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.
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.
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.