THE SALLIE HOUSE DELIVERS THE FRIGHT
I don’t write a travelogue; I have written very little in the way of “Haunted Houses,” traditional or otherwise… the closest I’ve come (other than the occasional film review) was an overview of haunted attractions in Saint Louis that I wrote last century. Plus… even though I love spooky and creepy stuff and have watched more than my fair share of paranormal programming, I remain a devout skeptic. Sure, I’ve encountered things that I have no firm explanation for, but I generally put it off to too much caffeine or too little sleep. So, anyway…
Somehow, the Sallie House in Atchison, Kansas has until very recently alluded my eagle eye for really (make that REALLY) haunted locations. When a cousin’s granddaughter (hi, Jameson) found out that I was into the ooky and kinda spooky, she showed me a YouTube video by a couple of guys named Sam Golbach and Colby Brock, Kansas natives who explored the house with rather frightening results. Since, I have been planning a visit there, which – naturally – led to me calling the Atchison Chamber of Commerce and the director overseeing the Sallie House, Jill Thorne. Jill told me that she, too, had been a skeptic until the deaths of her parents, when unexplained experiences began to occur around her. As for the Sallie House, she says that she has had no experiences there… primarily because she refuses to go to the location; she has been twice to the house at 508 North Second Street and, then, only because her position as director dictated that she be there. Anybody visiting the location must sign a waiver absolving the Atchison Chamber of Commerce of any liability in case of any spirit-inflicted injuries. Which begs the question… what has earned the Sallie House the title of “most haunted place in Kansas?
Well, here’s the story: At the dawn of the 1900s, the property was occupied by a doctor – living quarters on the second floor, office and examination rooms on the first. A mother, frantic because her six year old daughter had collapsed with extreme abdominal pain, brought the girl to be treated. This is where things get a bit foggy. It was either a sunny day or a dark and stormy night (of course… aren’t they all?). The little girl’s name was Sallie or, the name belonged to the physician’s maid who answered the door. After a quick exam, the doctor determined that the culprit was an inflamed appendix ready to burst. The doctor was either groggy from being woken from a deep sleep or he was in a hurry to remove the appendix before it did burst or he was in a perpetual state of drunkenness; he either fumbled with the bottle of chloroform and dropped it, shattering the glass and losing the contents, leading him to operate on the poor child the old fashioned way (“Hold her down tight. This is going to hurt.”) or, again because of his fear that the offending organ would burst, acted in haste to try to save the youngster. Other stories indicate that the doctor had an affair with his Black maid, the result of which was a daughter; when the daughter became ill, the doctor was too ashamed to take her to the hospital and performed the surgery in his office. Regardless of which (if any) of these stories is true, it is almost a certainty that the child died on the operating table. So… does that mean that the ghost of the little girl is haunting the house, wreaking havoc on all and sundry because she’s upset that she died? Or, is there something more malevolent there?
If reports are to be believed, I tend to lean toward the latter. The residence has remained empty since the last tenants moved out in 1993 after experiencing some of the most frightening, painful attacks ever recorded this side of the infamous Lutz home in Amityville, New York. Tony and Debra Pickman spent nearly two years at the home. During those 22 months, Tony was scratched often and tormented in near-demonic fashion the entirety of their time in the Sallie House. Debra wasn’t safe, either, but Tony experienced most of the negative effects, including being pushed down the stairs. While everyone who visits say that they “feel a presence,” most of the violent activity seems to be targeted at males, giving rise to the entity being called a “man-hating spirit.” Most of the current reports from visitors to the house seem to indicate that much of the activity occurs in the basement, where there is a dark spot on the floor that is said to be an attempt to burn off a pentagram painted there, no doubt left by a coven of witches or Satanists (or a bunch of teens perpetuating the myth that ol’ Scratch, the horned beast himself, is on the prowl for fresh souls to steal).
Whether you believe the tales of the haunting of Sallie House or not, the trip and the tour is worth your time. You can visit Monday through Friday (during regular business hours) for a one-hour self tour and try to scare up a spirit or two while revisiting a little bit of Americana in the ancient house. For the truly adventurous, you can schedule an overnight paranormal investigation to really rile up the ghostly and demonic residents of 503 North Second Street. Jill did allow me to tour the house and take the pictures used here and, while she did unlock the door (and pose for the picture above), true to her word, she did not accompany me into the house; in fact, when I asked if she was coming in, her eyes widened and she gave a quick shake of her head before leaving. Did I have any experiences there? Well… no. I did, however, meet a family from De Soto, Kansas who had stories from previous trips, including scratches, unexplained voices and glithcy electronics. After their session was over, I asked Sarah to describe some of the occurrences for a video. While she was explaining some of the camera and recorder malfunctions, I noticed that my phone had stopped recording and, later, as I tried to replay the remainder of the interview, I discovered that it was nearly all gone. Was it the entity of the house messing with us or was it operator error? Either way, I do thank Sarah for taking the time to talk about her experiences and her belief in what may actually be happening in and around the Sallie House.
Haunted houses (there’s also the 1889 McInteer Villa, among others) aren’t the only reason to visit Atchison. Sitting on the west bank of the Missouri River, it was where Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s Corps of Discovery Expedition disembarked after their journey upriver from Saint Charles, Missouri and began the western trek across this land; if you like to hike (and can dodge traffic), you can actually walk across the river and tell all your friends that you hiked through two states in an afternoon. Atchison is also the original home of the famous Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Rail System and the birthplace of Amelia Earhart, who may or may not still reside in the house she was born in… Hey, we are talking about haunted places, right? Happy haunting, everyone.