With its sweeping plains and fields of wheat and sunflowers, Kansas has long been known for its rich agricultural tradition. As Mysterious Heartland has found, Kansas has a rich tradition of folklore and ghost stories as well. From haunted dunes and hollows to the infamous Sallie House and Potwin Place, the Sunflower State has more than its fair share of supernatural destinations. Which will prove to be the most haunted of them all?
10. Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery
Fort Leavenworth is the oldest continually operating military post west of the Mississippi River, and its cemetery has been in use since at least 1844. Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery was officially established in 1862 and contains the remains of over 20,000 United States soldiers. Oddly, the ghosts said to haunt this hallowed ground are not service men. One of the oldest legends concerns Catherine Sutter, an early pioneer whose children became lost in a winter storm while looking for firewood. Catherine searched in vain all winter long, before succumbing to pneumonia. Her ghost has been seen wandering the cemetery grounds, wearing a calico dress and black shawl. Sometimes she is holding a lantern, and other times only her voice can be heard calling out for her children. The other ghost is that of an American Indian named Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce. He was incarcerated at the fort in 1877, and his apparition has been seen in the cemetery.
9. Molly’s Hollow
For a better part of the 20th Century, a sorrowful tree stood in a hollow in Jackson Park along the Missouri River. A local foundry filled in the hollow at the end of the 1980s, but it could not remove the legend whispered there. Molly, it is said, was a slave in the days of “Bleeding Kansas.” Her master was a little too affectionate towards her for the liking of local women, so a mob lynched her in the branches of a gnarled tree. On certain nights, her unearthly screams could still be heard. In a more recent version of the tale, Molly and her boyfriend get into a vicious argument at the park, and her boyfriend drives off. Left alone in the dark, Molly hung herself from a nearby tree. Her spectral form is seen swaying in the branches, and of course, passersby can still hear her screams.
8. St. Jacob’s Well
Clark County, Kansas
Located about 36 miles south of Dodge City in the Big Basin Prairie Reserve, St. Jacob’s Well is a deceptively quiet pool of water about 30 yards across and 18 feet deep. It is a sinkhole formed by centuries of eroding rock, and in the past, it was believed to be near bottomless. It is said that dozens of visitors have lowered weighted rope into its depths to try and find the bottom. According to Lisa Hefner Heitz, author of Haunted Kansas, its depth may have changed over the years, due to geological shifts. There are several legends attached to the well, including a spectral cowboy that was seen in the 1890s. The cowboy and his horse emitted “the most blood-curdlingest sound ever made on this here earth.” More than one body is believed to lie at the bottom of St. Jacob’s Well, including that of an Irishman named John Jordan, who disappeared in 1889. An old house, located near St. Jacob’s Well on the north rim of Big Basin, was also rumored to be haunted. Though abandoned, lights flashed in its windows on a nightly basis.
7. The Sallie House
This unassuming home on N. 2nd Street was the scene of alarming poltergeist activity in the 1990s at the hands of the ghost of a young girl nicknamed “Sallie.” Built between 1867 and 1871, it was occupied by members of the Finney family for a century. Debra and Tony Pickman rented the home for nearly two years beginning in 1993. Almost immediately, they began experiencing strange activity. Their dog barked at nothing, there were electronic disturbances, and their child’s toys seemed to rearrange themselves. The activity soon accelerated, and several small fires broke out. Tony Pickman seemed to be the focus of the attacks—his arm, back, or stomach was scratched on several occasions. Each time, a cold spot would proceed the attack. It was believed that Sallie had died at the hands of a doctor who had his office in the home in the early 1900s, and that her ghost was lashing out at Tony because he was a man. The home had previously been occupied by a single lady from the 1950s to the early 1990s. Television shows like Sightings, A Haunting, and Unexplained Mysteries have all featured the Sallie House. The Sightings crew purportedly filmed Tony Pickman being scratched by the ghost. Since the Pickmans moved out, the paranormal activity has died down.
6. Theorosa’s Bridge
Valley Center, Kansas
Officially known as the 109th Street Bridge, this concrete bridge spans Jester Creek in a rural area about three miles north of Valley Center (itself just north of Wichita). It is an early example of a “crybaby bridge.” The original bridge was wood, with iron trestles. That bridge burnt twice in the 1970s, and for many years the crossing was closed and overtaken by weeds and partygoers. There are several versions of the legend of Theorosa’s Bridge. In one, a party of pioneers was ambushed by Indians. The Indians carried off a child named Theorosa, and her mother, driven mad with grief, wandered the creek crying out for her baby. In another version, a woman named Theorosa gave birth to an illegitimate child and drowned it in the creek under the bridge. The baby’s cries can be heard to this day. A new bridge was constructed over Jester Creek in 1991, but tales of cold spots, ghostly shapes, disembodied cries, and unexplained car trouble remain.
