Sunday, October 31, 2010

halloween haunts

Here are a few of the supposedly haunted locations I hit up this week. I'm probably going to continue hunting for ghosts periodically throughout the year - it's too much fun to save it all for Halloween week, and besides, I didn't end up catching one. Yet.

Jack Gage American Tavern 

I was really fucking excited when a photograph of the stairs in this allegedly haunted bar showed a white, moldy looking orb. With an extensive history as a gay bar, a furrier, a dry cleaner, and a sketchy, smelly Chinese restaurant that I’m convinced was really a front where people were getting whacked upstairs while I was choking down gummy crab Rangoon downstairs, it would make sense that the place be brimming with various specters. 

When it re-opened last year as Jack Gage, who was a boxing promoter in the 1920s, staff reported hearing mysterious footsteps, and speculation began that it was either the ghost of Gage or the many cats Double Dragon cooked up in their Chinese cuisine. It is common knowledge, after all, that when old buildings get remodeled the spirits get pissed the fuck off. Unfortunately, according to the Missouri Paranormal Society, orbs are not usually evidence of otherworldly wanderers but are instead due to dust or moisture in the air. So, you know. Fuck.

Sauer Castle

Located in a quiet Kansas City, Kansas, neighborhood, Sauer Castle is an ominous-looking mansion that has been abandoned since the mid-1980s. Built by German immigrant Anton Sauer in 1872, the castle has a long, dark history just begging to be enhanced with ghost stories. 

Four members of the Sauer family died on the property – Sauer’s daughter, Helen; his great granddaughter, who drowned; his son-in-law, who shot himself; and Sauer himself, of tuberculosis. There is also a legend that one of the former owners killed his entire family before throwing himself from the castle’s tower. Visitors have reported seeing a woman, most likely Sauer's wife, Mary, wandering along the upstairs balcony, as well as hearing howling and moaning coming from the house at night.

The first time I visited Sauer Castle was with my friend Danny after dark, and I considered jumping the fence but was deterred by signs warning me to beware of the dog and letting me know there was an armed guard on duty. I decided it was kind of not worth the risk. I went back during the day a couple of days later, and as I was peering through the fence I was startled by a man’s voice.

“Be careful of that fence there,” he said. “There’s grease on it.”

I couldn’t see him anywhere, so I assumed he was on the screened-in porch next door.

“I’m just taking pictures,” I said, to which he responded by letting loose a string of angry, incomprehensible gibberish. Worried he might be the armed guard referenced on the sign, I ran to my car and sped away.

Strawberry Hill Mansion Museum

The Strawberry Hill Mansion Museum in Kansas City, Kansas, has sat proudly atop Strawberry Hill for 123 years. Originally constructed in 1887 as the dream home of John and Margaret Scroggs, the house later became an orphanage for kids whose parents died in the 1918 flu epidemic. The orphanage was run by the nuns of the neighboring St. John’s Parish. 

One of the most prominent poltergeists is known as the “lady in red,” a homeless woman the nuns took in who died during a botched abortion. She appears wearing a bloodied, red 1940s-style dress, and before she disappears she always asks, “Where is the house of the priest?” One woman also encountered an angry male figure on the third floor. His full apparition supposedly chased her all the way down the stairs to the front door. Children’s spirits also linger from the orphanage days.

When Danny and I visited, the house was closed, so we wandered aimlessly into the basement of St. John’s, where they were holding some kind of bowling league. Yes, there’s a bowling alley in the basement of the creepy old church next to the haunted mansion, and it’s awesome. We had a beer at the bar (yes, there's also a bar – that’s a Catholic church for you) and considered swiping a couple of sausages from the snack table before hitting our next destination.

This Kansas City, Kansas, bar isn’t haunted - at least not as far as I can tell - but it is owned by practicing witches – bottles of “witch stuff,” according to the bartender, hang from the wall beside shelves filled with bottles of liquor. Also, these photos of an antique cash register and crazy dog wallpaper are too awesome not to share. The bartender even showed us a sweatshirt they have for sale that has a portion of the dog design embroidered on the chest.

