From the collections at the Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum. Reprinted with permission from The Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum and the Leavenworth Times. Donated by Debra Graden.
Ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night might be great subjects for movies but they are not a laughing matter for persons who live in houses reported to be haunted.
Fort Leavenworth has a reputation for haunted housing: more than a dozen places on the fort are the sources of ghost stories.
One collector of these stories is John Reichley, a member of the Fort Leavenworth Historical Society. He noted that many of the stories about the ghosts of such famous personages as General George Armstrong Custer and Mrs. Phillip Sheridan are easily debunked. Other stories are not so easily dismissed, he said.
In the latter category are the stories about "Father Fred," a friendly ghost who lives on post in a residence rumored to have been built from timbers salvaged from a rectory that burned in 1875. One of the priests living there survived the fire but the other was killed in it, according to tradition.
The legend is, Reichley explained, that the priest who died in the fire is Father Fred.
For the most part, Father Fred is a friendly entity who doesn't play tricks on the occupants or create many problems. His most famous habit is using the sewing machine.
In fact, Reichley said, one of the first stories he heard about Father Fred was from someone who lived next door. She had heard the sewing machine at the neighbors' house running non-stop for half an hour one day although no one was home.
When the neighbor returned and was questioned, her response was "Yes, well we lose a lot of thread that way, it gets all over the floor."
She went on to explain that the sewing machine and the wiring in the house had been checked and there was no rational explanation for the machine running. The only thing the family could figure out was that Father Fred was doing the sewing.
"Who is Father Fred?" the questioner asked. "Oh, he's the ghost who shares our house with us," was the matter-of-fact response.
Reichley said his theory is that the sewing is related to Father Fred's garments. He seems to be trying to repair his clothing or sew new vestments.
One verified story about the residence Father Fred is supposed to live in involves a worker who had gone to the attic while the house was unoccupied and felt something like a cold dishrag touch his shoulder. The worker turned around quickly; when he saw nothing he grabbed his tools and left. He said ne never returned unless he was with another person.
Reichley said one popular story he has not been able to verify about Father Fred's house had to do with U.S. Disciplinary Barracks inmates. Some years back, about six men from the DB were at the house working in the attic. Shortly after they began work, all six went running out of the house back to the DB and banged on the door asking to be admitted. The inmates never said what they saw but they all refused to return to the house.
Father Fred's presence is felt particularly in the winter it and does seem to be perceived by family pets. Reichley said Father Fred is supposed to be out more when fires are built in the fireplace, which connects with the story about his dying in a fire.
As each ghostly entity develops a reputation, Reichley noted, the stories about him become exagerated. Some of the odder, unverified stories about Father Fred are that he attends family parties, and that one family used to take him to movies and to church. Teichley said he is certain these incidents did not take place.
A picture of Father Fred is supposed to exist. The story is that someone snapped an instantly developing picture at a party and discovered a form in the background that appeared to be a robed figure. A black and white picture was taken immediately, but showed nothing unusual.
Reichley said that he has seen only a photocopy of the picture, which had not reproduced well enough to be proof of an unusual entity. He also notes that an artist's rendition exists of Father Fred which depicts an average-size priest with a beard. However, he said, the history of that rendition does not exist and might simply be a picture of a priest of the proper era.
Common threads running through all the ghost stories at Fort Leavenworth are that the entities were supposed to have lived in the 19th century, Reichley said. Also, when the ghost is present, the temperature in the room cools dramatically -- about one degree each minute.
The attics seem to be the most popular for the ghosts and are the source of many reported incidents. Numerous stories exist of doorknobs turning inexplicably or of families returning home to find lights on in the attic when lights had not been on when they left.
Most of the reported ghosts stay in the oldest part of Fort Leavenworth, Reichley said.
He noted that the fort is one of the oldest military posts in continuous in the country. It is built on former Indian territory and one of the fist reported incidents about the fort involves the residents being stricken with fever. It is possible the fort's age, the association with death, or its Indian history might have something to do with the attraction of ghosts, Reichley speculated.
Emphasizing he does not believe in ghosts, Reichley said that in collecting his ghost stories he has encountered incidents that cannot be explained away easily.
some of his favorite stories involve the Lady in Black, a ghost who is reputed to read to the children of the house, to occasionally do dishes, and to take care of babies who awaken in the night. Her presence has been reported in more than one place, and she is said to have moved once after an exorcism was performed by some Protestant church officials at her original residence. She may even have gone visiting nearby, according to one story.
Reichley said the Lady in Black is one ghost whose real-life history might be traced. He said he has learned of a woman whose children fell in the river; but who were pulled out downstream by Indians. The Indians returned the children to the fort, but the mother had already died of the shock of thinking her children had been killed. It is possible this woman might be the Lady in Black, a ghost who loves caring for children but who is reported to dislike grandmothers.
Reichley noted the persons living in houses reputed to be haunted have a variety of reactions to the situration. Some occupants never notice a singel unusual happening, although they might live in the residence for years. Other occupants take note of unusual events immediately.
A lot of people who lived in the houses alleged to be haunted seem to accept unusual happenings and learn to live with them. Reichley said he knew of one man who began sleeping with his keys and billfold. If he left them on the dresser they would have disappeared by morning two or three times a week, only to be found in a drawer or another room.
Some occupants easily dismiss the ghost stories, Reichley said, but these are usually the persons who experienced nothing unusual. A lot of people who didn't originally believe in ghosts became believers after they lived in these houses, or say now they believe out-of-the-ordinary things did happen.
He added that most persons living in the haunted houses aren't interested in being interviewed until after they move out. ??They feel more free to talk about it when they are no longer living in the haunted residence," Reichley noted.
??I am sure some of the stuff that happens is no fun. I know I wouldn't want to have to look for my car keys every morning."