The voice was telling someone to make sure they picked up a child on the way home from work.
Mike Unterreiner was working late at the hardware store his wife’s family has owned for three generations in the historic downtown Shawnee business district. He first thought someone was outside the garage door.
Unterreiner peeked out, but no one was there.
Then, he realized the voice was coming through his radio. Briefly, that made sense before he realized the volume switch was off and the radio unplugged.
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Unusual noises, strange voices, and things going bump in the night are nothing new at Hartman Hardware. They try to take it in stride.
“When we hear things, we always make a joke that grandpa is here,” Unterreiner said.
Grandpa, old homeowners, orphans, soldiers, and other unidentified shapes, shadows, and apparitions are apparently roaming Johnson County, North of the River and throughout other historic places in the Kansas City area.
While not all ghost hunters really are true believers or even understand exactly what they see, they agree that the unexplainable is real — defying reason and creating thrills, which keep them coming back to the real haunted places of Kansas City.
The Belvoir Winery in Liberty has become perhaps the most well-known haunted haunt in the metro. It has been featured on national television shows and people travel from across the country to visit, hoping for a paranormal experience.
The 1890s sweeping lodge and several associated buildings on a 170-acre plot along Missouri Highway 291 served as an orphanage for several decades and an Odd Fellows fraternal order old folks home. (Yes, it was really called an “old folks” home.)
The current main building was built on top of the charred remains of another orphanage and former hotel on the site. There is a 600-grave cemetery at the east end of the property, which routinely has unusual occurrences.
Operating manager Jesse Leimkuehler said the site had reports of ghosts for many years before the family purchased the property from the Odd Fellows in 1991.
The buildings were vacant for almost two decades while the family developed the winery and events venue. They started doing paranormal investigations in 2010, mainly to give people who were interested a safe and constructive outlet for their ghost-hunting.
“We want the people who run my investigations to accurately portray what is going on,” Leimkuehler said. “You don’t want someone who is just going around the corner from their friend and jumping out. If a raccoon runs around the corner, we want them to say it’s a raccoon.”
About 3/4ths of the people who come out for their ticketed, twice-monthly investigations, actually experience something they can’t explain — even the skeptics. The events are so popular that they’re already sold out through the end of the year.
Everyone who visits the Odd Fellows Home can be guaranteed to see at least one dead person — the skeleton.
That’s right. They have a real skeleton on display.
His name is George. He was a man who donated his body for use in the ritual rites of the Odd Fellows. He now resides in a small history room The Belvoir maintains to explain the heritage of the site.
George is not actually believed to be involved with any of the hauntings.
However, Leimkuehler was standing right outside George’s room when he saw one of the few full apparitions he’s experienced during his time there — a woman walking across the hallway.
“The apparitions stick out to you, because you are seeing someone who is not there,” he said. “It’s relatively rare to see something like that. I’ve probably only seen them three times in the twenty years I’ve been here.”
Most of the experiences — which are quite regular for Leimkuehler, his staff, and guests — are more like voices down the hallway, footsteps when no one is there, and objects moved without explanation.
They believe most of the haunts are connected to the time when the building served as an orphanage.
“It’s pretty obvious it’s kids,” Leimkuehler said. “It’s just stuff that kids would do, playful type stuff, gotcha stuff. You hear kids running and laughing down the hallway areas.”
While not usually frightened by the ghosts, the one he thought was an actual person in one of the out buildings was more unsettling than usual.
It appeared to be a man looking around the corner at twilight. He disappeared into a room that had no outlet. When Leimkuehler went to investigate, no one was there.
“Those are the ones that will give you the biggest chills, because you think that someone is there,” Leimkuehler said. “Had I been able to tell it was a ghost I would have never gone down there.”
The Belvoir recently opened up a nine-room bed and breakfast on the third floor of the main building. That third floor is supposedly one of the most haunted at the site.
During the four months since they have been booking guests, five already have checked out in the middle of the night. They didn’t like waking up to see the twins standing in their room.
Over at Hartman Hardware, Unterreiner wouldn’t mind actually seeing something out in the open.
During the 32 years he has worked at the store, there have been so many “caught out of the corner of his eye” experiences, strange noises, and unexplainable occurrences, but the skeptic in him would really like to be sure.
“It would be nice,” Unterreiner said. “I see stuff out of the corner of my eyes, like there was something there, but there is nothing. That’s happened so often, I’m used to it by now.”
Then, there was the day that a tenant in the lawyer’s office next door came by to complain about all of the late night noise.
He said it sounded like they were having a party on the second floor of the hardware store. That space was once used as a lodge hall where they held dances.
These days, though, the only residents are lawn mowers and extra merchandise for the store. There isn’t even enough room for a party.
The hardware store had a paranormal investigation team come in — one associated with Ghost Stories of Kansas, after the group decided to start a tour of downtown Shawnee.
Beth Kornegay said one of the best ways to find ghost stories lingering around is just to ask.
“We went and knocked on the doors and talked to people,” she said. “We found ghost story after ghost story. There’s a cluster right here.”
Aside from Hartman Hardware, within a small two-block stretch there are also stories of a bar-keep lady who likes to cross through the hall of a former salon, a ghost who would mysteriously ring the doorbell of a photo studio, the lingering scent of cigars in a smoke-free business, and sounds of chairs going up and down in the closed old theater.
The area also was home to an historically frightening experience. Quantrill’s Raiders, who are most well-known for burning Lawrence to the ground during the Bleeding Kansas period leading up to the Civil War, did a dry run in Old Shawnee.
“He corralled all the town people in what is basically the city hall parking lot,” Kornegay said. “That was the town square. Then, he burned homes. One of his men was killed.”
