It’s Halloween, and you’ve just finished binge-watching The Haunting of Hill House. The last trick-or-treater knocked an hour ago. As you flip off the porchlight, you hear a sound in a dark room behind you.
Do you resolve to believe it was your cat and go about your business? Do you shove the noise out of your mind and slip on the flip-flops you still haven’t put away for the winter and hightail it to the grocery for a frozen pizza? Or, do you go investigate the source of the noise — after all, your cat has been dead since spring.
Darren Hinesley would check it out. He’s an expert on Kansas City hauntings, so people often ask for his recommendations for scary locales to visit on Halloween. He says to stay home.
“I’d say to really creep people out, just go into their own homes and shut the lights off and ask if there’s anything here that wants to contact you. As old as these homes are around here, you might be surprised what might contact you,” he says.
Sometimes he’s lucky enough to find haunted objects. Paintings, boxes and dolls are all subject to inhabitation by spirit life. He says dolls are particularly troubling to many people. He says other collectors have told him, in hushed tones, “I don’t want this in my house anymore. They claim that it moves, claim they can hear laughter, things like that, like a child’s laughter.”
His entire life, Hinseley has been fascinated by hauntings. He grew up with tales of the Black Hat Man, who family members say is the ghost of his great-grandfather.
“When he appeared, he looked like a tall, black shadow,” Hinesley says. And not a nice shadow at that.
Hinesley’s mother grew up on the Arkansas family farm where the great-grandfather was shot in the back by a neighbor around the turn of the last century. To this day, he says, she can’t sleep without a nightlight — too many Black Hat Man sightings.
But Hinesley sees haunting in a different light: He’s not scared, he’s just curious. He grew up in Kansas City and has devoted a large part of his adult life to exploring the city with the eye of a ghost hunter.
To his dismay, he’s only heard ghosts, not seen them. He’s even recorded “unexplained sounds” that he thinks are evidence of ghost activity. One evening when he was a student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and studying in the Epperson House, he heard footsteps and a bone-chilling woman’s scream.
Rather than dash to his car, Hinesley walked the halls in search of the woman. The entire place was empty.
He says he’s so open to ghosts that one might think he’d see them all the time. Alas, he’s pretty sure it’s only folks who most fear them who are lucky enough to have a visual encounter.
“I wonder how much of it is in the imagination and how much a person can scare themselves,” he muses. “Part of my theory about ghosts is that it may not be necessarily something that appears like an apparition in our eyes, but maybe it’s something connected to a fear that a person, in just that right situation, is able to pick up on.”
For the most part, he says, he doesn’t think ghosts are trying to be scary — even if they died a violent death.
“I would think it would be more likely that they’re trying to make contact, but if they make it to the right person in the middle of the night with a knock or something, it’s going to scare them, and they’re going to think it’s evil when it may not even be,” he says.
If staying in your house and asking a ghost to come forward is too much for you, Hinesley suggests a stroll around Union Station, site of the Union Station Massacre. In 1933, gangsters killed four police officers in an attempt to free a member of their group.
He says, “It’s a genuinely creepy place to go and just wander through.”
Darren Hinesley discussed his creepy takes on Kansas City during KCUR's Central Standard.