As morning breaks, fog can be seen gently rolling off the mighty Missouri River and ascending over the bluffs to reveal the historical river town of Atchison. However, fog is not all that veils this small town, haunted mystery abounds in the its eerie past.
Perhaps most famously known for “The Sallie House” or the McInteer Villa, Atchison is rich in haunted history. Stories detail the encounters of ghosts inhabiting the old Victorian homes of long ago, or Atchison residents to restless spirits roaming about the dormitories on the campus of Benedictine College.
Labeled by many as the most haunted house in all of Kansas, the Sallie House, located at 508 N. Second St., has been the subject of extensive paranormal research and media attention. The Sallie house has been featured on Buzzfeed, the Travel Channel, Syfy, and much more.
In the early 1900s, the house was home to a local physician. On an unexpected day, a mother showed up to the house with her 6-year-old daughter who had collapsed from severe abdominal pain.
Fearing the worst, the doctor began conducting surgery on the young girl, named Sallie, before the full effects of anesthesia could kick in. Sallie passed away on the operating table, her last memories being that of torture.
Visitors to the Sallie house have shared experiences of hearing footsteps, singing and music playing. Other paranormal experiences described include flashlights turning on and off, unexplained physical scratches (typically to males) and toys being played with.
Kaycee Slough from the Atchison Area Chamber of Commerce elaborated on her experience in the Sallie house.
“Part of it is you just have this idea in your head and when you go there you feel this eeriness, you almost feel it as soon as you enter the home,” Slough said.
The Sallie House is now operated by the Atchison Area Chamber of Commerce. However, the house was occupied by a young couple just over two decades ago. The account of that couple’s eerie experience is retold in print in “The Sallie House Haunting: A True Story” by Debra Lyn Pickman.
Although not quite as popular as the Sallie House, McInteer Villa is also widely known for its unusual experiences and vast history. Located at 1301 Kansas Ave., the Villa is a thriving spot for paranormal tourism.
Completed in 1890, the McInteer Villa was constructed to be the home of the prosperous businessman, John McInteer. The house’s extravagance can be seen as an attempt to gloat of McInteer’s wealth after being denied the rights to build his home near other wealthy townsmen of the time due to his Irish heritage. Despite being one of the wealthiest men in Atchison during his times, current owner of the McInteer Villa, Stephanie O’Reilly, noted she could not find any pictures of the late John McInteer.
Other historically significant facts note that nine deaths have been documented at the house, including the passing of McInteer’s first wife, a suicide, and the passing of previous owners. The house was also briefly used as a boarding house for a period of 27 years in the early to mid 1900s.
O’Reilly acquired the McInteer Villa upon the passing of the previous owners and is a self-proclaimed paranormal enthusiast. She emphasized there is no way to schedule an appearance or manifestation. However, she did speak in detail of the disturbing events captured at her property.
“A lot of people talk of the light in the attic or the tower, but the most uncomfortable are the footsteps, they are mostly in the 2nd floor hallway. In the library, the door handle jiggles and voices, and recently we’ve heard babies crying,” O’Reilly said.
Haunted events headlining October in Atchison include haunted trolley tours, events at the Ravens’ Well and even haunted house tours. The city also put on its first ever haunted weekend on the last weekend of September, featuring a ‘shocktail’ party and oddities fair.
“Atchison is not only a really historic community, there is a lot of history here, but again there’s that haunted side of things that’s really interesting to people, I’d like to see the city embrace it,” Slough said.
The local Atchison Area Chamber of Commerce and the McInteer Villa invite students and the like to come check out the town’s many spooky festivities. Both the Sallie House and the McInteer Villa offer self-guided tours year-round.
But why is Atchison of all places believed to be so haunted? Some believe it is a symptom of its rough past, the ghosts being those of souls who passed unexpectedly, or that still hold some attachment to this world. Others blame the paranormal properties of limestone and water. Some even blame it as an attack on the heart of such a faithful place.
In a town brimming with evidence for the paranormal all that remains falls on belief. Is Atchison’s past merely the product of a surplus of folklore, or is the town truly inhabitant to the souls of so many departed a long time ago? Professor of political science at Benedictine College and haunted trolley tour guide John Settich said he always begins his rides the same way.
“Have you even seen gravity, the force that keeps us on earth? Have you ever seen electricity? Have you ever seen fear? These are all unseen but real, you have to ask yourself the same question, are there other unseen but real phenomenon? You judge,” Settich said.