John Wornall House Museum

Each year around Halloween, this Civil War-era homestead turned museum offers candlelight ghost tours, allowing visitors to wander the haunted halls with handheld lanterns while the tour guide shares spooky and sometimes disturbing stories about the home’s history. 

Built by wealthy politician John Wornall for his wife, Eliza, the home was at the center of the Civil War conflict known as the Battle of Westport. During the battle, wounded soldiers were constantly coming in and out of the house, and many of them died there. Doctors performed surgery in what is now the dining room, hacking off wounded men’s limbs and tossing them out the window. The adjoining room is where they stacked the corpses; the tour guide described the ambiance as “quiet and heavy.”

Eliza Wornall apparently loved the place so goddamn much she never left, and she’s now one of the resident ghosts. She supposedly sticks around because she’s angry that after her death John married her hated cousin, Roma, who was her exact opposite – where Eliza was conservative and calm, Roma was a wild and lively party girl. 

Two children also refuse to leave their upstairs bedroom. During one tour the museum director heard knocking coming from within the armoire. She was convinced one of the living children on the tour had snuck inside and was playing a prank, but when she flung open the doors, the armoire was empty. After she shut the doors, the knocking immediately resumed, and that’s when that particular tour ended, as everyone was scared shitless.

Jason and I didn’t encounter any ghosts on our tour – they’ve been known to pull on visitors’ clothes and escort the ladies up the stairs with icy hands – but we did meet a couple of Civil War re-enactors, one of whom told us he has walking pneumonia but still sleeps on the ground in a primitive tent several weekends a year because he’s “just an old fool who don’t know no better.” We also met some ghost hunters from the Missouri Paranormal Society, who apparently allow guests to come along on their excursions. And if you don’t think I’m all over that invitation, you’re dead wrong.

Halloween night
I dressed up as legendarily drunk and toothless Pogues front man Shane MacGowan. And I played the part well – holy Jesus god did I get hammered.

The real deal:


It was kind of fun being the Irish rover for a night, although I don't think my skin, hair, inner organs and desire for gainful employment could take it on a regular basis.

Friday, October 29, 2010

day 51: i went on the first leg of an if not haunted at least very creepy car ride

A towering memorial to the citizens of Rosedale, Kansas, who "answered their country's call and served under arms for the triumph of right over might in the world war," according to the inscription, the Rosedale Memorial Arch is also apparently a romantic hideout. 

When I pulled into the small, secluded parking lot, I found a middle-aged couple making out on the hood of a car, the woman's legs wrapped around the man's waist. After I parked, they quickly parted, and they were gone less than a minute later.

The arch was the first stop on a haunted car ride pioneered by Susan, my amazing former Johnson County Community College Writing Center co-worker. It was easy to see why she picked it: a plaque beneath the arch lists the Rosedale veterans who gave their lives in World War I, the first conflict in which biological warfare became a thing (mustard gas at the Battle of Ypres). 

Standing in front of the arch, which was dedicated in 1924, was more baffling than anything - I have lived in Kansas City for seven years, and I've only ever seen the memorial from a distance from the highway, and I never knew its purpose. Finally encountering it up close felt like a whispered reminder of a forgotten era.

Next the tour took me through Rosedale Park, where my friend E. and I wandered aimlessly on Cinco de Mayo circa 2002 and were pursued by two much-older men who followed us out of the parking lot and down the street, all the while honking and signaling at us to pull over. We had to run a red light to get the fuck away from them.

Unofficially known as "monkey brix," the second scary stop was in the yard of a small Kansas City, Kansas, home. It was practically legendary among those who had been on the tour - "ask Susan about the place with the monkey skulls," they'd say cryptically. And though it had been boarded over due to vandalism (another fine example of a few assholes ruining it for everyone), a couple of stone monkey heads still managed to peek over the top of the wooden fence. From what I could gather, it was a man-sized wall composed entirely of leering monkey heads.

Haunted? Maybe, maybe not. Disturbing and unsettling? Fuck yeah. But I'm still searching for a ghost. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

day 50: i couldn't get into epperson house

While still a student at UMKC, I wandered into a building I did not at the time know was haunted. But no fucking around, this place was creepy – I went in initially because I had to pee, and I found the toilet next to a hissing steam heater similar to the one that was in my cheap apartment at the time.

