THE GHOSTS OF FORT LEAVENWORTH
The tales and legends of ghosts at Kansas forts are plentiful, many of them dating back to the days of the wild frontier and the western pioneers. The spirits who walk here are the victims of disease, the sufferers of Indian attacks, the lost travelers, the slain soldiers and many other forgotten, and not-so-forgotten, souls.
Fort Leavenworth is the oldest continuously operated military post west of the Mississippi River and because of this, it has more than its share of ghosts and ghostly tales.
Perhaps the oldest ghost story at Fort Leavenworth is that of Father Fred. Currently, the St. Ignatius Chapel stands at the corner of McClellan and Pope Avenues on the post, but the original chapel burned down in the 1870's on the site of what is not a private residence. The original church, and rectory, burned down in 1875 and claimed the life of a young priest who had been assigned there. After the fire, the salvageable building material which had survived the fire was used to build the new residence. Some of the scorched bricks can still be seen making up the fireplace in the dining room of the house. Etched into these bricks are several names and one of them is Father Fred.
And the young priest's name is not the only that lingers in the house.... many who have lived here over the years claim to have seen the apparition of a priest in clerical collar and robe walking through the house. He has been reported walking up and down the stairs, in the kitchen and even in the dining room at meal time. In 1973, his image actually appeared in a Polaroid photo that was taken at a dinner party. As the photo developed, the smudged image of a robed figure appeared on the print.
Another very famous story, perhaps the most famous, is the ghost of Catherine Sutler. She, her husband and their two children arrived at Fort Leavenworth in the Fall of 1880. They were traveling west to the Oregon territory and stooped to visit family who lived at the fort. One morning, the two Sutler children were sent out to fetch firewood and many believe they may have wandered down near the river, where driftwood was easily available. When the children, named Ethan and Mary, did not return in a reasonable amount of time, their parent grew worried. They enlisted the help of others at the fort and as day turned to night, lanterns appeared and the banks of the river and the fort area were searched. Finally, after three days, the children were given up as dead.
But Catherine refused to give up the search. The trip to Oregon was postponed and Fall turned to Winter. Catherine became a familiar figure, wandering aimlessly about the fort both day and night, searching for the lost children. She walked along, carrying her lantern and crying their names into the darkness. Her search continued into the winter months and eventually she contracted pneumonia and died.
The following Spring, Hiram Sutler returned home to Indiana. A short time later, a message came and told him that his children were alive. They had been swept into the river and had been rescued by a band of Fox Indians. They took care of the children until Spring and then returned them to the fort. Ethan and Mary returned home to their father... leaving their mother resting peacefully in the cemetery at Fort Leavenworth.
But does she rest in peace? Not according to those who claim to have seen her ghost walking about the grounds of the post, a lantern held high above her head. They say they she walks every autumn, still searching for her lost children.... her voice crying into the night as she searches.
"Ethan? Mary?", she cries.... but no answer ever comes.
The story of the Lady in Black has also become a staple at the fort. It is said that a woman in a black dress and shawl once appeared in house along Sumner Place. While the lady never meant any harm, and in fact was responsible for quieting crying children, she did tend to unnerve some of the residents there. After one particularly chilling experience, the family living in the house vacated the place and went to stay at the Ramada Inn. They spoke to the base chaplain and he suggested an exorcism of their house at 16 Sumner Place. It was said that after that, the family was quite happy with the house.
Unfortunately, the people next door were not quite so happy.... because it is said that the ghostly woman moved next door to Quarters 18!
It was said that after that, the ghost made frequent appearances in the house, doing dishes and looking after the children. It has been said that people passing by the house have glimpsed the woman's figure looking out of the attic window and as far as I know she still resides there, caring after her living "family".
Another ghost at the base is that of General George Armstrong Custer, the most frequently sighted ghost in Kansas. It is said that his spirit still lingers there because of the fact that Lieutenant Colonel Custer was court-martialed at Fort Leavenworth in 1867 for leaving his command. Custer had been based at Fort Riley in the summer of 1867 when a cholera epidemic broke out there. Custer was away from the base at the time and left his regiment in a subordinate's hands while he traveled back to Fort Riley to see to his wife's welfare. For this, he was tried by court-martial and was sentenced to the loss of rank and pay for one year. He was reinstated and rejoined the Seventh Cavalry in September 1868. He served there until the disastrous Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876. It has been suggested that his ghost still walks Fort Leavenworth waiting for his sentencing from the court-martial.
The Rookery, located at 14 Sumner at Fort Leavenworth was built in 1832 and is the oldest house in Kansas that has been occupied as a residence over the years. The house is also believed to be one of the most haunted in the state.... at least in the sheer number of ghosts the Rookery is said to house. The most famous ghost is that of a woman with long hair who has been reported to rush at people, her hair streaming and fingernails clawing as she seems to attack. She is believed to be the ghostly victim of some violent attack.
Another ghost is that of an old woman who has been observed chattering in the corner. Some witnesses also say that have seen a ghostly young girl throwing a tantrum and others say that have encountered an old man with bushy hair who wears a nightshirt and rouses people from their sleep.
There are many other ghosts on the grounds of the fort, although some of them are not as well-known. One phantom, said to haunt the local cemetery, is that of Chief Joseph, the Nez Perce leader who was imprisoned at the fort in 1877.
Another haunted place is said to be Sheridan House, where the vengeful spirit of Mrs. Phillip Sheridan, wife of the General, is still said to linger. In 1869, the General deserted his wife on her deathbed to go to Chicago on business. She has apparently never forgiven him.
There is also reportedly a ghost at McClellan Officer's Quarters. He is the presence of a man with a mustache and goatee and he had been seen near the fireplace and his footsteps have been heard later at night, stumbling through the house.
Fort Leavenworth is located 2 miles north of the city of Leavenworth on Highway 73 in the northeastern part of the state. The Rookery is located at 14 Sumner Place; Sheridan House is at 611 Scott Avenue; and the old chapel was once located at 632 Thomas Avenue.
Copyright 1998 by Troy Taylor
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