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AAA World Article

Fear Factors - Kansas Haunting

’Tis the season to scare yourself silly at a variety of haunted sites in Kansas and Missouri.

By Melinda Schnyder

AAA World Article

The Beast haunted house in West Bottoms
Photo by Melinda Schnyder

Mike Barton, a sheriff in southeastern Missouri, is trying to shake off the goosebumps. He’s with 25 colleagues on a tour of the privately owned, city-operated Sallie House in Atchison, Kansas, an uninhabited 148-year-old house known around the world for its documented paranormal activity.

During their annual conference, held in rotating destinations, the group has a tradition of exploring local historic sites known to be haunted. This year, the group drove 40 miles from Kansas City to Atchison to tour Sallie House and eat at Paolucci’s, a fourth-generation business with 125 years of history and enough ghost stories that in 2017 The Food Network rated it among the country’s most haunted restaurants.

Although Barton has toured many places reputed to be haunted, he says his visit to Sallie House marks the first time he’s had a personal encounter with a spirit.

Atchison, Kansas, Sallie House group on back porch
A tour group at Sallie House 
Photo by Melinda Schnyder

Upstairs in the nursery, one of the guide’s ghost-hunting devices has been chirping and illuminating to signal energy disturbances and fluctuations that could indicate that spirits are present. Although they’ve been untouched, toys that need to be turned on or pushed have startled the group with a burst of sound several times. In addition, an electronic voice phenomena (EVP) analyzer has been delivering words audibly and visually, allegedly communication translated from the spirits.

Many of the words have connected to Barton, including his brother’s name and the site of his recent vacation. Photos he took with his phone—when it’s not mysteriously freezing up or shutting down—include some eerie orbs of light.

“Just five minutes in the room with so many unexplainable things makes me wonder what would happen with an overnight stay,” he says while taking a break from the tour. “It’s pretty spooky. I like it,” he adds.

Atchison earned the title of most haunted town in Kansas in the 1997 book Haunted Kansas: Ghost Stories and Other Eerie Tales, and more than two decades later, interest remains high in visiting the Missouri River town’s architectural and historic landmarks and their accompanying spirits. The boom in paranormal TV shows and podcasts has contributed to Atchison’s peculiar popularity, but so, too, has the city’s efforts to embrace its haunted side.

 Mclnteer Villa Child Room
Child’s room display in McInteer Villa
Photo by Melinda Schnyder

There’s a packed schedule in Atchison this September and October of activities for those interested in history and mystery as well as for those who consider themselves hardcore paranormal investigators. Go as grim as staying overnight (in a sleeping bag on the floor) at the Sallie House or at the privately owned and operated 1889 McInteer Villa. New owners of the stately McInteer mansion have filled it with period furnishings that match the original ornate woodwork and stained glass, and they cultivate its ghastly past that includes at least eight documented deaths.

If you’re not up for staying the night, you can see the inside of both homes during a self-guided tour not meant for those bringing ghost-hunting equipment. Or, join in one of the scheduled events featuring mediums or paranormal researchers.

Want to keep a little distance? Hear ghost stories from a comfortable spot on the large front porch at Tuck U Inn at Glick Mansion Bed & Breakfast, across the street from the Sallie House. Trolley and bus tours, along with walking tours, take you past businesses and Victorian residences while describing the buildings’ architecture, history and mysteries, both human and otherworldly. That includes the disappearance of aviator and Atchison native Amelia Earhart, one of the great unsolved mysteries of the 20th century.

See a full schedule at visitatchison.com/haunted-atchison.

St. Joseph, Missouri
About 30 miles northeast of Atchison across the Missouri River, the Glore Psychiatric Museum in St. Joseph can be disconcerting even on a regular visit during daylight. As you’re exploring four floors of exhibits covering centuries of often-brutal mental health treatments, you’re also wandering the halls and rooms of what was originally State Lunatic Asylum No. 2.

Glore Psychiatric Museum electro shock therapy exhibit
Exhibit at Glore Psychiatric Museum
Photo by Melinda Schnyder

Once each October, you can stay overnight and participate in a paranormal investigation at the former state hospital that first opened in 1874. On October 5 this year, visitors will be able to hunt ghosts and tour tunnels in addition to exploring the museum’s regular exhibits. The event also includes dinner and a movie before lights out (bring a sleeping bag or air mattress) as well as breakfast in the morning. Details are available at stjosephmuseum.org.

Kansas City metro area
Kansas City’s scream scene is notable because the family that helped develop the concept of commercial haunted houses is still running them there. Amber Arnett-Bequeaith said her parents and grandparents started the metro’s first commercial haunted attraction in 1974 as a way to extend the use of props, costumes and theatrical experience from their outdoor theater’s short summer season. 

Today, the family business operates three haunts in century-old warehouses within the West Bottoms district, once the center of the city’s steamship and railroad trade. Macabre Cinema, The Edge of Hell and The Beast are elaborate themed productions playing out on multiple floors with hundreds of live actors and animatronics surrounded by realistic props and unnerving special effects. The venues generally open in mid-September and operate through the weekend after Halloween. Visit kcbeast.com for this year’s schedule.
 
Kansas City Mo Killer clown outside Macabre Cinema in West Bottoms
A frightening clown entices patrons to Macabre Cinema.
Photo by David Arbogast/ Visit KC

Also in the West Bottoms district is The Basement, year-round live-action escape rooms that opened in 2018. The plot—you must escape from the basement or the study of the cannibalistic serial killer’s dead mother—along with the gory props and the creepy actor deliver a horror vibe.

In Kansas City, Missouri, Halloween Haunt takes place at Worlds of Fun on Fridays and Saturdays in October. The theme park presents the tame Great Pumpkin Fest for the younger crowd during daylight hours and unleashes extreme haunts, mazes and 400 roaming monsters in the evening.In Bonner Springs, Kansas,  about a 30-minute drive west of downtown Kansas City, Exiled Trail of Terrors takes you on a one-mile wooded hike with frightening scenes such as a lobotomy lab and a school bus crash. It is open Thursday through Sunday evenings in October.

October events and activities offer something for all ages and interests, whether you want your mystery based on actual history or you’re just after a good scare.


This article originally appeared in the September/October 2019 edition of AAA World.


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