I can’t say what about the place gave me the jibblies, but it reminded me of the room in my grandmother’s farmhouse next to the attic stairs. My cousins and I called it the "game room," and it was filled with antique home decorations, assorted junk, an air-pump church organ, and a foosball table with the players’ painted faces fading. We would drink sodas and eat chips with our winter coats on, knocking moldy plastic balls back and forth between the conjoined feet of moldy plastic men until our mothers called us to bed. 

Despite being seriously in need of a deep cleaning, there was nothing specific about the room that should have caused me to close my eyes and hold my breath whenever I found myself alone in there. There was just... something about it.

After a few moments in the steam-heated bathroom, most likely en route to some ill-studied Shakespeare course, I ran down the stairs and out the door, convinced I’d accidentally stumbled into some kind of secret club for murderers and satanists, or some other forbidden place. I couldn't wait to go back and explore.

While hunting for ghosts, I’ve determined that I’m not the only one enchanted by Epperson House, the 91-year-old Gothic Tudor mansion at 52nd and Cherry on the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus. The former homestead is acknowledged as one of the most haunted houses in Missouri, having appeared on Unsolved Mysteries and earning a spot on the National Register of Haunted Places.

One of the resident ghosts is former owner Uriah Spray Epperson, who witnesses claim to have seen shambling down the hallways, as well as his "adopted daughter" Harriet, who was ten years older than Uriah's wife, Elizabeth, and whose adoption was never formalized. At the time of Harriet's death, she was overseeing the construction of a massive pipe organ, which was never completed. When UMKC music students used the space in the 1970s, many of them reported seeing Harriet wearing a blue evening gown and singing or crying while clutching a baby to her chest, or hearing organ music coming from the pool area in the basement.


Perhaps the creepiest story came from a security guard in 1979, who was rear-ended in the parking lot at night and whose experiences were reported in the Kansas City Star. He got out to see who had hit him, but there was no one there, car nor person. And though he had heard the sound of shattering glass, there was no damage to his car. It had, however, moved forward about eight inches, as evidenced by the skid marks on the pavement.

Unfortunately, when I arrived Epperson House was locked from all sides, and peering in the windows provided a bland view of ladders, paint cans and random trash, with UMKC's architecture and urban development departments having vacated the building in July. In other words, I’m batting 0 for 2 on my ghost hunting tour, although peeking in the windows like a common creeper did give me chills.

Five days left. I’m still searching for a ghost.

Monday, October 25, 2010

day 49: i began searching for a ghost

I have probably driven by Union Cemetery hundreds of times without knowing it. Hidden behind several trendy condo and apartment buildings between Warwick and McGee streets, the small, wooden sign pointing the way to the entrance is easy to miss if you're not looking for it. So too is the entrance itself, a rusted, wrought-iron gate chained shut with a standard-issue padlock.


And you're goddamn right I would've scaled the fence had Johnny "young professional condo owner" McDouchebag not been drinking a Bud Light and talking loudly into his cell phone on a porch overlooking the gate. I stopped with my fingers wrapped around the top of the fence and my foot lodged on a crossbeam, assuming the residents of these buildings don't take kindly to graveyard explorers and/or robbers. 

Only a few years ago I would've overlooked the threat of a misdemeanor trespassing charge, but I just turned 28, dammit, so now I'm goddamn mature and stuff. I know better than to break and enter in plain sight. I should totally wait until after dark to jump the fence, and probably bring a boy. (Gonna happen later this week.)


As I dig into Kansas City's seedy, ghost-ridden underbelly, Union Cemetery seemed an obvious stop on my tour. Founded in 1857 after a cholera epidemic killed off shitloads of people in Westport and Kansas City, maxing out the capacity of both cemeteries, Union was named for its location between the two towns and was intended to house both their dead. At the time, no one knew the 49-acre plot of land would eventually end up at the center of a bustling downtown district.


