The Most Haunted Post in the Army

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It’s not really surprising that ghosts and unsettled spirits are woven into the history of Fort Leavenworth – after all, it is the oldest active United States Army post west of the Mississippi River.. Established in 1827 by Colonel Henry Leavenworth from the 3rd Infantry Regiment, Fort Leavenworth was to be a forward base protecting the Santa Fe Trail. Located in the bluffs along the west bank of Missouri River, the post often finds itself encapsulated by fog – the perfect spooky atmosphere for a haunting or two.

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Fort Leavenworth is well-aware of it’s reputation. In fact, the Friends of the Frontier Army Museum organize an annual Haunted Fort Leavenworth Tour, an event where the public is invited to walk around post at night to visit haunted locations and listen to volunteers relay stories about the ghosts and spirits. According to a Military Times article, the museum has multiple binders full of stories of hauntings around post. And a handful of years ago, Army.mil picked up a Leavenworth Lamp article detailing one family’s experience living in the oldest home in Kansas, the Rookery on Fort Leavenworth.

$_35We live in Infantry Barracks – a collection of multi-family homes built in 1903. While we haven’t personally seen any aberrations, ghosts, or spirits, we’ve heard strange sounds and rogue footsteps that we’ve chalked up to just living in an old home. But upon researching more about the haunted nature of Fort Leavenworth, I’m definitely going to more cognizant of the unexplained during the rest of our year here.

The following areas and buildings around post are thought to be haunted – this post is not considered to be a complete picture of Fort Leavenworth’s haunted history but rather a snapshot of some of the ghost stories associated with the oldest active Army post west of the Mississippi River.

Parade Grounds

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An overwhelming amount of families who have been stationed at Fort Leavenworth have seen ghosts of soldiers dressed in Civil War-era uniforms on the parade grounds on the darkest of nights. The soldiers are both on foot and on horseback and seem to fade into the mist as quickly as they arrive. The parade grounds have been in constant use since 1827 and have served no other use than to be parade grounds. In fact, the current parade grounds are exactly the same as they were shown on the plan for Containment Leavenworth in 1828. Adding to the probability of a spirit or two is the fact that the oldest homes on post surround the Fort Leavenworth parade grounds.

The Rookery

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Historic American Buildings Survey Douglas McCleery, Photographer June 1958

One such home overlooking the parade grounds is The Rookery. Built in 1827, not only is it the oldest home on post, it is also the oldest building in Kansas. The Rookery has been home to some famous names in American history – Lewis Clark is thought to have stayed there during a 1836 visit to Fort Leavenworth and some records indicate that Douglas MacArthur lived in the house while he was a young lieutenant. Since the turn of the century, residents have reported seeing a gray-haired lady in a long white dress who is believed to be the wife of a cavalry soldier who was away on a campaign. Some stories tell of how she was tortured and eventually killed during an Indian attack, which is why her soul is cemented in Fort Leavenworth.

When we first arrived on post and signed for our Infantry Barracks housing, we were told that residents of The Rookery must sign a waiver before moving in indicating that they understand they can’t break their lease due to strange noises, unexplained occurrences, or ghost sightings. I’m sure it is just hearsay for added effect but with so many previous families reporting such happenings, it’s hard not to believe that something is going on in the oldest building in Kansas.

Lady in Black

The Lady in Black is one of Fort Leavenworth’s more kind ghosts – over the years, residents of the Sumner Place, which also borders the parade grounds, have reported domestic chores being completed by an unknown presence. One family stated that their son informed them that a nice old lady in black would read him stories in the rocking chair before bed. Another family was so disturbed by her presence that they had an exorcism performed on the house. And many have reported seeing her black figure in the attic window. Interestingly, the lady in black doesn’t seem to take kindly to babysitters or grandmothers – giving them a firm push out of the children(s)’ bedrooms…perhaps she considers them competition?

United States Disciplinary Barracks

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Fort Leavenworth has a lot of prisons. Some even swear there are secret prisons on the property. But perhaps the most recognizable is the United States Disciplinary Barracks (USDB) that were in use from 1877 – 2002. The wall and remaining buildings of the original USDB loom over the historic area of post. When the new USDB (further away from main post) became operational in 2002, the largest buildings of the original USDB (‘The Castle’) were torn down due to their deteriorating state while buildings that were deemed salvageable were converted for other uses.

