flickr set : clickie