Ghost Stories: Emporia, Kansas and Emporia State University



In searching out stories of the unexplained and unexplainable, I came across a wealth of information describing unusual events in and around the town of Emporia, Kansas, including many not directly related to the somewhat famous "haunting" of Emporia State University and its Albert Taylor Hall.

Emporia is a town of about 25,000 people that lies roughly half-way between Topeka and Wichita, and is most well known as the birthplace of legendary North Carolina Tar Heels basketball coach, Dean Smith. That aside, here are some of the more mundane hauntings reported in various locations in and around Emporia:

In the 1980s, the area of Emporia's Rocky Ford Bridge was the scene of a notorious murder, that became the subject of a later movie, entitled “Murder Ordained”. It seems that a local reverend, one Thomas P. Bird, was having an affair with his secretary, and they plotted to

Ghosts of Emporia, Kansas and Emporia State University
kill her husband and his wife. Mrs. Bird was the first to die, in July of 1983, when the reverend drugged her and then pushed her car over the side of the Rocky Ford Bridge and into the Cottonwood River. Perhaps because of the horrific end she met, combined with the fact that it appeared the reverend would escape prosecution, as initially the death was believed to have been an accident, since then witnesses have frequently seen her ghostly presence walking along the river bank, and others have heard her anguished screams.
But, the reverend and his mistress, one Lorna Anderson. had a second act to commit, doing in the mistress' husband, Martin, and that did not go so well. One day in November, 1983, Lorna and Martin went for a drive along a country road, and Lorna convinced Martin to pull over to check on a noise or rattle from the car. Reverend Bird was laying in wait, and he shot and killed Martin, leaving him in a roadside ditch. But, Lorna's story of a robbery did not hold water, and their scheme unraveled. And, the ghost of the minister's wife still haunts what has come to be known as "Bird Bridge".

Stories have been plentiful about a group of ghosts who have for decades inhabited the Emporia Country Club. Housed in a building that is more than a century old, in years past club employees and tenants lived in what is now storage space in the building's upper floors. Various kitchen employees of the club have reported strange sounds and flashing lights, and former club managers have felt the presence of other beings, when no living person was around. Over the years, various club members have reported visions of "Chef", a former head chef who died in an upstairs apartment in the 1930s. "Chef" and his late wife, were said to appear in the kitchen, conversing while preparing drinks and more.

In nearby Alma, Kansas, the Alma Cemetery is notorious for its "Devil's Chair". It seems that when the town was in its infancy back in the early 1800s, the townsfolk wanted a parcel of land for a cemetery, but the farmland they wanted was owned by an old man described as
mean and ornery, and he would not even discuss selling his land. Frustrations among the townsfolk grew, and anger ensued, until one day when town officials had gone to try to discuss a sale with him, after he blew them off and went to fetch water from his well, one of the city officials went up behind him, and pushed him into the well. A few days later, the Sheriff and other townsfolk again went to the farm, where they were unable to find the landowner, but did notice a smell emanating from the well. The Sheriff ordered that the well be boarded up, and that no one should mention the smell, and soon thereafter, the cemetery was established on the land. However, the boarded up well remained, and as the years passed, stories of the cemetery's
Ghosts of Emporia, Kansas and Emporia State University
beginnings became local legend. Eventually, a group of boys went to the cemetery one day, and one of them was dared to sit on the decaying boards. The others turned away, but when they looked back, their friend was no longer sitting atop the boards, and he was never seen again. Stories say that this was a fate met by many others who also dared to sit on top of the old well. The boarded up well became known as the "Devil's Chair" and the legend was that it was the
Ghosts of Emporia, Kansas and Emporia State University
old landowner reaching up through the decaying boards, getting his revenge pulling others to their death in the well.

But the true focus of area hauntings centers around Emporia State University, and the center of most of that, Albert Taylor Hall. The legend of Albert Taylor differs considerably from what can be ascertained about the facts, but the legend fits so well with decades of ghostly events. As the legend goes, Taylor had been on the Emporia faculty, and in the early 1880s, became President of the University. Later on after the turn of the century, he became heavily
involved in the school's theater program, as mentor, and as actor. Having secured himself the lead role in a production, one evening he found himself terribly late in leaving home for the theater, and to save time, decided to put on his costume and make-up before leaving home. That costume was in glittering white and included a cape. Taylor was one of the first of the townspeople to own a car, and once fully adorned in his outfit, jumped in his vehicle and hurried towards the theater. Despite the small numbers of motor vehicles in the area, sure enough, on the way he crashed head-on into another car, and Taylor and the other driver were each killed. But, according to legend, the ghost of Albert Taylor continued on to the theater, and took to the stage in his now bloodied but still glittering costume. Those in charge decided, however, that due to Taylor's death, that the play should be cancelled. Feeling slighted, the ghost of Albert Taylor continues to this day to haunt the theater that now bares his name.

Many stories have been told and retold of an employee daring to retrieve something from the dank basement hearing a voice saying "it sure is dark down here", of a prop master about to take a cigarette break being asked "Do you need a light?", and of numerous sighting of figures on a catwalk high above the stage. But was that actually the ghost of Albert Taylor, or could it be some other unworldly aberration?

Some are of the mind that the spirt inhabiting the theater is rather that of Franklin L. Gilson, who was referred to as the "Grand Old Man" of theater at Emporia State, and the founder of the early 20th century school theater group, the "Gilson Players". Never one bothered by nepotism, Gilson not only regularly cast himself in the lead role of productions, but also found roles for many of his family members. The Gilson legend is that he died onstage during one of his productions, and his spirit never left the theater.

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