Fort Leavenworth, Kan., is a short trip from the Kansas City International Airport through scenic countryside. The post itself is beautiful, with bronze monuments to days gone by visible from the main road and giant oak trees littering the parade field. The people on base are an eclectic group, just like any other post around the nation.
And so are the ghosts. Leavenworth claims to be one of the most haunted forts in the Army, home to friendly, helpful ghosts as well as ones that are not so friendly.
Established in 1827 as a base to protect the Santa Fe Trail, Leavenworth has a rich history: It has seen several wars, including the Mexican-American War, the Civil War and the Indian Wars. It is also the origin of the Buffalo Soldiers and home to one of the most notable military prisons in the nation, the United States Disciplinary Barracks.
The Old Disciplinary Barracks
Completed in 1921, the barracks housed prisoners in cellblocks that radiated from a central structure. Administration buildings were separate structures within the walls. The barracks of the original facility, known as “The Castle,” were torn down in 2004, but many of the other original buildings, including guard towers, still remain.
“The ghost stories here are enormous,” Lissa Wojtkun, volunteer chairman for the Haunted Homes Tour, Friends of the Frontier Army Museum, said. “Every building, every place has some type of story attached to it.”
There was an uprising of prisoners during World War II, Wojtkun explained. As punishment, one prisoner would be hung every hour until all 14 had died, but because the gallows did not have enough space for everyone, one of the elevator shafts in an administration building was used instead. Since then, military police patrolling the area have heard screaming coming from the shaft when no one is around.
The most notorious story at concerning the barracks is one surrounding a watchtower.
“Tower 8 probably has the majority of the stories that are related to ghostly apparitions inside of it,” Wojtkun said. The tower, one of 12, was not renovated when the others were, because it was no longer manned. It was closed down after one of the guards turned a shotgun on himself.
One night, about 20 years ago, a Soldier on his first duty out of basic training was on the swing shift in Tower 10. He could see Tower 8 and noticed someone there, even though the tower was supposed to be closed.
“He’s thinking the USDB commander or posting NCO was trying to play a trick, making sure that he wasn’t sleeping on the job or missing something,” Wojtkun said. He called over to the control tower and said he saw the person in Tower 8, and to knock it off. The Soldier went through the process of determining what it was not: It wasn’t a tree limb or trick of the light. Someone was in the tower. When the person didn’t leave, he called control again.
“Well, the second time the clerk didn’t know what to do because now twice this new MP is like, ‘Cut it out, we see the person in there.’ And it just so happens that the commander of the prison and the posting NCO were in the control room,” she explained. “So the clerk handed the (radio) over and once again the new MP was like, ‘I see someone in there. Who’s in Tower 8?’ And the commander (said), ‘I’m here, the posting NCO is here. There’s no one in Tower 8.’”
The Soldier then thought it might be Tower 7 pulling the prank, so he called over there. The guard in Tower 7 answered normally. By the end of the shift, the new MP still hadn’t figured out who was in Tower 8, but his relief told him about the guard who committed suicide there. He had been seeing a ghost.
Sometimes, Wojtkun said, control will still receive calls from the abandoned tower.
The Sutler House
The post sutler was in charge of distributing provisions to Soldiers and often lived on or near the base. Leavenworth’s original sutler’s house was built off post in 1841, and Hiram Rich was the sutler until 1862, when he died.
There are several stories associated with the sutler’s house: A mysterious female ghost is sometimes spotted in the house, and sounds of a ball or dance come from the attic, Wojtkun explained.
More recently, a family residing in the house put in a work order to repair a door that had been painted shut. “They went out one night, came back, (and) the 8-year-old daughter realized that not only is it opened, but it has been unstuck and it hasn’t disturbed the paint or anything on it,” she said. No one had come to the house yet to fix the door.
The most popular and probably the eeriest story associated with Hiram Rich is the story of a woman named Catherine.
“Now, post folklore kind of changes a little year after year, and the more people that tell it, a little bit more story comes alive,” Wojtkun said. “There is this one story of a Catherine, her name is Catherine Sutler, she is known to roam this cemetery, and the golf course that’s right next door.”
