Stephanie Gaddis, a historical interpreter at the James Farm and Museum, doesn’t believe in ghosts – but they may believe in her.
The most famous outlaw in American history, Jesse Woodson James, was born on the farm northeast of Kearney, Mo., Sept. 5 1847, the son of Rev. Robert and Zerelda James. His brother Frank, a Civil War soldier, train robber and celebrity, was born in Kentucky, but died on the farm grounds. A lot of people died on the 205 acres the James boys’ father bought from Liberty businessman Robert Gilmer in 1845.
Since the farm became a historic spot in 1978, ghost hunters, psychics and tour guides have reported experiencing something otherworldly there.
Which brings us to Stephanie from nearby Holt, Mo., who, apart from being a tour guide at the farm, studies at DeVry University.
“I was working one day and I walked through the house,” she said. “We always go through the house (from the rear entrance) and walk through the parlor and go through Frank’s room to let people in.”
The interior of the James home is dark in the mornings. A bed where Frank slept still sits in the front room, along with pieces of period furniture, a number of them donated by the James descendents. The house has seen a lot of history, not a lot of it good.
“I heard footsteps like people were walking in behind me,” Stephanie said. “I thought people were pulling a prank. I looked back in the room and someone was there. But it was empty.”
People have seen apparitions in the windows or walking up the path from a nearby creek where the young James boys once swam. Others have heard voices, and some have seen furniture move by itself.
But to Stephanie, the noise she heard was more unnerving than an apparition.
“It sounded like somebody walking across the floor,” she said. “It was heavy steps. Not light.”
As she stood in Frank’s room, inches from a bed where a killer once slept, the thump of boots grew closer.
“I’ve never seen a ghost in my life and I don’t believe in ghosts,” she said. “I thought it’s probably my tour group on the front porch.”
She pushed back the curtains, but the group was still coming up the dirt path. Stephanie opened the front door and let her group in. They filed up the steps, walked over the wood-planked porch and into Frank’s room.
“Then I heard it again,” she said, the loud, heavy steps of a boot-clad man. “I asked if the (group) heard it and they said ‘yes.’ They said they thought it was somebody in the house ready to jump out and scare us like they were Jesse.”
They went through the house and found no one who was trying to be Jesse. But it may have been Jesse, or Frank, or someone who walked onto the property looking for the James boys and never walked off.
The James gang planned robberies at the farm, and on Jan. 26, 1875, the Pinkerton Detective Agency attempted a raid on the house, tossing incendiary devices in through the window. The house didn’t burn, but it cost the James boys mother Zerelda her right arm to the elbow and mortally wounded their eight-year-old stepbrother Archie Samuel.
Frank died at the house in 1915 and, for a time, Jesse was buried there before his remains were exhumed and moved to Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Kearney.
Although Stephanie’s still not sure about the existence of ghosts, she knows there’s something strange about that house.
“Even now I don’t know,” she said. “It sounded just like somebody walking through the house… The house just kind of makes you feel nervous when you’re in there by yourself. It makes you kind of eerie.”
Copyright 2008 by Jason Offutt
Got a scary story? Ever played with a Ouija board, heard voices, seen a ghost, UFO or a creature you couldn’t identify? Let Jason know about it: Jason Offutt c/o The Examiner, 410 S. Liberty, Independence, Mo. 64050, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Your story might make an upcoming installment of “From the Shadows.”
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