The sexton's cottage has caught fire twice in its 153-year history, destroying many records and leaving many weathered wood and limestone grave markers unmarked and undocumented. As I peeked in between the posts of the tall iron gates while rush hour traffic zipped by behind me, I realized this only adds to the cemetery's mysterious appeal, much like a blurred face in a photograph or a letter with sentences erased. After all, everyone wants to be remembered, but no one wants to be discovered marred or unwhole.


My photos of Union aren't as intense as I'd hoped. But what exactly had I hoped? To see a ghostly face peering from behind a tree? A skeletal hand stretching upward out of the earth? A glowing orb floating eerily above a grave? Well, yeah. The Union Cemetery Historical Society does, after all, claim to have electronic voice phenomena recordings of the grounds' otherworldly wanderers (albeit under a section titled "just for fun").


Luckily there are still six days of Halloween week left. And goddammit, I'm searching for a ghost.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

day 48: i caught fall as it fell

Right now, Halloween week, is when the trees in my parents' yard typically catch fire with the colors of fall. I always intend to take photos but through laziness or forgetfulness fail to do so. And I am still both lazy and forgetful, but today I accidentally remembered the camera, so here are some of the badass vibrant trees. 

"The Spring and the Fall" 
By Edna St. Vincent Millay


In the spring of the year, in the spring of the year,
I walked the road beside my dear.
The trees were black where the bark was wet.
I see them yet, in the spring of the year.
He broke me a bough of the blossoming peach
That was out of the way and hard to reach.



In the fall of the year, in the fall of the year,
I walked the road beside my dear.
The rooks went up with a raucous trill.
I hear them still, in the fall of the year.
He laughed at all I dared to praise,
And broke my heart, in little ways.

Year be springing or year be falling,
The bark will drip and the birds be calling.
There's much that's fine to see and hear
In the spring of a year, in the fall of a year.
'Tis not love's going hurt my days.
But that it went in little ways.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

day 47: i returned to the scene of the crime

When I was 18, I worked at BD's Mongolian Barbecue, which is neither Mongolian nor barbecue (talk amongst yourselves). It is to date the worst job I've ever had.

In addition to refilling any number of sticky, smelly buffet meats so suburban parents and their gooey-handed children could shovel it in their faces until they felt the $14 all-you-can-eat price tag was stretched as tightly as the patent leather belts holding up their khakis, I also stood behind a round, metal grill and hacked said meat into bite-size, well-done pieces with two wooden sticks. For these miserable tasks I got paid a measly $6 an hour.

So naturally when a serving position opened up, I jumped on it, finally being old enough to legally transport booze the ten feet from bar to table. I anticipated hefty tips, fat paychecks, and after-work cocktails with co-workers, with whom I could commiserate about the 15-year-old busboy who kept trying to make out with me in the walk-in fridge.

Instead I quickly discovered my personality did not mesh with providing top-notch customer service to people who act like entitled asshats. Not only am I shy and easily annoyed, I'm also bad at faking any emotion, be it a perpetually welcoming smile or a desire to keep serving you after your screaming child has spilled two drinks and covered a ten-foot radius of floorspace around his seat with slobbery cheerios. Seriously - fuck that.

There was also the problem of the shift manager, a 30-something brunette who had worked there for nearly a decade (and as far as I know, still does) and who was obviously bitter about how her life had turned out. Every chance she got she was out back sucking on cigarettes, and I don't think I ever saw her smile unless it was some horribly forced ordeal intended only to earn tips.

Admittedly, my first shift as a server did not go well - I confused at least two cocktail orders, forgot about one table entirely, and could not hide my annoyance when cheerios kid started shredding tortillas and leaving them stuck to the table in slobbery strips. Eager to get the hell out of there, I was finishing up my side work filling salt and pepper shakers before going out to my car and screaming. I hoped to escape without saying anything to anyone.

But then the shift bitch approached holding two salt shakers, and a current of dread surged through my body. 

"See this?" she said, holding the shaker I had just finished filling at eye level. "This is not full." Then she lifted the other, which she had presumably filled herself. "See this? This is full." She gestured at all of the tables in my section with a broad, sweeping motion. "Go back and do it again, and this time make sure they're full."