One time while on a ghost tour, a guest caught a picture of a hand reaching over in front of a large plate-glass window.
“I was just shocked (about the hand),” Kornegay said. “I was standing right there when they took the picture.”
Kornegay loves to tell the stories, and has been interested in “all the crazy stuff” since she was a kid, but has never seen anything herself.
“I don’t see,” she said. “I’ve never seen a ghost. I like the evidence and the pictures. I don’t think I would like to. I am just a big fat scaredy-cat. I don’t want anything coming home with me.”
At the Shawnee Indian Mission Historic Site, Director Jennifer Laughlin said she’s never seen anything strange there, but this fall they allowed a set of paranormal investigators to check — just in case.
They were approached by the investigators, and like many places with historic buildings and purported haunts, Laughlin recognized any unusual paranormal activity might bring in a new audience.
“There is something to be said that it brings out people who would not normally come, so it can raise awareness,” Laughlin said.
The group has investigated one of the buildings, which is not yet restored and is rarely open. However, the historic site is considering a public event next year to help teach the real history with a side of thrill-seeking.
Patricia Schurkamp at the Wyandotte County History Museum said they definitely have unexplained happenings.
She believes some of their unusual occurrences are connected to specific artifacts. They have a wash basin from a former mortuary. Paranormal investigators believe two women are connected to it.
“One October it was in a display,” Schurkamp said. “That was when they got really upset and were really banging on the walls and doing some things. Then, we put it away again, and it calmed down.”
The museum had professional paranormal investigators out one time to research the archives.
The investigators believed there were five different ghosts at the museum. After the investigators left, museum staff came in to find the archives a mess, with several things pushed off the shelves.
Schurkamp, who often has to be at the facility alone, tries to keep a level head about the strange occurrences.
She also tries to ignore the rattling and shuffling, or the time the image of a woman walked through a mirror on the wall during one of their board meetings. She said she has gotten used to the activity, but sometimes she has to put the paranormal in its place.
After all, when it’s time for the public to come in, the lights really need to be on.
“You simply go in the room and say, ‘I don’t have time today,’ and tell them to leave things alone, and we don’t get bothered any more that day,” Schurkamp said.
Back at Hartman Hardware, Unterreiner says he hopes maybe he’ll get to join the other family members in being part of the fun one day.
“If I can, you’d better believe it,” Unterreiner said. “I would come back and jack with people. I think that would be quite fun. You never know. If we have to take the punishment, it’s only fair to get to hand it down.”
More Kansas City ghost stories
The Dickinson Theater at the Great Mall of the Great Plains: “Believe it or not, that was one of the worst hauntings we have done. I was working there at the time. People would claim they saw things and people walking in and out of the storage room where we kept the candy. We started by just leaving a recorder in there. When I went back to listen, I heard a voice that said, ‘He’s coming.’ That is what gave us our start.” - Jonathan Gower, Dead Time Paranormal of Kansas City
Harvey House in Leavenworth: “It was the second house Fred Harvey built. Fred Harvey died and his wife also died from pneumonia shortly after he died. The first time we were there, I didn’t have to try very hard to get responses on the ghost box and I don’t like to use the ghost box that much. Within a second of turning it on, it had said both of our names and said ‘Thank you for helping.’” - Jan Schoeler and Stephanie Turbiville, Kansas City Paranormal, who give a portion of proceeds from ticketed investigations to help support the historic renovation of the home
The Alexander Majors House and The John Wornall Home: “They are two very different places. The Wornall Home was a field hospital during the Battle of Westport. We get a lot of electronic phenomenon there in noises and equipment. People have also seen apparitions there. At the Alexander Majors House, things touch people. Investigators have seen things come down the stairs and go through their body. It is active all the time.” - Rob Garcia, Elite Paranormal of Kansas City
1859 Jail, Marshal’s Home and Museum in Independence: “This is where Frank James was housed. I have heard chains being pulled, like from people who were shackled. We were able to get a lot of voices you could hear on a recorder.” - Shawn Holland, Apex Paranormal
Blue Springs Historical Society: “They have some mannequins upstairs used to show old furs and coats. We were both sitting in the room with the mannequins and one of the heads moved and one of the arms moved up. That really scared me, because I don’t do mannequins. Ghosts, no problem. We also had a guy moan very loudly. It scared us. It sounded like someone is trying to scream underwater, but that it’s not easy for them.” - Jan Schoeler and Stephanie Turbiville, Kansas City Paranormal
Park University Campus in Parkville: “Our campus simply oozes history and my belief is — yes, indeed — there are presences, more felt than seen, of the long departed, strong-willed people who founded this school in 1875 and of those who gave their remarkable ideas and energy to construct and maintain it for the past 142 years. Mackay Hall, our multi-towered 1893 landmark building is known for providing an atmosphere that invites speculation — especially when doors close by themselves, footsteps are heard in vacant hallways, and whiffs of perfume materialize out of thin air.” - Carolyn McHenry Elwess,’71, Park University Archivist
Wyandotte County History Museum: “The worst was when we had the professionals out. We went to the archives and the books were all over the floor. There was a male in the archives and he was not a happy person. There was one in the auditorium. I was sitting in there with two women and, all of a sudden, their necklaces lifted up and down. I was out of there.” - Patricia Schurkamp, Museum Director Wyandotte County History Museum
Smithville Graveyard: “We were just taking pictures because it was evening in the summer time, and when the sun had set I noticed on the thermal camera that the gravestones would light up this orange color. When I looked at the pictures of the landscape, I noticed there was a person in the photo standing next to the tombstone directly in front of me. I swear you will not hear me say anyplace is haunted except that cemetery in Smithville.” - Katy Stafford, Supernatural Inc., who usually tries to give people reasonable explanations for their unusual experiences