5. Hutchinson Public Library
The Hutchinson Public Library was established in 1901 and is allegedly haunted by a former librarian named Ida Day. In life, Ida Day was famous for her seriousness and stoic demeanor, qualities that followed her beyond the grave. She is mainly spotted in the basement, particularly in the southwest corner, where phantom footsteps, cold spots, and whispers are experienced. In one disturbing encounter described by author Lisa Hefner Heitz, a stern old woman confronted a new librarian from the shadows below the stairs. When the librarian replied, the ghost dissolved into the darkness. Not every sighting is as frightening. According to one local resident, “They say that if you are in that library alone you can sometimes see her walking around, or looking and/or sorting books. They say that she is not harmful and she won’t bother you.”
4. Hamburger Hill
Since at least the 1950s, visitors to the sand hills north of Hutchinson have been careful not to stray too far from the hiking trails, lest they encounter the deformed figure of Hamburger Man. Half ghost, half monster, the Hamburger Man has stalked his way through local legend for several generations. It is said that he kidnaps his victims and drags them to his ramshackle shack deep within Sand Hills State Park. His weapon of choice is either a large curved knife or hook. He grinds his victims into hamburger meat. There is some disagreement regarding his physical existence. Some say he is a ghost, others that he is an actual, living hermit who was horribly disfigured in a fire. If Hamburger Man was living at one time, however, he probably is not anymore, given how long the legend has been told. Lisa Hefner Heitz, author of Haunted Kansas, agrees. She wrote, “Although he is commonly perceived as being more ghastly than ghostly, it seems safe to place this monstrous man in or on the fringes of the ghost category.” Regardless, stories of the Hamburger Man of the sand hills will continue to terrify locals for generations to come.
3. Potwin Place
This picturesque Victorian home in Topeka’s historic Potwin Place district has been haunted since 1972, when its owners began renovations. The paranormal events started with a strange slapping or ringing sound on the wooden floors. Both Dorothy Gardner and her sister reported hearing heavy breathing and felt something pushing down on their mattresses at night. Once, while hanging new wallpaper in the west bedroom, Dorothy heard a man’s voice say, “You’re doing a nice job.” Items also went missing and then randomly reappeared without explanation.
2. Kansas State University
Established in 1863 as Kansas State Agricultural College, Kansas State University is one of the oldest universities in Kansas. It has a student population of around 24,000, and is known as a research institution. It was the second public institution of higher learning to admit women and men equally in the United States. Though its students are focused on the sciences, behind closed doors they whisper about several ghostly happenings around campus. The Purple Masque Theater is believed to be haunted by the ghost of a Wildcat football player named Nick who was fatally injured during a game. According to Tom Ogden, author of Haunted Colleges and Universities, his footsteps have been heard throughout the theater, and he is known to cause all kinds of mischief, including rearranging chairs, playing loud music at night, setting off fire extinguishers, and spilling paint. There are two haunted fraternity houses on campus, the Pi Kappa Phi and Delta Sigma Phi houses. At Pi Kappa Phi, the angry spirit of a pledge named Duncan expresses his displeasure over removal of a paddle leftover from the days the house was used by Theta Xi. Delta Sigma Phi occupies a former hospital, and its ghosts are leftover from those days. One, a nurse, continues her rounds in the afterlife. The other, George, was the last patient to die at the hospital, and he makes himself known by rearranging furniture and generally making a nuisance of himself.
1. Stull Cemetery
A crumbling stone church and a lonely cemetery outside this tiny rural community are the focus of a terrifying legend. It is said that witches and occult groups use the old church for their dark rituals. A gnarled pine tree formerly stood in the cemetery until it was struck by lightning and cut down. The tree was allegedly used to hang witches in the 1800s. Stull reportedly has a strange history. Near a long-forgotten trail named “Devil’s Road,” a man accidentally set fire to his own son, killing him. Another man was found hanged from a tree by the side of the road. The main story, however, concerns a flight of stone stairs hidden in the woods near the church. According to legend, the entrance to the stairs opens up on Halloween and the Spring Equinox. Anyone unfortunate enough to locate and descend the stairs will find a gateway to Hell at the bottom. According to one bizarre report, “The devil reportedly makes a personal appearance in the cemetery on Halloween at midnight to visit the grave of a witch with whom the devil had a child. Their child is said to materialize in the surrounding woods, taking on the form of a werewolf.”
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