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Each week, KCUR's Adventure! newsletter brings you a new way to explore the Kansas City region.

What are Kansas City's eeriest and creepiest places? You don't need to look far

Swope House in Independence, Missouri.
Bain News Service photograph collection
Library of Congress
Swope House in Independence, Missouri, which was demolished in 1960. Back in 1909, it was the site of three unusual deaths, including the Kansas City philanthropist Thomas Swope.

Kansas City has its fair share of historic homes, odd churches and menacing mansions, each with their own haunting past. With unsolved murders to unexplained mysteries, these sites are perfectly creepy and fascinating even beyond the Halloween season.

This story was first published in KCUR's Adventure newsletter. You can sign up to receive stories like this in your inbox every Tuesday.

The imposing, stately nature of many historic Kansas City landmarks make it hard not to lean into the ominous spirit of fall. The air is crisp, and the color changing leaves bring a feeling of melancholy.

When you venture across the region, buildings more than a hundred years old hulk over cars and pedestrians almost knowingly, full of stories from Kansas City’s past.

So for Kansas Citians who love murder mysteries and stories of spirits and ghosts, a gold mine awaits here. Behind many churches, parks, cemeteries and hospitals, there are perplexing stories of tragedy and unrest. Some cases — like the murder of Thomas Swope— still have questions begging to be answered more than 100 years later.

Light up the fireplace, curl up in a blanket, and immerse yourself in five chilling stories behind the structures that make the Kansas City area — and maybe start planning for a Halloween road trip.

St. Mary's Episcopal Church

Sepie-toned photograph of the interior of St. Mary's Episcopal Church
Michael Wells
Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library
The ghost of a former priest supposedly haunts St. Mary's Episcopal Church.

Since the early 1900s, ghostly lore and legends have been told about the historic St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in downtown Kansas City. One person reported the sighting of a curious figure on the locked second floor, and noises coming from empty rooms.

According to Michael Wells, Special Collections Librarian at Kansas City Public Library, in the 1990’s, “One church member decided to look further, arriving at the church one night with an electromagnetic field detector.” In curious corners of the church, the detector "sprang to life."

Many speculate the ghost of a former St. Mary’s priest, Henry D Jardine, is who haunts that second floor. Jardine was the church’s rector from 1879-1886, and apparently had an affinity for the Catholic church. He made waves in the Episcopal community by implementing Catholic traditions — but he also had a checkered past and was exposed for robbing a business when he was 16 years old.

With a target on Jardine’s back, church leaders published articles and pamphlets ostracizing and discrediting the priest for the crimes of his past. When that didn’t lead to excommunication, the church leaders published more pamphlets accusing the priest of sexual misconduct, saying he was caught by a fellow church member spanking a young female parishioner in his office.

The young rector was excommunicated on the basis of inappropriate behavior with a female parishioner. But just a week after, Jardine’s body was found by a fellow priest in the church. His death was ruled a suicide, which prohibited him from being buried in consecrated ground until he was exonerated 35 years later.

Apparently, Wells says, the area of the church where the electromagnetic detector went off in the 1990’s was the consecrated ground where Jardine was supposed to be buried, but wasn’t because of his tarnished legacy. His body was finally moved to the spot in 2000.

The Elms Hotel

Postcard image of the Elms Hotel
Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library
Since a fatal fire in 1910, mysterious events have haunted the Elms Hotel.

In 1910, just outside of Kansas City in the quaint town of Excelsior Springs, the’ illustrious Elms Hotel caught fire the night of a Halloween masquerade ball, killing two coal shovelers in the depths of the building.

Created in 1888, the hotel was a haven for people seeking homeopathic treatment for various afflictions. Excelsior Springs, where the hotel resides, is home to valuable mineral water and several natural springs. The distinguished destination became the place to “take the waters” and rejuvenate.

Ironically, the hotel fell victim to several fires in the early 1900s until the building was renovated and made fireproof in 1912. Thankfully, a 2020 grant from the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Fund helped fix structural issues inside the Elms and restore it as the town’s visitor center.

Apparently, if you’re in the building around 1:30 a.m., you can hear the clashing of pipes -- which happens to be the exact time of the firestorm on that unforgettable Halloween night. People have also reported mystifying and untimely calls to the front desk from vacant, shut rooms.

Believers credit the unexplainable signs to the grudges of two ghosts – the coal shovelers still lurking in the bowels of the hotel, banging, clashing and begging to be heard.

Odd Fellows Home at Belvoir Winery

Vintage photograph of the Odd Fellows Old Folks Home.
Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library
Flashing lights and mysterious sounds fuel the legends of ghosts at the Odd Fellows Home in Liberty, Missouri, now Belvoir Winery.

