Wednesday, April 14, 2010
The Haunted Museum
A large man walking through the Ray County Museum in Richmond, Mo., caught Margo Clark by surprise.
“My friend saw a ghost,” Karen Windsor Bush, museum curator, said. “She was taking a nap in the parlor. She woke up and it embarrassed her because she didn’t want anyone to see her napping.”
Clark was working on a jewelry display when sleep crept upon her.
“My eyelids got so heavy, I had to take a short nap,” she said. “I settled in the parlor on the settee and dozed, but lightly. I awoke when I heard nearby footsteps and watched a very big, tall black man cross the hall in front of the parlor. I had seen him so clearly, I was sure I was seeing a living person.”
Clark got up after her encounter and went back to Bush’s office.
“I thought it didn’t look good for someone to see me sleeping in the parlor,” she said. “I told (Bush) I felt awkward that I had been sleeping while a visitor was in the museum. She gave me a strange look, then told me not one person had come in since I laid down for my nap.”
Museum volunteer Rod Fields confirmed it – no visitors were in the building.
“Karen asked me to describe the man I saw,” Clark said. “When I did, her eyes became like saucers. Apparently, I had just described John. Only then did she tell me about him and his life at the Poor Farm.”
Ray County built the three-story, Y-shaped building that houses the museum in 1910 as a home for the poor; people simply called it the Poor Farm. The structure also housed Elm Park Rest Home from June 1959 to November 1971 when residents were relocated to Shirkey Leisure Acres retirement home. It’s been a museum since the 1970s and is on the National Register of Historical Places.
Learning she had seen John, once a resident of the Poor Farm, startled Clark, because John is dead.
“He was a black man and quite tall. We know of a black man who lived in the basement when it was the Poor Farm,” Bush said. “His apartment was downstairs. He was seven feet tall. His name was John. We don’t know anything more about him.”
Sightings of John are rare, but strange noises and opening doors are quite common. Volunteers at the museum usually blame them on a spirit they call “George.”
Fields, a three-year volunteer, has heard George on a number of occasions.
“On Sundays I would come up to look at the old newspapers,” he said. “I would sit there in the library and I would hear footsteps upstairs. I’d look up there and it would stop. Then, five to 10 minutes later, it would start again.”
Fields knew no one was upstairs, at least no one living.
“I’d say, ‘George, I heard you the first time. What do you want?’ and it would stop the rest of the day,” he said.
Fields said no one knows if anyone named George ever lived at the Poor Farm or nursing home but “We had to name him something.”
Bush has heard more than footsteps.
“I’ve been in the kitchen and the cabinets open, which isn’t a biggie, but one day I was washing dishes and the cabinets shut,” Bush said.
Although Bush isn’t sure the swinging cabinets are anything paranormal, she knows George is real – she saw him.
“I was volunteering up here in 1973. I looked on the stairway and there was a little man standing there,” Bush said. “When I started working here three years ago my daughter said, ‘are you going to see the little man again?’ Id never told anyone. She must have seen him at the same time. She was five when I saw him.”
Ghost Tours of Kansas and Missouri and the Paranormal Education Documentation and Research Organization investigated the museum on Feb. 20. Sean Comer, a reporter for Richmond’s newspaper, The Daily News, covered the event.
“That I be an active participant was actually the suggestion of the organizers,” Comer said. “A few people felt cold spots around their shins and we found a few EMF (electromagnetic field) spikes.”
Comer followed the investigators throughout the building, and was disappointed with the results until the group explored the basement.
“ I was interested in hearing from the spirit of a large black man supposedly named ‘John,’” Comer said. “We didn’t encounter anything, but then the investigators pulled out the dowsing rods.”
These rods, also used by dowsers to discover water sources, are reported to move when in the presence of a ghost. Although Comer doubted the validity of dowsing rods as a research tool, his experience with them startled him.
“At one point, I held them and asked questions,” he said. “I didn’t move them. My hands were totally still. Yet, they moved on cue with answering each question.”
With those questions Comer learned John didn’t like him because he reminded John of a housemate who had been afraid of him.
“ Honestly, I’m hooked,” Comer said. “I’ve had one interesting experience that made me a little more of a believer. ”
Copyright 2010 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, P.O. Box 501, Maryville, Mo., 64468, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Your story might make an upcoming installment of “From the Shadows.”
Jason’s books on the paranormal, “Darkness Walks: The Shadow People Among Us,” and “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to Missouri’s Most Spirited Spots,” at Jason’s blog, from-the-shadows.blogspot.com.