The Top 20 Best-Selling Titles… #18

#18. Haunted Kansas: Ghost Stories and Other Eerie Tales by Lisa Hefner Heitz

Published in 1997, Heitz’s spine-tingling collection of stories raps and taps and moans and groans through a wealth of descriptions of infamous Kansas phantoms, as well as disconcerting personal experiences related by former skeptics. Haunted Kansas pulls together a various collection of accounts chronicling Kansas folklore and eerie stories. Kansas’s deep history paves way for some complicated and unsettling accounts. Heitz tells the haunting stories of Kansas as she travels from location to location, uncovering the secrets that Kansas has had buried.

Set in various locations across the Sunflower State, the book aims to relay the haunting stories through Kansas’s history, while also giving a bit of knowledge of each location. Most locations are historical sites and important geological markers, adding more to the eerie quality these tales hold. From the haunted Teddy Bear in Fort Riley to the plethora of spirits walking alongside tombstones in the cemetery to the haunted town of Atchison, Heitz covers a lot of ground in telling the haunted tales of Kansas.

“Prior to the publication of the book, I spent a year researching Kansas legend and lore, traveling around the state to many communities, small and large, visiting museums and libraries for materials on local ghost stories, and interviewing residents,” Heitz explains. “During my travels throughout the state, I not only collected hundreds of stories, but I learned that my home state of Kansas is an endlessly varied, beautiful, and fascinating place. Oh, and spooky—very spooky!”

“My favorite part of writing the book,” Heitz explains, “was piecing together what I like to think of as an interwoven tapestry or quilt of folklore and legend. Each story was compelling and colorful on its own, but woven together into a book, the stories overlay a map of the state with a blanket of intersecting local legends and oral histories.”

Heitz says methods of researching the paranormal have developed in the twenty-five years since working on Haunted Kansas.

“Research in this field, as in all fields, has been radically changed by the internet in the years since the publication of my book,” Heitz says. “My method of research in the early and mid-1990s seems practically antiquated now; very ‘boots-on-the-ground’ and reliant on physical travel, hours spent in libraries and museums, and face-to-face interviews.”

Heitz continues, “I recently have been working on updating some of my research from that time and now, of course, much of the work can be done sitting in front of a computer. It is certainly easier and less time-consuming, and the resources online seem endless and are often invaluable. But there are fewer in-person encounters and interactions, and less physical travel to locations is required, which seems like something of a loss to me. My time spent researching around Kansas allowed me to meet many fascinating people and explore numerous locales, giving me a deep appreciation of Kansans and all things Kansas.”

Researching and writing a book about haunted places isn’t for the weak. Heitz says stories from the book still haunt her.

“From the stories collected in the book, and the numerous additional stories still haunting my files, my favorite tale is undeniably the one I grew up with, in my hometown of Topeka: the legend of the Albino Woman,” Heitz says. “This unusually complex, intergenerational, local legend—the ever-changing, always-morphing tale of a terrifying white-haired, white-robed wraith with glowing red eyes—has haunted the folkloric landscape of Topeka for seventy-five years or more. This shape-shifting figure has stepped out of stories and frightened multiple generations of Topekans, including my young self. And today, sometimes in the guise of one of her most recent iterations—the zombie cannibal known as the Blue Albino Woman—she is still scaring the bejeebers out of avid storytellers and their rapt listeners or readers. And that’s why I love her!”

Heitz continues, “The last paragraph of my story of the Albino Woman is still true more than twenty years later: ‘The Albino Woman legend is quite a bit like the infamous Lady herself: flying through the generations; constantly being re-created out of each individual teller and listener’s fears, sense of evil, and sense of mischief; and wandering the cultural landscape of Topeka as well as the physical landscape of cemetery, creek, woods, roads, and river that she calls home.’”

20. The Philippine War, 1899-1902 by Brian McAllister Linn

19. The Sable Arm by Dudley Cornish

A Halloween Reading List…

After the kids are done sorting candy leaving wrappers across the floor, take some time and get spooked with these UPK books…

HAUNTED KANSAS by Lisa Hefner Heitz / Maybe you’ve just been visited by the late Ida Day lurking in the basement of Hutchinson’s public library or the widow Tarot staring forlornly from an upstairs window at Fort Scott, or the phantom Earl floating behind the scenes in Concordia’s Brown Grand Theater. And maybe the horrific Albino Woman truly does haunt Topeka, turning romantic nights into nightmares. . . . maybe.

To pursue the stories behind these and other spectral manifestations, Lisa Hefner Heitz traveled the state in search of its ghostly folklore. What she unearthed is a fascinating blend of oral histories, contemporary eye-witness accounts, and local legends. Creepy and chilling, sometimes humorous, and always engaging, her book features tales about ghosts, poltergeists, spook lights, and a host of other restless spirits that haunt Kansas.

