I grew up in a small town about 45 minutes northeast of Atchison, so my riding buddies and I used to make several trips there to party at The Warf, The Hilltop, and other long forgotten bars. Although we had some scary late night rides home, I had no idea Atchison was such a haunted town.
I knew it was an old town, dating back to the 1800's, and I knew it was the birthplace of Amelia Earhart, but until I saw “Haunted Atchison” featured on the Travel Channel, I had no idea it was also famous for its “spirited” past.
If you want to experience Haunted Atchison for yourself, I recommend firing up your bike and heading up State Highway 7 north on the Kansas side. You’ll ride past the Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, which is scary enough on its own, before pulling into Atchison on the south end of town.
Once you get there, hop on the “Creepy-Crawly Trolley” for a 50-minute tour to see for yourself why Atchison is known as “the most haunted town in Kansas.” The tour will take you past dozens of Victorian homes, while your guide tells you about the unexplained mysteries inside. After the tour, you can even venture inside one of the homes for an added thrill. Transportation to the home is not provided, but you can get in for only $2 when you show your “Haunted Atchison” trolley ticket. Paid reservations are required, so call 1 (800) 234-1854 today before it’s too late! For more information, check out their web site.
Now that I’ve told you how to get there and what to do, I’ll tell you a bit more about Haunted Atchison!
Sallie, the Heartland Ghost:
The most famous spirit in Atchison is Sallie, the Heartland Ghost. Not only was she featured on the Travel Channel, but also appeared on the television show, Sightings, back in the mid -1990's.
The house that Sallie haunts is a turn-of-the-century home located near the Missouri River bluffs on the northeast side of town. The home was originally owned by a doctor who lived on the upper floor of the home, while his office, surgery and examinations rooms were located downstairs. According to local folklore, Sallie was a young girl around 6 years old, who was brought into the office one day with a serious illness. There are two different versions of the story, and in one story, Sallie had been up all night with a stomach ache, which became severe. The doctor realized she was suffering from appendicitis and prepared to operate. Sallie panicked when she saw the surgical tools and the doctor held her down while giving her ether. She fought with him and was apparently not all of the way under when he made his first incision. She screamed, but fearing that her appendix would burst, was afraid to stop. Unfortunately, she died on the operating table and her last memory was that of a man whom she thought was torturing her.
The other version of the story dates back to around 1905 in which Sallie was brought to the doctor with severe respiratory problems. When she was first examined, the doctor overlooked the seriousness of her condition and she died a short time later from pneumonia. The doctor reportedly moved away from the house a few months after her death and never returned.
Sallie's haunting became famous in 1993 when the house was rented to a young newlywed couple. A short time after moving in, they realized that things were not quite right. The family dog barked and growled at what seemed to be nothing; especially around the nursery on the upper floor; lights would dim and brighten on their own; appliances would turn off and on; pictures would be found hanging upside-down on the walls; and one night, the family returned from a night out to find all of the toys in the nursery arranged in a circle in the middle of the floor.
After that evening, the harmless pranks took a violent turn as several fires broke out in the house and a series of unwarranted attacks began against the husband. The first attack occurred when he walked into the room that was once used as the doctor's surgery. He suddenly experienced a feeling of terrible cold and several long, bloody scratches appeared on his arm.
The attacks continued and left him with welts and scratches on his arms, back, chest and stomach. The scratches were often severe and would bleed profusely. Before the attack, he would report a severe drop in temperature, followed by the pain of Sallie's phantom nails or whatever was causing the injuries. Sallie never harmed the wife or the baby, and some have suggested she was punishing the young man for the wrong she felt had been done to her by the doctor.
It was later reported that the husband saw Sallie's ghost on two different occasions. Photographs taken by the couple would show streaks and other odd shapes that could not be explained. There were also photos of the marks on the young man's body, and even a video tape of them actually appearing on his skin! During a day of filming by the crew, the husband noticed a drop in temperature and suddenly the cameras filmed long, red claw marks streaking down his back.
The family lived in the house for about a year and could take it no more. They moved out, but the man still reported welts and scratches appearing on his body in their new home. Eventually, the attacks became less and less severe and then stopped altogether. Another family moved into the house and so far, Sallie has not made an appearance.
Next I’ll tell you about the Gargoyle Home. Gargoyles are traditionally constructed to stand guard over a home, keeping mischievous spirits at bay, but upon further investigation, I found out Gargoyles have been known to actually attract unwanted spirits.
When B. P. Waggener, a politician and lawyer, erected his gargoyles, rumor has it that he had something more ominous in mind. Being a wealthy man, many speculate his wealth was accumulated after a pact with Satan himself, and that the pair of grotesque figures holding court atop his lodging was arranged there in testament to the deal. An ill-fated homeowner once attempted to remove the granite Gargoyles and was pitched to his doom on the staircase. Evil forces or simply an accident? You be the judge.
Nellie Trueblood’s Home:
It's well known that apparitions are more active during remodeling of their prior homes and Nellie Trueblood, a school teacher who passed away, companionless and bereft, in her home on North 3rd street, is no exception. Nellie seems to have a knack for preventing her home from being remodeled by appearing to workers as a gleaming ball of light before hovering away. Needless to say, restoration attempts have gone on for some time, as work crews don’t seem to hang around very long.
The Munich House has its own resident spirit. The original owners of this beautiful home hosted many lavish parties over its historical past. These celebrations were so sumptuous they would often hire temporary staff from other homes to please their guests. One morning after a party, a maid fell to her death on the back stairs. Exhausted from her laborious work during the preceding night’s festivities, her presence can still be felt around the house on Sunday mornings. The lights are known to flicker on and off in her bed chamber and in the stairwell just before the aroma of bacon can be smelled from the kitchen.
Spirits have also been know to walk the streets of Atchison. On Atchison Street you might encounter the apparition of a young female who is said to frequent the gloomy waters below the banks of the Missouri River. It is said that she attempts to lure transient men to join her in her fate. Rumor has it the young woman was killed in a buggy accident when her horses were startled and detached from her surrey. She allegedly plunged into the freezing river and drowned.
Whether you ride to Atchison to visit Sallie, Nelli, or any of the other haunted places, I’m sure you’ll have a ghoulishly good time!
Story by Mike Schweder