Ghost Town, KCMO
A town chock-full of jazz, liquor, mobsters and dames is bound to see its fair share of violence and tragedy, and Kansas City is the quintessential icon of that bygone era of Prohibition. Here are some of Kansas City’s most illustrious haunted places. Pull your fur collars tight, kiddos; some of these stories will wallop you in fright.
The Savoy Hotel
Built in 1888 for a burgeoning town, the Savoy was renovated in 1903 when the Savoy Grill was added, as well as the top two stories and the penthouse. The Tiffany glass dome in the lobby was, and still is, unparalleled in its pristine condition. Brass fixtures and marble walls greeted hosts of celebrities such as John D. Rockefeller, Sarah Bernhardt and Harry Houdini, who, after being locked in the Savoy’s phone booth by a traveling salesman, vowed never to return to Kansas City. The Grill started out as a men’s only restaurant, as evidenced by the lack of “E” at the end of “Grill,” but quickly changed to coed with the arrival of the flapper. In days of distant past, establishments that allowed women added the feminine “E”.
At the Savoy Grill, the tables would be pushed aside for dancing and drinking every evening. The Savoy suffered a decline in the 1940s, essentially becoming a flophouse. Don Lee, at the tender age of 27, purchased the grill in 1960 and the rest of the hotel in 1965. The Savoy has seen sequestered FBI witnesses, mob deals, natural deaths, accidents and in 1990, its last murder when a night manager was stabbed to death for 10 to 15 cartons of cigarettes. The Savoy is arguably the most actively haunted building in Kansas City and houses a host of ghosts. During my tenure at the Savoy Hotel and Grill, I became very familiar with spirits who still considered themselves on the guest list.
In 1922, a 16-year-old boy named Claude Knock, Jr. was hired as an elevator operator. After only a couple of weeks of employment, he forgot to set the lever correctly. The elevator car started to rise and he jumped after it, missing the car and breaking his neck at the bottom of the shaft. People would ask me why we had weird talking instead of music in the elevator. I would shrug, wary of telling them we had absolutely no sound system in there. One night, a clerk who denied any sort of supernatural shenanigans was looking white-faced when I went to him for change. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” I joked, counting out dollar bills. He didn’t answer, so I turned my head to look at him. His eyelids were hugging the corner of his sockets. “Monique. I heard the voice,” he said. “And it sounds just like a teenage boy.”
“I know,” I tossed back at him over my shoulder, feeling devilish in my glee that The Great Skeptic was flummoxed.”It’s Claude.”
And then we have Betsy Ward, recent celebrity ghost. She is rumored to have been murdered by an unknown assailant in the bathtub of her room. Any research has proved fruitless, and it’s impossible to know when or if she was ever a real person. Previous misinformation implied that she had died in room 505, which was actually an apartment that was inhabited by a long-term tenant. The room with all the action was room 502, directly next to the apartment. The faucets turned themselves on and off incessantly. So did the clock radio, the lights and pretty much everything else in that room. More than once I had to personally investigate because other guests were complaining about the banging coming from inside the room and water running through the night. A couple that had come to the Savoy specifically to ghost hunt requested room 502. They set up a recorder in the bathroom and left to take pictures throughout the halls. When they returned, they listened to the recording and returned to the front desk terrified and pleading to change rooms. I listened to the recording myself the next day, centipedes rolling on my spine. The contents I cannot repeat here because of the incredibly violent nature, but at the end of what sounds like a scene from a movie, there is an unmistakable splash of something heavy being dropped into water.
There’s a man in a purple jacket in the basement who wears a plumed hat and roams the shadows, who once scared the hell out of my manager and me while we “compared notes” about that night’s dinner service. That night I saw him walking around the corner, purple jacket corners flapping as he strode. One day I saw a guest sitting at booth four. In the time it took me to walk the 15 feet over, the guest had literally disappeared. Relaxing in the Imperial Room meant waiting for the click of high heels to arrive, yet you were still alone. A man once disappeared out a door that has been drywalled over, in a room known as “The Pendergast Room.” A guest had me listen to a recording where my name is said very clearly by someone who was not there.
Now closed for renovation, I have a feeling that the Savoy may be heating up for some serious supernatural action in the near future.
