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Boo! Moo! Haunted attractions draw a big crowd for Old Cowtown

Hugo Phan

USA Ghost Hunts has called Cowtown "a beacon for paranormal activity." But that label has not stopped people from visiting.

Wichita has its share of places that are reputed to be haunted: The Orpheum Theatre, for instance, or the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum.

And then there's Old Cowtown Museum, the living history museum with buildings dating to the late 1800s.

Hugo Phan

In fact, ghost hunts — there's one in November — and similar events always seem to draw big crowds, said Jacky Goerzen, Cowtown's executive director.

"I've often thought that the attraction of ghosts and the paranormal is because people are really desperate to know that there's something beyond this world," she said. "That we don't 'just end.'

"And so the search for the paranormal is just kind of a search for, 'Oh yeah, we don't stop. We keep going. We just change. And there's something else out there.'"

Something else ... like footsteps in the house on the DeVore Farm and loud noises upstairs in the Murdock House. Goerzen said she's experienced a number of those unexplained encounters.

There are other Cowtown stories of lights turning on and off in unoccupied buildings, levitating candles and curtains rustling, even though there's no breeze.

Hugo Phan

Cowtown's most famous ghost story involves Love 'N' Tangle Murdock, the daughter of Wichita Eagle founder Marshall Murdock and his wife, Victoria.

She died in her family's home in 1883 when she was just 8. The funeral was held in the parlor downstairs.

Love 'N' Tangle is said to appear occasionally at the Murdock House – ground zero for strange happenings on the museum grounds.

Goerzen told the story of getting ready to give a visitor from Pennsylvania and his daughter a tour of the house.

"And so I was waiting out front, and I was kind of chatting with them, and the guy looks up at the window and he's like, 'Oh, she looks like she's about your age.'

"And I said, 'What?'

"He's like, 'The little girl you've got upstairs. She looks like she's about my daughter's age.'

"And I was like, 'There's not a little girl upstairs.'

And he said, 'Well, I just saw her in the window.' "

Goerzen explained the story to him.

"He was like, 'Well, I'm not going in there.' And I was kind of thinking, 'I don't want to go back in there either if she's hanging out the windows.' "

Hugo Phan

She had a similar unexplained encounter at the farmhouse, where she was working as a volunteer interpreter.

Goerzen heard footsteps upstairs and thought it was another interpreter.

When she called up the stairs to have him bring something down, the footsteps stopped.

"So I told the farm manager …. 'Hey, I thought I heard somebody walking around upstairs and nobody was up there.' And he said, 'Oh yeah, that happens all the time.'

"I was like, 'Well, you could have warned me.' "

Goerzen says during her time at Cowtown, first as a volunteer and now as executive director, she's come to believe in ghosts. But she said they're not frightening … unlike mice.

"Mice terrify me."

She said they're more of an occupational hazard.

"It's funny because you get used to it — if that makes sense," Goerzen said.

"So something happens, at the time it's scary. And then you kind of put it in the back of your head until the next thing happens, and it's like, 'Oh yeah, I remember that. That was kind of spooky at the time, but … '

"Cowtown has a lot of weird things that happen out here. So it's just best to go with the flow."

Tom joined KMUW in 2017 after spending 37 years with The Wichita Eagle where he held a variety of reporting and editing roles. He also is host of The Range, KMUW’s weekly show about where we live and the people who live here. Tom is an adjunct instructor in the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University.