I was so shocked I couldn't do anything but numbly refill each (already full) shaker. Then I went to the bathroom and cried. And I didn't go back to work the next day, nor the day after that.


salt shaker of doom

Monday, October 18, 2010

day 46: i considered the downsides

In light of my recent and very necessary decision to take a brief hiatus from booze, I've recorded some of the reasons drinking sucks.

5 things it sucks to do sober:
  1. Socializing with large groups of people and/or people you don't know very well and/or people you think are cooler than you.
  2. Singing karaoke.
  3. Spending the night anywhere without a bed or a toothbrush.
  4. Dancing.
  5. Cooking dinner, cleaning the cat box or watching football.
get laid glasses
partying at the Red Balloon circa 2006.
those are the "I'ma gonna get laid tonight" glasses.
i found them on the sidewalk.

5 things it sucks to do drunk:
  1. Going through your phone book and dialing up anyone you think might be thrilled to hear from you at 1 a.m. on a Wednesday, which happens to be everyone.
  2. Buying a frozen pizza, covering it in hot sauce and eating the whole thing in bed.
  3. Getting to that "special kind of drunk where you're a better driver because you know you're drunk, you know, the kind of drunk where you probably shouldn't drive, but you do anyways because, I mean come on, you got to get your car home, right?" -Peter Griffin, Family Guy
  4. Encountering the cops under any circumstances.
  5. Doing yoga.
5 things it sucks to do hungover:
  1. Sitting up straight.
  2. Wearing pants.
  3. Taking a shower.
  4. Communicating in any terms more complex than grunts and whimpers.
  5. Eating five tortillas covered with melted cheese and salsa followed by an entire box of rice noodles because there's nothing else in your fridge and your hunger is deep and insatiable.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

grateful and 28-ful

My mom, still beautiful in her 60s, is fond of saying that having another birthday is better than the alternative. And in the weeks leading up to my 28th birthday, I would grumble and agree only begrudgingly, shocked that the gradual, stealthy approach of my late twenties has left me clinging white-knuckled to my youth as I struggle to avoid the gaping maw of the big 3-0.

But last Wednesday, the night before my birthday, I went to yoga class, and while mired in the pain of a three-minute forward fold I was reminded of the importance of being grateful. Sure, getting older is stupid and I'd rather be 21 forever (who wouldn't), but on this fucked-up journey I'm also surrounded by a whole lot of luck and a whole lot of awesome.

Why I'm grateful at 28

1. My friends know I can veer a bit toward the "not so much" side of sane, but they seem to like me anyway. I would be lost without their endless kindness, e-mails, lunch dates, travel plans, and numerous trips to Glace (pictured below).


2. My boyfriend is smart, sexy, kind and encouraging. And probably the funniest person I know - he says things that will make me laugh all over again 20 minutes after the fact (he calls it "deep comedy"). In the three years we've been together, he has changed my life for the better in so many ways.

3. My parents and my brother would probably do just about anything for me, as I would for them. I'm extremely lucky to have such a reliable source of love and security.

4. My cats, Bubba Lee Kinsey and Phoenix, literally amaze me daily. (Pictured below: I totally caught them snuggling. Bubba is the big gray tabby; Fifi is the calico.)

fifi and the blk

5. In this shit economy I have a good-enough-for-now job that allows me to write, be creative and afford my own place, which is at times claustrophobically small but where I can experience the joys of eating sandwiches in bed, leaving my Christmas tree up all year, and draining a six-pack of pumpkin beer on the porch on a weeknight.

6. I am in the best goddamn shape of my life. Not even during my days as a whiny aspiring high school sprinter have I been this ass-kickingly buff. By summer I will have a six-pack. (And this time I'm not talking beer.)

7. My godson is one hell of a little dude (and his mom is one of my favorite people as well). I can't wait to watch him grow up and introduce him to the mindfuck of Royals baseball (no, really - it will make him stronger).

8. I am healthy and I have access to clean water and food. So many people can't say the same.

9. Cheese is delicious. I am really stupidly thankful for cheese.

10. I love that my mind can still be blown. Most recently I stood in horrified awe of the bulbous, bulging starfish on the columns beneath a pier in Seattle (pictured below).