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The Castle

One ghost story about the old USDB involves military police occasionally hearing screaming from the elevator shaft in an administration building. Apparently, there was an uprising of prisoners during WWII and a prisoner was hung every hour until all involved had died. The gallows did not have enough space for said prisoners so the elevator shaft in the administration building was used. Screaming has been heard ever since.

Another well-known story has to do with Tower 8 – one of the remaining guardhouses that still stands today. Many years ago, well before the old USDB closed, Tower 8 was permanently unmanned after a guard committed suicide there while on duty. Despite Tower 8 being closed and unmanned, soldiers reported receiving calls from the abandoned tower and seeing shadowed figures keeping watch from inside.

Father Fred

In 1875, flames overpowered the St. Ignatius Chapel with a young priest, Father Fred, inside. The church burned down and took the life of Father Fred. There is some disagreement over the site of the original chapel – some believe it is where Otis Hall currently stands while others are adamant that a private residence was built on the sacred ground. Rumor has it that materials salvaged from the fire were used to build that residence, including scorched bricks – many of which bear numerous names, including Father Fred.

Many who have lived in that house over the years have claimed to feel the presence of Father Fred. He can be seen and heard walking up the stairs and apparently in 1973, his image appeared in a Polaroid photo taken at a dinner party. Unfortunately, a digital image of said Polaroid does not seem to exist. Why Father Fred has continued to make his presence known to Fort Leavenworth families over the years is unknown. He is showed himself to be friendly and not in the habit of purposely scaring the inhabitants of the residences built on or near the original site of St. Ignatius Chapel. It’s said that on the quietest of nights when the people living in the house aren’t home, you can hear Father Fred using their sewing machine to repair his robe. Years ago, one family reported finding thread all over the floor on occasion and at first, rationalized the sewing machine running by itself due to old wiring in the house. But over time, they attributed the sewing machine use to Father Fred.

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One famous story about Father Fred involves a maintenance man who was working in the attic alone on a hot summer day when he suddenly felt someone place a cold rag on his neck. Assuming it to be a fellow maintenance worker, he quickly turned around and soon realized that he was still alone. The maintenance man packed up his tools and never returned unless he was accompanied by another person. Another popular story has to do with six inmates from the USDB who were working in the attic of the then-empty house many years ago. Almost immediately after beginning work, all six men ran out of the house back to the USDB – banging on the door and asking to be admitted back within the confines of the stone walls. The six inmates never shared what they saw but all refused to return to the house.

A more recent Father Fred experience is him saving a teenage girl who lived in the house from choking on a pineapple in the kitchen while her family was outside blissfully unaware of her affliction. The teenage girl reports feeling two hands preforming the Heimlich maneuver – she assumed that a family member had finally heard her choking. But when she turned around, no one was there.

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Sadly, the second St. Ignatius Chapel that was built in 1889 burned down in 2001. As of 2015, a third St. Ignatius Chapel has not been built.

Catherine Sutler

Like many Americans during the late 18th century, the Sutler Family – Hiram, Catherine, Ethan, and Mary – left their home in Indiana to venture west. The family set up camp at Fort Leavenworth in early winter, intending to just stay a couple of days before continuing on to the Oregon Trail. Catherine sent the children to collect firewood for the family. That night, Ethan and Mary never returned. According to some accounts, Hiram eventually returned to Indiana but Catherine refused to leave Fort Leavenworth in hopes of finding her beloved children. All that winter, Catherine was seen walking throughout the snow-covered bluffs calling for Ethan and Mary. She soon developed pneumonia and succumbed to the illness. The story goes that after Catherine died, Hiram received a message that his children were alive – rescued from the Missouri River by a group of Fox Indians. The children were taken care of by the group throughout the harsh winter and by the spring thaw, they were able to make the journey with the children back to Fort Leavenworth. Since then, various residents have reported seeing Catherine roaming around post with a lantern and other have insisted they’ve heard the calls of “Ethan” and “Mary” on the coldest of nights.

Office of the Staff Judge Advocate Building

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And finally – the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate. Located at 615 McClellan Avenue, the building is on the site of the first hospital on Fort Leavenworth. Soldiers who have worked in the building after hours over the years, report hearing strange noises and feeling the presence of someone behind them, only to discover that they’re alone in the building.

