Haunted Atchison is a lot more than things that go bump in the night.
Being dubbed the “Most Haunted Town in Kansas” is big business – so big that, according to Jacque Pregont, president of the local Chamber of Commerce, the haunted Atchison activities come in a close second to Amelia Earhart festivities for drawing in tourists and revenue to Atchison.
“Nobody dreamed what this would turn out to be for Atchison,” Pregont said. “And when the Travel Channel plays their feature, the phones start ringing and products like books, movies, T-shirts on Haunted Atchison just fly off the shelf the next day!”
Well, it’s things flying off shelves and around rooms that has been bringing the tourists to Atchison for almost two decades.
The title Most Haunted Town in Kansas came from the book, “Haunted Kansas” by Lisa Hefner Heitz. According to Heitz in the 1997 book, it is Atchison’s “innovative yearly salute to it least visible residents” that scored Atchison the extra points and the title Most Haunted.
And while some stories about haunted Atchison homes have surfaced since the increase in interest in the past 20 years, there are several homes that life-long residents of Atchison have known about for more than 50 years.
On Riverview Drive, a ghost seems to makes its home in the attic where a family has lived in the house for over 60 years. The ghost, whom they believe is a woman, likes to keep the windows open and her room neat. She likes to throw suitcases back down the stairs and turn on the television and radios at top volume while occupants are trying to sleep.
The story of Molly’s Hollow in Jackson Park has thrilled Atchison families for generations. No one is really sure who Molly was, or why she disappeared near the infamous Piano key ledge, but stories of have been told for years of hearing Molly scream near midnight in the area where she was allegedly hung or murdered. Some say she was a slave who spent too much time with her master and paid for it with her life. The tree is gone, and the hollow filled in but the legend – and screams – continues.
And on North Fifth Street in Atchison, a house that was once shrouded in trees and weeds was host to a ghost for three generations. The residents were even asked by town folk on a regular basis, “Have you heard from the ghost lately?” On the Haunted Trolley tour, it is referred to as the Tea Cup or Tea-making ghost.
“From the time I was a child, I remember my grandparents talking about the ghost, but in a very casual way,” said Edwina White, granddaughter of the Berridges who lived with ghost. “They were never afraid and were most amused by it.”
The tea cup story, she remembers, was one of their favorites. They were returning from a long day at an out-of-town wedding. When they got in the house, the tea kettle was on the strove at boiling and whistling point, and two cups were on the stove waiting for the relaxing hot drink.
“Now my grandmother was not a great housekeeper, but she didn’t leave the stove on when she left the house,” White said.
And then there was the time that the Berridges were getting ready to go out and someone helped Mr. Berridge on with his coat. When he turned to thank his wife, she was across the room at her vanity table putting finishing touches on her face.
“They were always telling us they heard the ghost walking around upstairs,” White added.
Many years ago, a professor visiting St. Benedicts College at the time, studied the paranormal, which wasn’t nearly as popular and commercialized as it is now. He requested an interview with Mrs. Berridge, as her husband had passed away. She agreed and after telling him several stories from years in the house with the ghost, he drew his own conclusion.
“He told my grandmother that she was the source of the activities. Her parents had both died in the home, and their spirits were simply acting on her thoughts or wishes,” White remembers. “When she saw that my grandfather needed help on with his coat, the ghost did it. When she thought she couldn’t wait to get home to a hot cup of tea after long day away, the ghost made it. When she decided it was time to go upstairs and look for something in the storage, the ghost made the trip up the stairs and across the rooms looking for it.”
Homes with hauntings can usually draw the origins of the paranormal activities to someone who lived in the home. McInteer Villa, a very popular stop on the Haunted Atchison tour, welcomes a ghost that appears in an upstairs window, near Christmas trees, and as a shadowy figure in family photos.
And the Sallie House, featured on the television series Sightings, is haunted by a young girl who took her vengeance out on a male resident, the last to be able to make the house a home.
These stories and more are featured in a book entitled “Haunted Atchison: The Collected Stories,” available at the Chamber of Commerce.
But more fun than just reading about it, the Chamber has a host of activities starting with Haunted Trolley tours next month, to keep any ghost hunter busy. There are cemetery walking tours at Mount Vernon, Murder Mystery Dinners at Paolucci’s and Peppermill, gallery readings at Theater Atchison, and perhaps the most thrilling, paranormal investigation and private tours of the Sallie House.
Visit www.atchisonkansas.net and click on Midwest’s Spookiest Location for all the Haunted Atchison activities or call 800-234-1854.