Heitz’s spine-tingling collection of stories raps and taps and moans and groans through a wealth of descriptions of infamous Kansas phantoms, as well as disconcerting personal experiences related by former skeptics. Many of these ghosts, she shows, are notoriously linked to specific structures or locations, whether it is an eighteenth-century mansion in Atchison or a deep—some have claimed bottomless—pool near Ashland.

The evanescent apparitions of these tales have frightened and at times amused Kansans throughout the state’s long history. Yet this is the first book to capture for posterity the lively antics of the state’s ghostly denizens. Besides preserving a colorful and imaginative, if intangible, side of the state’s popular heritage, Heitz supplies ghost-storytellers with ample hair-raising material for, well, eternity. Maybe that person breathing softly behind you has another such story to share. Oh, no one’s there? Perhaps it really was just the breeze off the prairie.


GHOST TOWNS OF KANSAS by Daniel C. Fitzgerald / As soon as the Kansas Territory was opened for settlement in 1854, towns sprang up like mushrooms—first along the Missouri border, then steadily westward along trail routes, rivers, and railroad lines. Many of them barely got beyond the drawing board and hundreds of them flowered briefly and died, victims of the “boom or bust” economy of the frontier and the vagaries of weather, finance, mining, agriculture, railroad construction, and politics.

Ghost Towns of Kansas is a practical guide to these forsaken settlements and a chronicle of their role in the history of Kansas. It focuses on 100 towns that have either disappeared without a trace or are only “a shadowy remnant of what they once were,” telling the story of each town’s settlement, politics, colorful figures and legends, and eventual abandonment or decline.

The culmination of more than ten years of research, this new book is a distillation of the author’s immensely popular three-volume work on the state’s ghost towns, now out of print. Condensed and redesigned as a traveler’s guide, it is organized by region and features ten maps and detailed instructions for finding each site. Twenty of the towns included are discussed for the first time in this volume. The book also contains more than 100 black-and-white photographs of town scenes.

With this new guide in hand, travelers and armchair adventurers alike can journey back to the Kansas frontier—to places like Octagon City, where settlers signed a pledge not to consume liquor, tobacco, or “the flesh of animals” in order to purchase land at $1.25 per acre from the Vegetarian Settlement Company. Or to Sheridan, a tough, end-of-the-line railroad town where, according to the Kansas Commonwealth, “the scum of creation have congregated and assumed control of municipal and social affairs.” At least thirty men were hanged and a hundred killed either in gunfights or by Indians during Sheridan’s tumultuous two-year life span. Today the only remainder of Octagon City is a stream named Vegetarian Creek, and “wild and woolly” Sheridan is again a pasture.


GHOST SETTLEMENT ON THE PRAIRIE by Joseph V. Hickey / Four miles southeast of the village of Matfield Green in Chase County, Kansas—the heart of the Flint Hills—lies the abandoned settlement of Thurman. At the turn of the century Thurman was a prosperous farming and ranching settlement with fifty-one households, a post office, two general stores, a blacksmith shop, five schools, and a church. Today, only the ruins of Thurman remain.

Joseph Hickey uses Thurman to explore the settlement form of social organization, which—along with the village, hamlet, and small town—was a dominant feature of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American life. He traces Thurman’s birth in 1874, its shallow rises and falls, and its demise in 1944. Akin to what William Least Heat-Moon did for Chase County in PrairyErth, Hicky provides a “deep map” for one post-office community and, consequently, tells us a great deal about America’s rural past.

Describing the shifting relationships between Thurmanites and their Matfield Green neighbors, Hickey details how social forces set in motion by the American ideal of individualism and the machinations of capitalist entrepreneurs produced a Darwinian struggle between Thurman stock raisers and Flint Hills “cattle barons” that ultimately doomed Thurman. Central to the story are the concept of “ordinary entrepreneurship” and the profoundly capitalist attitudes of the farmers who settled Thurman and thousands of other communities dotting the American landscape.

Hickey’s account of Thurman’s social organization and disintegration provides a new perspective on what happened when the cattle drives from Texas and the Southwest shifted in the 1880s from the Kansas cow towns to the Flint Hills. Moreover, he punctures numerous myths about the Flint Hills, including those that cattle dominated because the land is too rocky to farm or that Indians refused to farm because of traditional beliefs.

Like many other small rural communities, Hickey argues, Thurman during its seventy-year history was actually several different settlements. A product of changing social conditions, each one resulted from shifting memberships and boundaries that reflected the efforts of local entrepreneurs to use country schools, churches, and other forms of “social capital” to gain advantages over their competitors. In the end, Thurman succumbed to the impact of agribusiness, which had the effect of transforming social capital from an asset into a liability. Ultimately, Hickey shows, the settlement’s fate echoed the decline of rural community throughout America.