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Perhaps Fort Leavenworth is haunted because the Commanding General’s house was built on the site of the former Burial Ground for Enlisted Men – that can’t be a good thing, right?

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In all seriousness, Fort Leavenworth is a beautiful post that is rich in history that captures the spirit of the pioneer days. Should you find yourself stationed at Fort Leavenworth or just in the area for a visit, be sure to take a walk around historic post at night. You never know what or who you might see. If you’re aware of other hauntings in Fort Leavenworth or the surrounding area or have details to add to the stories discussed, please do not hesitant to comment!

Sources

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What I Am Currently Listening To…

Since my husband is currently nose-deep in school work, I’m typing on my computer while using headphones to listen to music. I love reading music-related lists so I thought I’d put together a short compilation of what I am currently listening to – aside from Adele’s Hello, of course. I can’t help it – it’s a bloody amazing song.

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I don’t think Lionel Richie’s Hello will never not be funny.

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I die.

Nina Simone – Sinnerman

I first heard this song in the remake of the Thomas Crown Affair with Pierce Brosnan (much better than any Bond movie he did – I’m a Daniel Craig gal myself). I discovered Nina Simone again during our time at Fort Drum – my boss would listen to her greatest hits album while driving us around to various meetings throughout the rural countryside of northern New York. Ms. Simone’s rendition of this traditional African American spiritual song is everything jazz and gospel should be – and I can’t help but get up and move when the definitive opening bars are heard.

Ryan Adams – Bad Blood

To be honest, I find his tortured musician act tiresome and his voice doesn’t do anything for me 83% of the time. But his cover of Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood? It’s pretty darn good. And better than the original (please don’t hurt me Tay-tay).

Mr. Blue Sky – Electric Light Orchestra

I don’t think there is one song that Jeff Lyne wrote/composed/produced that I don’t love. It’s hard for me to choose a favorite ELO song but Mr. Blue Sky is certainly in the running. And honestly, is it ever a bad idea to add string instruments to an arrangement?

The Outfield – Your Love

If someone were to ask me to compose a list of the Top 10 Definitive 80’s Songs, this song would be in the top half – no contest.  The song instantly transports me back to college, which is funny because it first became a hit in 1986 when I was three. Because of my steadfast love for the song, I also adored this SNL skit from 2013 that is solely the song being lip-lynched.

The Hooters – And We Danced 

You know, not nearly enough songs feature mandolins. Like the song above, this is one of my favorite songs from the decade that gave us the Facts of Life and Good Morning, Miss Bliss. If you don’t get up and dance at least once during this song then you’re a communist.

Better Than Ezra – Juicy

One of my favorite bands from the 1990’s (that we finally saw live earlier this year). The third single from the 2005 album Before the Robots, Juicy was a moderate hit. Unfortunately, it was also featured in a Chili’s commercial (really Better Than Ezra…Chili’s?).

What are you currently listening to?

Colorado Springs – Part Two – The Pikes Peak Cog Railway

As mentioned in Colorado Springs – Part One, we decided to drive 18 hours round trip to spend 48 hours among mountains. Our first day was spent hiking in Garden of the Gods and exploring Colorado Springs. The following day began in Manitou Springs, Colorado, then involved a ride up to the summit of Pikes Peak, and ended with dinner in Colorado Springs before getting back on the road to spend the night in Colby, Kansas. So without further ado – the rest of the recap of our whirlwind trip to Colorado.

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Manitou Springs is the epitome of a mountain town with unique shops, historic homes, and incredible views. There is also a penny arcade, various mineral springs, and annual events that fall on the eccentric side – such as the Fruitcake Toss. It is a popular destination because of it’s location at the foot of Pikes Peak. We grabbed a cup of coffee at Red Dog Coffee and walked around the town until it was time to head to the train station.

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We originally planned on driving up Pike’s Peak but since we recently purchased a vehicle, we decided not to risk burning out brand new brakes on the decent. We knew hiking to the summit was out because our children are young so when we learned about the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, we knew we found our source of transportation up the mountain. I purchased our tickets online (we had the option for Violet to sit on our lap but opted to buy her a seat to give us flexibility – well worth the $20 in our opinion) the week prior because trains can sell out before the day of departure.

