Each year, as cooler weather rolls into town, Atchison gets busy sending chills down your spine. The river town has a unique history. Louis & Clark landed here on July 4, 1804. Aviatrix Amelia Earhart called it home. It was once a major commercial and railroad center of the state. In recent years, however, Atchison has become better known for tales and legends of a darker kind – enough that is has earned the moniker “The Most Haunted Town in Kansas.” It has learned to wear it well as thousands of people flock there every fall to hear some of the dozens of ghost stories associated with the town’s beautiful homes and spaces.
Atchison has been offering a Haunted Trolley Tour for the last 16 years. That was about the time the Travel Channel did a special “Haunted Town” feature about Atchison that peaked interest in the area’s strange happenings. It was the first of several TV shows since then which have since been made about Atchison’s haunted houses. Jason Nichols with the Atchison Area Chamber of Commerce says the stories are not new, but now that people know about them, they have become a very popular way for folks to celebrate October’s “Haunting Season.”
This year, the trolley tour (as well as a haunted coach tour which handles the overflow from sold out trolley rides) takes you past 20 stops in about 50 minutes. It is a whirlwind jaunt in which you will hear stories for the skeptics to analyze, like the woman who told her husband she wanted a cup of tea on the way home and walked through the door to find the teapot mysteriously whistling with hot water ready to go; and some true stories of characters from Atchison’s history, like the Psychic Wonder Girl Eugenia Dennis who traveled the country in the 1920s touting her skills on the vaudeville circuit.
If you are not into the paranormal, the tours are also of interest to people who simply want to get an up-close look at really interesting architecture. Atchison has some truly beautiful and unusual homes you will experience as a part of these tours. My kids also enjoyed the museum exhibits which included a history of burial practices, alongside a non-Halloween related exhibit about Atchison’s general history. There is a free train for the kids running outside the Santa Fe Depot museum, Amelia Earhart’s house to tour, a great river walk that commemorates Louis & Clark’s landing and some unique shopping and dining.
It appears however, if you don’t like ghosts you will be in the minority this time of year. MOST visitors seem VERY interested in the paranormal. A group of six people wearing their matching “Ghost Hunters International” t-shirts stepped out of the car when we arrived to join the next trolley tour. There are actually a host of “haunted” activities you can participate in when you go to Atchison, including walking tours, interior private home tours, dining events, chances to meet with a medium and new-this-year the Atchison Spirit Fair set for Saturday October 29th at Theater Atchison. It will feature psychics, mystics, healers and even massage therapists - the last one being particularly important for those of you who find yourself a bit tense after all of the haunting and stories. You can find out more about it all at www.atchisonkansas.net/HauntedAtchison.
But hurry up if you plan to go, it all ends on October 31st… at least until summer when the Haunted Trolley Tours will re-start monthly rides gearing up for the next Haunting Season.Karen Ridder is a freelance writer living in Topeka. A former News Producer for KSNW-TV in Wichita, her work can also been seen in print publications including: Topeka Magazine, TK Magazine and the Topeka Capital-Journal. She has written for several national blogs and was recently recognized as one of the 2011 winners in the Annual Kansas Factual Story Contest. Karen has lived in Kansas for 15 years and married a native Wichitan. Together they are raising two little sunflower boys and a dog named George.