John Wornall House Museum
This Greek Revival brick monolith sits at 63rd Terrace and Wornall Road, near Kansas City’s Brookside neighborhood. Built in 1858 by up-and-coming merchant John Wornall for his second wife, Eliza, this house once served as a hospital during the Civil War, neutral to both sides. At one point, it is said that there were so many amputations done at the house that the pile of limbs reached the second story windows.
A Civil War soldier has been seen wandering the house in full uniform. A woman, widely thought to be Eliza, wanders up and down the main stairs and some catch a faint dream of perfume. One night, a former caretaker woke up to find that an invisible woman had crawled into bed with him, her shape perfectly outlined in the raised sheets.
The John Wornall House conducts Ghost Tours and encourages paranormal investigations.
In 1868, Anton Sauer, mourning his wife’s death, moved his family to Kansas City in order to combat his own tuberculosis. He built a large Italianate style house at 935 Shawnee Road in 1872 and married widow Maria Messerschmidt. After his death, she apparently hanged herself. A relative who later lived in the house, John Perkins, shot himself to death at the age of 76. The Perkins also lost a young daughter who drowned in the family pool. The house has a long history of hauntings and maintains its mystery from behind an eight-foot security fence.
Passersby report seeing and photographing lights coming from the tower, and a woman who strolls the Widow’s Walk. It is said that a small boy plays on the porch and that laughter, shouting and crying can be heard coming from the house that now lies empty.
Guarded by dogs and a vociferous caretaker, thrill-seekers are urged to take caution and keep a respectful distance.
The Belvoir Winery is composed of several buildings that sprawl out over a lush green campus in Liberty, Mo., just outside of Kansas City. The three-story administration building was constructed in 1900, the Oddfellows home for widows and orphans in 1905, a hospital in 1922, and a home for the elderly in 1955. In the early 2000’s, Dr. Bean and his wife, Marsha, planted the first vines for what is now Belvoir Winery. The hospital is considered the most haunted building on the premises. “Everything from recorded voices to apparitions,” says Adam Tillery of CREEPZ Ghost Commandos, “have been seen more frequently there than any other location we have been…” The group caught a very clear recording in the bar area of a young girl’s voice saying “go away, we’re scared.” Apparently, there weren’t any females present that day at the winery.
Kelly’s Westport Inn
Built in 1850 as a general store in the bustling trail stop of Westport, this building covers a lot of secrets unseen by the naked eye at the corner of Westport Road and Pennsylvania Avenue. The basement is connected to a myriad of tunnels that were said to once transport former slaves along the Underground Railroad, which later provided safety to smuggle booze during Prohibition. Echoes of mob bullets are said to ricochet against the walls. There are reports of footsteps and voices that flit through the tunnels.
Upstairs, glasses have been known to fly off the bar and break after all the doors have been locked.
The President Hotel
This brick monument to art deco was completed in 1926, when a boom in Kansas City brought growth and a demand for entertainment. This 14-floor hotel also included the famed Drum Room, which attracted the likes of Frank Sinatra, Benny Goodman and near-local Marilyn Maye. Despite having been abandoned in 1980 and subsequently empty for 20 years, it re-opened in 2005 under the Hilton flag, which has been flying ever since. The lobby, with its marble floors, impressive columns and sprouting ferns looks like something out of a Fitzgerald novel, and it doesn’t take much imagination to see flappers mooning about.
In March of 2013, Jill Simpson and her family were staying at the President like they do every year during the NCAA Big 12 basketball conference. On their last day, Jill, along with her mother and sister, were busy making sure that everything was packed and accounted for. They had propped open the doors while Jill’s four-year-old daughter, Ellie, and even younger niece played in the hallway. At one point, Jill’s daughter stopped dead in her tracks and pointed just inside the door to their room, “Hey, what’s that girl doing right there?” Jill and her mother and sister saw no one.
“What girl?” she asked her daughter.
“That girl right there,” Ellie said. “With the long black hair.”
The three women, still not seeing anything, decided to play it off instead of scaring Ellie. When Jill went to the Front Desk to check out, she said to the clerk, “This is going to sound really weird, but…” and recounted the story. The desk clerk smiled knowingly at Jill. “We hear this a lot, believe it or not, and it’s always kids. For some reason they only appear to children.”
No one knows for sure who the long black-haired girl is, but if you have kids, she may come out to play.