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Sunglasses are a must on the train.

We arrived about 30 minutes before departure time in order to collect our tickets at the window. While there were a lot of people waiting in that area, it was an efficient process and we had our tickets in hand shortly after arriving. In the waiting area, there is a gift shop and small convince shop where you can purchase {overpriced} food items – yes, food is allowed on the train. Since the ascent takes over an hour, it’s good to have food on hand to keep little ones (and hungry big ones) happy. There is not a bathroom on board the train so the waiting area also has a handful of bathrooms, which we definitely hit up before boarding. We lined up to board our train about 10 minutes before departure but didn’t actually step foot on the train until 10:40am (our estimated departure time).

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The seats are designed to face toward each other in groups of six (three on each side). We sat next to an older couple from Denver – our assigned seats were the closest four to the window but there really isn’t a bad seat on the train because the windows are so large. Before long, we were on our way up!

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Colorado has 54 mountains over 14,000 ft. Pikes Peak ranks #31 at 14,115 ft. and is the highest summit of the southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. The mountain raises 8,000 ft. above downtown Colorado Springs (the city is already 6,000 ft. above sea level). So while we were over 14,000 ft. at the summit, the train itself only ascended less than 8,000 ft. The Pikes Peak Cog Railway has almost 9 miles of track and the railway itself is the highest in North America, which means that the views on the way up (and down) were outstanding.

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When we went to Alaska, I was disappointed to find out that the majority of the pictures I took failed to capture the majesty of the mountains. Unfortunately, I feel the same way about the pictures taken this trip so please understand that the following pictures to do justice to the majesty of Pikes Peak. The majority of Colorado Springs falls in the Eastern Plains Zone, which extends up to 6,000ft. Pikes Peak encompasses four distinct life zones – the Depot (6,000 – 8,000ft), Montane Zone (8,000 to 10,000 ft), Subalpine Zone (10,000 to 11,500 ft), and Alpine Zone (11,500 ft. and above). It was really cool to see changes that accompany each distinct life zone on our ride up the mountain.

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Pikes Peak has a clear tree-line at 11,5000 ft because the Alpine Zone (tundra) does not contain trees because of it’s high altitude. The lack of the greenhouse effect at such high altitude causes the cold climate in the alpine tundra. As soon as we reached the Alpine Zone, there was a noticeable temperature drop. While the weather was 80 degrees in Manitou Springs that day, the temperatures hovered around 30 degrees at the summit. Pikes Peak is home to one of Colorado’s largest bighorn sheep herds and we were able to see a few on the ride! Unfortunately, there were too far away to show up in a picture taken with my iPhone.

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When we reached the top, we had about 30 minutes to walk around and explore before needing to board the train for the decent. We bought round trip tickets but hikers have the option to purchase one-way tickets – either for the decent or ascent. Some people were grumbling at the lack of time at the summit but for us with two young kids, it was the perfect amount of time. At the peak, the partial pressure of oxygen is only about 60% of that at sea level. Seeing as how we spent the past three years (and all of V’s life) in Washington DC at about 200 ft elevation and currently live in Fort Leavenworth, KS at about 800 ft elevation, our little family is not acclimated to higher elevation.

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But the views were totally worth the effects of the altitude.

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From the top, you can see up to five states on a clear day (Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Wyoming, and New Mexico). Views are to be seen from every direction – Garden of the Gods, the Continental Divide, various reservoirs, and summits of other peaks.

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We walked all around up top. There is a gift shop/restaurant at the summit but we didn’t waste our limited time visiting there other than to use the restrooms. We came for the views – not subpar food and cheap souvenirs.

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The Army is everywhere.

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Violet was no match for the high altitude. She fell asleep after about 20 minutes at 14,000 ft.

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And then continued to sleep the entire descent. Weston joined her shortly after boarding.

We’ve discovered our children’s kryptonite – altitude!

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If you’re wanting to go to the top of Pikes Peak and unable to hike/unwilling to drive, I highly recommend the Pikes Peak Cog Railway. The experience did eat up a large chunk of our day but the opportunity to soak in views at 14,000+ ft. made it worthwhile. While we did enjoy the train, Clay and I do hope that the next time we’re on top of Pikes Peak, we’re there because we hiked the 13 miles trail ourselves.