The legend is that Catherine arrived on post from Indiana with her husband Hiram and their two children, Mary and Ethan. While they were visiting the post, the children went to get some firewood but never came home. Their parents searched the post for months, but after a while Hiram had to return to home. Catherine stayed, searching the post throughout the winter, even in the dead of night with nothing but a lantern. She died on base, still looking for her children.
In the spring, Fox Indians brought the children back to the base — they had fallen into the river and been swept away. They were returned to their father.
People say they still see her ghost at night, wandering around with the lantern.
The only problem with this story is that Catherine isn’t the name of Hiram’s wife — it is that of his only child, a girl who died during infancy. The entire family is buried in the Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery. So who is the apparition of the searching woman?
“I am doing research,” Wojtkun said. “When I took over the Haunted Fort Leavenworth Tour, there were a lot of questions, so I am slowly trying to go through the research of it. The only Catherine I found is this Catherine,” she said of the Rich family.
Whoever the woman may be, base folklore encourages those who encounter her to let her know that Ethan and Mary were returned to their father, and she can rest now.
The most haunted building on the base is also the oldest surviving building and the oldest continuously occupied residence: the Rookery. The building was originally used as the commanding officer’s quarters, and then later for bachelor officers’ housing. It was designated a family residence in the early 1900s.
“One of the questions I often get is: Are there some mean ghosts? And the only one that I could say was probably a little on the scary side would be the Lady in White here at the Rookery,” Wojtkun said.
The Lady in White was living on post while her husband was away on a campaign with the cavalry. While they were gone, Indians attacked the post and she was tortured and killed. She can be seen on either side of the duplex in a white dress, with long, scraggly gray hair. She is known to scream and chase anyone she sees, Wojtkun explained.
But, the Lady in White is not the only ghost in the house. Former resident Carlos Munoz and his family had some interesting experiences while living there. The first happened while Munoz was away. His wife saw the apparition of a man in what she described as a western-style shirt and vest with burlap or tweed pants. Later in September, the Munoz family was visiting Fort Scott and bought a book on the ghosts of Leavenworth.
“As I’m driving back up the highway, coming back to Kansas City, (my wife) goes, ‘Oh, my God!’ And I’m thinking there’s a deer in the road or something happened or whatever, and I said, ‘What’s the matter?’ And she goes, ‘This is who I saw in the basement!’ And it’s a picture of Maj. Ogden,” Munoz said.
Major Edmund A. Ogden helped oversee the construction of Fort Riley in 1853, and was the quartermaster at Fort Leavenworth. While serving as the quartermaster, he lived in the Rookery. He died at Fort Riley during a cholera outbreak, Munoz explained, and is buried there, but his ghost returned to his Leavenworth residence.
The Munoz family heard and saw other unexplainable noises and apparitions while living in the house. Though Munoz was able to debunk some of the sounds, the sheer volume of unexplained occurrences led him to believe the house was truly haunted.
Munoz was put in contact with a paranormal investigation team that came to look at the house in 2010.
“I told them absolutely nothing about the house other than the address, and I told them very specifically not to do any research on the house because what you are going to find on the Internet is incorrect,” he said.
When the team arrived, they estimated the investigation would take about six hours due to the size of the house. Munoz received a call from the team about two and half hours after they started — they were done. The ghosts had asked them to leave.
“What they told me was the house is occupied by four ghosts. The one ghost, they were calling him the general,” Munoz said, but they were actually seeing Ogden. Munoz showed the investigators a picture of Ogden to confirm they had seen his apparition.
“They said he was very arrogant, but also said he was very much in charge of the ghosts that were in there,” he explained. The other ghosts in residence are a little girl, Rose, her nanny, Mary, and a young man named Robert. Rose can be heard whistling throughout the house, and Ogden’s spurred footsteps are often heard on the stairs. To hear about Munoz’s experiences while living in the Rookery, visit http://youtu.be/Ho3u_Zj4AmM.
Current residents of the Rookery don’t claim to notice anything unusual about their house, Wojtkun said.
There are many other stories throughout the base. The Lady in Black is a nice spirit inhabiting a house on Sumner Place, and she will babysit children; Quarters One is built on an old officer’s burial ground and is known for female apparitions and bumps in the night. But, whether the banging in the walls is a ghost or simply bad plumbing is up to the individual.
For more information on the Friends of the Army Frontier Museum, please visit http://www.ffam.us/.