The peculiarly named Odd Fellows Home in Liberty is a self proclaimed “haunted hotel,” now home to Belvoir Winery.

The 240-acre compound was created by a secret society of men known as “Odd Fellows,” who were formed in a humanitarian effort to help their community. In the 1800s, when the estate was built, it was used by the group as an orphanage, school, nursing home, hospital and secondary hospital.

The Odd Fellows were also big on rituals and traditions. For example, all skeletons of members were named “George” (one of which is on display in a small room in the winery) and the compound is home to a cemetery with almost 600 skeletons buried in it.

Today, the space has been converted into a winery and small inn with nine rooms - often used for weddings. But that doesn’t mean the odd history isn’t still around: The long-standing estate has received reports of pianos playing themselves, strange noises, the sounds of footsteps, and more. You can try to hear for yourself on one of the Belvoir Winery’s ghost tours.

Legend has it, the spirits of children run round the orphanage singing nursery rhymes. In other buildings, employees have seen lights flash and doors swing open and closed.

The Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures investigated the property in 2021, and one crew member said they were grabbed on the arm by a spirit. Another said they saw shadow figures on the grounds.

Another Travel Channel program, Kindred Spirits, also investigated the property and “identified” the spirit of a man who was treated in the hospital and took his own life.

Longview Farm

Black and white photograph of the wide dirt road leading up to Longview Farm.
Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library
At Longview Farm, the specter of Loula Long Combs still roams the land she loved.

Kansas City lumber magnate and philanthropist Robert Long is credited with building the 1,780-acre Longview Farm in 1914. The sprawling estate included 42 buildings, a racetrack and thousands of staff members.

Long’s equestrian daughter Loula Long Combs, lesser known than her father, lived on the farm until she died in 1971. Today, some say they’ve spotted an unknown woman on horseback, galavanting through paths in the area near Longview Farm.

In her life, Loula was a real animal person, and would take in ownerless dogs that came her direction. She raised and raced horses across Europe, Canada and the U.S., and buried her favorite horse, Revelation, out front of Longview Show Horse Arena.

She married her husband Robert Pryor Combs, who had a shared love of horses, in 1917, and lived to be 90 years old.

Before she passed, Loula and her sister Sally Long Ellis contributed 146 acres of the farm to the construction of what is now the Metropolitan Community College Longview Campus, where Kansas City students say they’ve heard the clacking of horse’s hooves against the pavement, despite there being no horses in sight.

In 1987, the Longview Mansion was used for the Symphony Designers’ Showhouse — an annual event by the Kansas City Symphony Alliance, which showcases a different historic or notable Kansas City building for the public. A staff member, who was working in the mansion at the time, said that each morning Loula’s bed mysteriously required remaking, despite no one staying in it.

In 2018, the mansion was renovated thanks to a $3.2 million restoration project, and it can now be used as a wedding or event venue.

Swope Memorial

Black and white photograph of Swope Memorial.
Mrs. Sam Ray Postcard Collection
Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library
Mysterious circumstances led to the death of Thomas Swope, a philanthropist whose final resting place is in Swope Park, on land he donated to Kansas City.

The land for Swope Park was generously donated to the city in 1896 by the prolific philanthropist Thomas Swope. At 1,805 acres, it’s Kansas City’s largest park and boasts hiking trails, the Swope Memorial golf course, the Kansas City Zoo, and the Starlight Theatre.

And while visitors may come across Swope’s memorial and final resting place inside the park, they might not realize that his death in October 1909 was surrounded by mysterious circumstances — and eventually lead to a high-profile “trial of the century.”

It’s long been suspected that Swope’s nephew-in-law murdered Swope and other members of his family in order to steal Swope’s fortune. But after a hung jury, botched autopsies, and a state Supreme Court case, the question remains: Did Dr. Bennett Clark Hyde really poison Thomas Swope, or was the prominent Kansas City physician actually the victim of a years-long family grudge?

KCUR’s Mackenzie Martin digs into the 114-year-old cold case on the most recent episode of A People’s History of Kansas City to try and separate the fact from urban legend. You’ll never think of Swope Park the same way again.

And for even more ghoulish content, check out KCUR’s guide to the haunted and historic cemeteries of Kansas City.

Anna Schmidt is the fall 2023 intern for KCUR Studios. She recently graduated from Kansas State University, where she was the Opinions Desk Editor for the Collegian student newspaper and took over the role of podcast host. You can email her at anna.schmidt@kcur.org.
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