Ghosts of the Prairie


BY Joan Gilbert

“If a house was seated on some melancholy place, or built in some old romantic manner, or if any particular accident had happened in it, such as murder, sudden death or the like... the house had a mark set on it, and was afterwards esteemed the habitation of a ghost”
Bourne’s Antiquities

In 1998 a beautiful book about the Governor’s Mansion was published in Jefferson City. Naturally, the house is believed to have some ghosts. How could it not, having stood so long and seen so much drama? In IF WALLS COULD TALK, Missouri’s First Lady Jean Carnahan acknowledged this even as she assembled, in a scholarly way, hundreds of illustrations and the essence of uncountable state documents to tell the story of each governor’s family preceding hers in this lovely 1871 home.

At Halloween time in 1997, television station KRCG in Jefferson City carried a series of ghost tales set in central Missouri. Once concerned a little girl encountered in the attic of the governor’s mansion. As the story was related, cameras shifted to the lawn where there is a fountain ornamented by the bronze figure of a child happily dancing in the spray. The statue was said to have been cast in memory of that girl in the attic.

She was thought to be nine-year-old Carrie who died in 1883. Her father, Governor Thomas Crittenden, is remembered partly for taking a successful stand against bandit and guerilla activity in the state and is believed to have set in motion events resulting in the death of Jesse James and the surrender of his brother, Frank.

During Crittenden’s most stringent efforts, Mrs. Carnahan tells us, his life was threatened as was the kidnapping of his daughter. Thereafter, he kept bodyguards with the lively, golden-haired Carrie at all times. Like other powerful people of his era though, he was helpless against disease. Diptheria took Carrie just as it took thousands of other Missouri children. He expressed his grief in a song “My Child”, that he wrote and published after her death.

Mrs. Carnahan’s book says that during the tenure of Governor Christopher Bond, exactly 100 years after Carrie’s death, a repairman came down from the attic at the end of a day’s work and said to a member of Mrs. Bond’s staff, “You might want to mention to them that their little girl is playing around up there. She spent most of the day with me.”

Former Missouri Governor Thomas Crittenden

When told that the Bonds had no little girl, he insisted, “Well, then it must be some neighbor’s, because she hung around me for hours. She was eight years old or so, wearing a white dress.”
A search of the attic and the staircases disclosed no child. Some sources say that particular worker did not return to finish his project!

So far as is recorded, Carrie (the first person to die in the current mansion) has not appeared since that day. Neither of the other two people who died in the mansion seems to have returned in ghostly form. One was Governor John Sappington Marmeduke, who served from 1885 to 1887. He had served in the Confederate Army and reportedly told his fellow officers, camped across the river and in view of the mansion, that he would someday live there.

The other person who died in the mansion was Mrs. Alexander Dockery, the former Mary Elizabeth Bird. She had been a semi-invalid when she came to the mansion but still managed to be an active and admire first lady. Her death came on January 1, 1903. By interesting coincidence, each of these three people died during the holiday season and lay in state among festive decorations.

According to KRCG, other haunts inhabit the mansion, but none seem connected to any particular events in the history of the pace. Objects do move around at times, the documentary said, and other inexplicable things happen. For instance, candles put out fresh for some event were found only a few minutes later melted down from use. Sounds reported, mainly by guards who are on duty at night, are of quite merriment, like guests assembling for one of the many parties the mansion has seen. Sometimes, barely audible voices and ripples of laughter seem to move up the stairs or through the hallways, as if groups were making their way to the ballroom or dining room.

Only once has anything alarming enough happened that a guard has resigned. He was on duty alone, the book says, when the mansion’s elevator began moving about erratically. He suspected vandals at once, and was alarmed at what this could mean to the building’s priceless historic contents. Although he most like called immediately for reinforcements, he also sprinted downstairs with his gun drawn, trying to intercept the elevator. It remained unresponsive to calls and continued to zip about, stopping here and there. No vandals were ever found and no signs of forced entry. There have been no reports of the elevator misbehaving since that time.

Undoubtedly, it was thoroughly examined and service to reassure everyone that it could be used again without fear. And undoubtedly, such an occurrence makes everyone in the mansion happy to accept such unthreatening little mysteries as footsteps heard in carpeted areas... where actual footfalls would be silent!


Ghosts of the Missouri Governor's Mansion is © Copyright 2000 by Joan Gilbert

© Copyright 2001 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.