The ghouls next door

Written by Karen Long | Photography by Michael Carroll Jr.

As the nights grow longer and All Hallows Eve draws near, the local spirits from Wichita’s long history become restless. Cowboys, settlers, gamblers, bootleggers and flappers all called this city home long before we arrived on the scene, and this is the time of year they begin to make their presence felt.

The Wichita Paranormal Research Society (WPRS) documented this surge in autumnal apparitions at Cowtown a few years ago, according to director Sherrie Curry, after measuring with specialized electronic equipment at the site of the historic buildings once a month for a year.

“What we have found is, the fall, Christmas and the spring they are the most active at Cowtown. We don’t know why,” she says. “During the hot, hot summer they don’t come around, but fall comes around, things pick up.”

The Lady in White

Cowtown, where the city’s trailblazers rest uneasy, bustles with life by day, but turns into a ghost town when the sun sets. “We’ve captured lots of audio clips — hundred of audio clips — out at Cowtown, of voices that are not our own,” Curry says. A Shadow Man who walks the grounds is a recognized figure. And every year, during the public ghost hunts, several people end up having some kind of uncanny experience.

“Last year there was something new going on,” Currie says. “We had four different people — not our team, not Cowtown employees — they were people there for the event, who asked about the lady in the white dress. She’s new. And now I have seen her.

“Four different people saw her in four different places.”

Spirits Calling

The Drury Plaza Hotel Broadview, built in 1922, is another site of spectral uneasiness. Eight years ago Curry and members of her 12-person team conducted an investigation there. The basement, no longer open to the public, was originally the site of a gambling den and a speakeasy. “They were people who needed escape routes,” Curry says. “We found random cold spots that weren’t drafts.

“One of the rooms would dial the front desk or call 911 — even when nobody was staying there.”

Hap Dumont

It sounds like something out of a movie: a haunted baseball field. But the scientifically-minded WPRS researchers have documented unexplained phenomena at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.

“We were investigating in the office area where the gift shop is, and two or three different times we captured the sound of — the best way I can describe it is a man with his hand in his pocket jingling his change,” says Curry. “We couldn’t identify anything that might have been making that noise.”

Later they were told that Raymond "Hap" Dumont, the founder of the National Baseball Congress, used to have that habit. He was found dead in his stadium office after a heart attack in 1971.

Curry heard another story about a worker maintaining the ball diamond alone, late one night while jamming to some music. Suddenly over the intercom came a man’s voice belting out, “Keep it down!”

“It happened a couple of times.” Curry says. “It was a secure area and there was nobody there. We think Hap is there.”

Disembodied Footsteps

Jami Frazier Tracy is the historian for the WPRS and also curator of collections for the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum. She became acquainted with Curry during an investigation of the paranormal activity in the 125-year-old museum building.

“The staff have reported hearing footsteps when they’re alone in the building,” says Tracy. “I’ve heard doors slam when I’ve been alone in the building, and there are no windows or any way the wind could have blown the door closed.”

She says no one has ever actually seen anything; it’s been mostly noises. “And I don’t mean like a little tapping. I mean footsteps that you think someone is walking up behind you, and you turn around and there’s no one there.”

The Apparition

Tracy’s role as historian is to identify historical events that might correlate to the paranormal activity and recordings picked up by the instruments of the WPRS, but she hasn’t been able to make those connections in the case of the museum building.

However, on another occasion she accompanied the WPRS on an investigation at a private location.

“I did see a full-bodied apparition,” Tracy says, “and when I talked to people who worked there and described what I had seen, they said, ‘Yes, we’ve also seen that.’ Apparently a person had been killed at this location. It was an accident, but it was kind of a gruesome event. From what they said, that person shared physical similarities with the person that we had seen.”

The Gambler

The Delano neighborhood is one of the oldest parts of town, dating back to an era of cowboys, saloon girls and cattle drives, so it’s no surprise that it’s also the stomping grounds of some well-known shades.

Jim Martinson, community organizer with the neighborhood, was in his upstairs Delano apartment one night when his cat kept staring down the hallway, hissing, hair on end. Then Jim’s roommate came in and said, “There was a guy going down the front steps.”

“Well, we don’t use the front steps,” says Martinson. “We went down and looked, and it was locked from the inside. We went to the back and it was locked from the inside.”

“What did he look like?” Jim asked his roommate.

“He was dressed in period clothes like a gambler.”

The Gambler has been seen by many people wandering up and down Douglas, a figure in a black vest and hat, with a pocket watch chain.

“Just that day I’d been joking around about The Gambler — ‘Aw, he just wants attention’ — so he came to my place and got attention,” says Martinson.

The Detectives

Curry says that after doing these investigations for the past ten years, she’s still a “skeptical believer.” “We’re like little detectives. My job is to go in there and disprove your claim.”

With digital voice recorders to capture sound waves and “Mel Meters” to measure electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and ambient temperature, Curry and her team seek out logical explanations for their client’s reported disturbances. She says EMFs can cause people to have headaches, see shadows, experience nightmares — and even raise rashes on the skin of those who are the most sensitive.

Many times investigators will discover that the individual experiencing the phenomenon is sleeping with their cell phone or a CPAP machine. Their clock could be radiating high EMFs or perhaps the house isn’t properly grounded. “This can cause these people to think and hear things that aren’t actually there — hallucinations,” Curry says.

Sometimes they call out a licensed electrician to fix the EMFs and the ghost goes away. Most of the time.

“Just because there’s high EMFs doesn’t mean there’s not paranormal activity going on,” Curry says, “because high EMFs can also give energy to a spirit, so they could actually be there. So we check first and then see what we can capture.”

Haunted Happenings

This month get out and hear more Wichita ghost tales — or perhaps experience one yourself.

Oct. 6 — Campfire Ghost Stories of Historic Delano

True sightings of Delano shades in a family-friendly atmosphere. Entertainment by acoustic guitarist. Hot dogs, brats, hamburgers, hot chocolate and cider for sale. Kickoff event of the Delano Fall Fair.

Oct. 20–21 — Historic Hauntings at Cowtown with Wichita Paranormal Research Society

Hear spooky stories in the actual buildings where they took place. A fundraiser for Cowtown, tickets are $15 at wichitatix.com.

Oct. 27 — Torchlight Tour at the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum

Coleman Company flashlights are provided from 6–9 p.m. to explore four floors of Wichita history in the dark, including a visit to the Clock Tower. Family-friendly, free and open to the public, donations encouraged.

Nov 4 — Public Ghost Hunt at Cowtown with WPRS

Borrow WPRS’s equipment or bring your own, and see if you can capture paranormal activity. A fundraiser for Cowtown, tickets are $30 at wichitatix.com. Maximum of 50 people, so book early.

 
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