Conjuring up my best Cowardly Lion, I closed my eyes and whispered over and over, “I do believe in ghosts, I do believe in ghosts.”
The thing is, I don’t really believe in ghosts. But, if I did, there would surely be no better place to find them than during a Paranormal Investigation Tour of the abandoned buildings of the former Odd Fellows Complex, now known as the Belvoir Winery, in Liberty. It's also now home to The Inn at Belvoir Winery, which serves both as a luxurious place to stay and an elegant setting for events.
I was told a positive attitude toward ghosts increases their willingness to appear, thus my Cowardly Lion incantation. At any rate, I love exploring history, and I'm always up for a good story.
A thunderstorm had just moved through, shrouding the dilapidated buildings with an unearthly mist as about 15 of us, flashlights in hand, left the warm, well-lit, fully renovated administration building to trudge into the unknown.
The Odd Fellows, a benevolent organization, operated an orphanage, hospital and old folks’ home here starting in 1900. During WWII, German POWs were housed in some of the buildings. Another was rented out by the state as an insane asylum.
By the early 1990s, the facility closed permanently. Vandals, along with Missouri weather and Mother Nature, have done their damage. Most windows are broken, and staircases have collapsed on themselves. Dust and debris cover abandoned wheelchairs. Disconnected light bulbs swing by frayed wires from sagging ceilings. Trees and vines grow through windows and doorways. For those in search of a scary, unnerving place, it just doesn’t get any better than this.
Our first stop was a former underground storage facility and storm shelter. Through their frequent visits, Keith Ross and his team at Paranormal Research Investigators have become acquainted with the spirit of a child they call Matthew who often plays there.
Members of our group held K-II Electromagnetic Sensors, little devices that look like a TV remote control but have a variety of colored lights that flash when a ghost is nearby. Other devices help translate the energy of the spirits into words that we mere mortals might understand.
“Matthew, will you come out and play?” called one of the investigators.
The controls began to light up, and noise blurted from the audio equipment. Matthew was in the room, and, if the sounds were to be believed, he brought a friend named Mark.
After about 45 minutes, Matthew and his playmate moved on, and the lights no longer flashed. We went on to the former nursing home to see if we could locate Dorothy, an elderly woman who often complains that she hasn’t received her medicine in days.
The investigation continued until 2 a.m. with visits to several other buildings, including the morgue. When it was all over, my friend Linda and I agreed that we loved learning about the history of the old buildings and appreciated the company of enthusiastic, engaging people.
Even after the investigation, neither of us believes in ghosts, but we do believe in trying new things, keeping an open mind and always having a good time.
In that sense, we accomplished our mission.
I thought about the blinking lights of that TV-remote-like device a few months later when I had the opportunity to spend the night at the historic Elms Hotel in Excelsior Springs, one of the most haunted places in Missouri. With the original hotel dating back to 1888, a lot of people have come and gone from the Elms over the years—not all of them by their own forces.
The ghost sightings here are legendary, so I was delighted to join a group of guests in the lobby at 9 p.m. Jay Fanning, an Elms employee since 2006, is a true believer in the unexplained things he has seen and enthusiastically leads the nightly tours.
My room was on the fourth floor, and I learned that is where some of the oddest things have occurred. Rooms 422 and 425, in particular, have seen a lot of activity. The housekeeping staff and numerous guests have reported that the TVs turn off and on by themselves, even after a major renovation in 2012 that replaced much of the wiring and all of the TVs.
During the various renovations, the walls in the grand ballroom have moved and changed many times. Jay has personally witnessed a young woman dressed in an Elms’ staff uniform walking through a wall in the dining room at exactly the point where a doorway once was.
But what really sends chills up his spine is downstairs in the beautiful spa and lap pool. Back in the 1920s, in the days of Prohibition and Al Capone’s visit to the Elms, this area was a speakeasy. During an illegal card game, a man was shot and killed here. On more than one occasion, when no one else was in the area, Jay has clearly heard a woman screaming, perhaps an echo from when she witnessed the card player’s untimely death.
One of the most beautiful buildings in Clay County is the historic Hall of Waters, a WPA project of the Great Depression that opened in 1938. Once one of the most celebrated medicinal spas in the Midwest and home to the world’s longest water bar, the Hall of Waters functioned as a spa until 2006.
I had the opportunity to celebrate a significant birthday in that spa. I mentioned to a friend how wonderful the old building was, and she didn’t hesitate to tell me that it’s haunted. She said she frequently hears a child crying “mommy” when she is the only person in the spa.
Others say they have heard Native American chanting and felt something touch their arms and shoulders.
It was still relaxing to me! A few years after my birthday spa day, Keith Ross’ company began offering haunted ghost tours on weekends.
More than a dozen buildings from Clay County, dating back to the 1820s, have been relocated to the Shoal Creek Living History Museum in Hodge Park, just west of Liberty. It’s reasonable to assume that several spirits made the move with their former residences.
That’s why, once or twice each fall, Kansas City Parks and Recreation offers occasional paranormal tours in the evening hours after the park has closed for the day.
I’ve just texted my friend Linda to see if she wants to join me. Sounds like a good time in the making.