UMKC Associate Vice Chancellor of Facilities Robert Simmons and Professional architect and Visiting Professor of Architecture, Urban Planning and Design (AUP+D) Ted Seligson swear UMKC’s Epperson House is not haunted, but documented ghost stories and earning a number five spot on “Unsolved Mysteries” seem to add up in a different equation.
On Dec. 20, 1922, Harriet Evelyn Barse, who designed the large organ that sat in the Epperson House’s Oak Hall, unexpectedly died in the mansion before the organ was ever completed. There were no obituaries for her in local papers, but rumor has it that she died in shock after a home abortion. The Eppersons attributed her death to failed gall bladder surgery, but no autopsy was ever performed. She was buried in Independence.
Although Harriet was ten years Mary Elizabeth Epperson’s senior, the Eppersons treated her as their adopted daughter. Some tales say the aborted child was mansion owner Uriah Epperson’s.
Even long after the Eppersons’ deaths and the mansion was given to UKC in 1942, a strange presence in the building was witnessed.
Supposedly, during the 1970s, Conservatory of Music students reported seeing the ghost of Harriet walking, singing and cradling a baby swaddle.
In 1978, weekend guards reported hearing footsteps in the building. In May 1979, a security patrolman was parked outside the Epperson House. He felt the impact of a car crash into his vehicle from behind, but when he got out to examine it, there was no damage.
“I looked in the rearview mirror, of course, to see who the hell it was, and I didn’t see anything, so I got my flashlight and got out of the car immediately,” the patrolman said in a Kansas City Star article. “I walked to the back [but] there was no damage, no busted glass, no dents in the bumper.” However, his car had moved eight inches, verified by skid marks on the road.
Security Chief Harvey Cottle did not want to take any chances with the Epperson House. He hired local ghost hunter Maurice Schwalm. Schwalm held séances with his 15-member crew on May 5 and 13, 1979.
In Schwalm’s 1999 book, “Mo-Kan Ghosts: The Casebook of a Kansas City Psychic Investigator,” he describes what he found. He felt the presence of Harriet with wounds that fit her rumored abortion, but also felt a second presence.
“[Harriet] was being screened by a hostile male entity who tried to make us dizzy and nauseous,” he wrote. Because of this, some believe Uriah’s ghost stayed with her, protecting their secret.
After communicating with the ghosts, Schwalm thought the house would be quieter.
UMKC police officer Boyd Breedlove also witnessed something spooky. While on patrol duty, he saw what he thought was a mysterious figure hiding in a corner, but, “When I walked up on it and hit the corner with the flashlight, nothing was there,” he said in the Fall 2011 UMKC Perspectives magazine.
Simmons and Seligson stand firm in their beliefs that Epperson House is not haunted.
“I’ve been in the building by myself. I’ve never personally had an experience, nor have I ever talked to anyone who has,” said Simmons.
“Yeah, there was a strange sound or two, and I knew what it was,” said Seligson. whose department formerly was housed in the mansion. “Houses settle. Buildings move. The ground moves almost all the time. If you’re by yourself and there’s no noise outside, you hear these little cracks and creaks and stuff, but it’s probably just a pipe expanding or contracting in the wall.”
Seligson jokes about being the ghost of Epperson.
“I usually stayed later than most of the teachers and students, and I remember that there were ghost hunters that came there one night and they were serious. I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I told them about myself being the ghost and I don’t know if they believed me or knew I was joking.”
Whether or not the stories are true, the ghosts of Epperson House remain one of Kansas City’s top mysteries.