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Atchison's Best Haunts by Trolley

Lu Anne Stephens

Atchison, Kansas, boasts a surprising number of Victorian mansions—haunted Victorian mansions. You could try to visit them all in one day. Or do what Lu Anne Stephens did—take the Haunted Trolley Tour.

Atchison is a town of about 11,000 people, tucked into the Glacial Hills of northeast Kansas. And it boasts a surprising number of Victorian mansions—haunted Victorian mansions.

You could try to visit them all in one day. Or do what I did—take the Haunted Trolley Tour.

Doug Stephens
for KMUW
Haunted Trolley tourists wait to board

Atchinson is known as the most haunted town in Kansas.

And it’s not just the houses, though there are many. There are stores, restaurants, parks, a stretch by the river and even an ice cream parlor that have resident ghosts.

The trolley took us up and down the town’s hilly streets and guide Brian Wells set the mood.

“Sit back, relax, but don’t get too comfortable,” Wells said. “You never know what kind of other guest might jump aboard our ride.”

Doug Stephens
Brian Wells shares spooky stories during the tour.

<photo - Brian Wells shares spooky stories during the tour.>

The trolley ride lasted about 90 minutes and Wells blended ghostly stories with recorded audio clips.

Most of the tour focused on Atchison’s many Victorian mansions, like McInteer Villa, a stately manor complete with turrets. Its resident ghost walks through the house, slamming doors but can only be seen in photographs.

“In one of the windows in the lantern tower is a human figure and the room behind it is lit,” Wells pointed out during the tour. “Only there are no lights, in fact no electricity in the lantern tower.”

From one of the recorded audio clips played during the tour, trolley riders learn that the Mangelsdorf House’s ghost is more traditional. “Footsteps are heard, curtains flutter and rooms turn cold,” the voice on the recording intoned. “The owners have seen a young girl’s face appear on the parlor wall several times. Is it a reflection, a past inhabitant of the house, a wrinkle in the wallpaper or a wrinkle in time?”

Okay, it was a bit corny, but that was part of the fun.

Atchison’s most famous residence is the Sallie House—featured in books, magazines and countless TV shows.

Lu Anne Stephens
Sallie house in Atchison, Kansas

“Six-year-old Sallie has become a celebrity,” Wells explained. “The house served as a physician’s home and office during the turn of the last century and it’s here that she met an agonizing, accidental death. Some say, she’s never left the home.”

Sallie was brought to the physician needing an emergency appendectomy. The doctor began operating before the anesthesia had taken effect and Sallie died shortly into the surgery. She’s not a happy ghost.

“Not only does she manipulate lights and doors, she also arranges toys in her upstairs room. Most haunting are the reports that she physically harmed a resident in the early 1990s.”

Lu Anne Stephens
Barrage House, now owned by Crickett Koller

Not everyone interacts with their house’s resident ghosts. Crickett Koller, current owner of the Barrage House said that—so far—no ghosts.

‘I’ve heard it was a pleasant ghost who put hot tea on to brew for the couple,” said Koller. “I’ve asked it several times to clean my house and it doesn’t do it.”

So why is Atchison so haunted? There are a few theories but nothing really stands out as an explanation. It’s an older community, founded in 1854. Prosperous in its heyday, it was a hub of overland, river and later railroad commerce. The area saw a lot of change as the country expanded west. Is that why there are so many ghosts? Who can say?

If you want to come up with your own explanation, many of the houses can be toured in person. You can even stay overnight in the Sallie House and McInteer Villa—if you dare.



Lu Anne Stephens is KMUW's Director of Content and Assistant General Manager. She has held many positions over many years at KMUW. Lu Anne also produces KMUW’s New Settler's Radio Hour and the Hidden Kansas segment for KMUW’s weekly news program The Range.