Lawrence is a town with a lot of history, and to Beth Cooper that means one thing — plenty of places are haunted.
“There are historians and paranormal researchers who believe that Quantrill’s Raid had a huge impact on the energy of the community,” said Cooper, co-owner of Ghost Tours of Kansas, a Topeka-based company.
Maybe that’s one reason that Cooper believes the Eldridge Hotel — which was built by Col. Shalor Eldridge and burned down by William Quantrill — is one of the most haunted buildings in town. Cooper kicks off her Lawrence tours at the downtown landmark, where tour members might dine with Eldridge himself.
“Staff have seen his ghostly figure in a chair,” Cooper said. “The ghostly colonel has been seen smoking a cigar there, and once in a while, you can actually catch a waft of a cigar smoke.”
The spooky stories at the hotel continue up in Room 506. Recent guests had their door opened during the night and a set of golf clubs started shaking the next day. The couple asked for another room.
Why Room 506? Before the latest remodel of the hotel, the cornerstone of the original building, which survived a few fires, was placed in the room.
“There’s that theory that that creates a gateway for spirit activity to move back and forth,” Cooper said. The hotel keeps a list of eerie stories from guests and staff members.
Other haunts on Cooper’s ghostly tour include Pioneer Cemetery on Kansas University’s West Campus. Many killed during Quantrill’s Raid were laid to rest in a mass grave after the attack. While it originally was on the tour for historical purposes, an experience by a psychic on the tour gave the site its first ghost story.
“She started talking to one of these soldiers that was buried here,” Cooper said. “He had the same last name that she did. They actually carried on a conversation.”
Underneath the Massachusetts Street bridge is an original pylon from the first bridge over the Kansas River from more than 100 years ago. It was at this site that Pete Vinegar, his son and nephew were lynched. The story goes that Vinegar’s 14-year-old daughter, Sis, was meeting a wealthy white man under the bridge. Her brother and cousin decided to rob him, but they ended up killing him and throwing his body into the river.
“The boys weren’t very smart. They’d been back home, bragging about what they’d done. They ended up going to jail,” Cooper said.
Vinegar also was arrested. A mob broke into the jail, took the three to the Kaw and lynched them on the bridge. Children would walk by years later asking Pete what he’d done to deserve his punishment. A voice would answer, “Nothing. I didn’t do a thing to be hung.”
But that’s not the only haunt along the “hanging bridge,” as Cooper calls it. A ghost that people believed to be Lizzie Madden walks along where an old railroad bridge once ran. Sightings were even reported in the Lawrence Daily World more than 100 years ago.
“They believed she was murdered because of the distraught nature (of the ghost),” Cooper said.
Other stops on the haunted Lawrence tour include the Sigma Nu fraternity house and Haskell Indian Nations University. Tours are given all year, not just around Halloween.
“A lot of people believe that ghosts only come out at midnight on Halloween,” Cooper said. “That’s not true.”
To book a tour, log on to ghosttourkansas.com.