Haunted Columbia

Book Cover: Haunted Columbia, MissouriThe approach of Halloween always piques my interest in the paranormal. When October rolls around, I can’t get enough of horror movies, paranormal fiction and ghost stories. I also can’t get enough sleep because I’m afraid that if I don’t keep a tight enough grip on my blanket, a demon under my bed will rip it off of me. One of my guiltiest Halloween pleasures is the show Ghost Adventures; I have always wanted to tag along with Zak Bagans and his team as they spend the night in some of America’s most haunted locations. Unfortunately, since that would be kind of tricky logistically, I have to look a little closer to home. In “Haunted Columbia, Missouri,” Mary Barile gives the backstory for several haunted locations right here in town. Drawing from stories in Barile’s collection and the Columbia Daily Tribune (or in the case of the final location, rumors I have heard through the grapevine), I have compiled a short list of possible stops for a self-directed ghost tour.

The historic Stephens College campus is worth the visit for the beautiful architecture alone, but paranormal enthusiasts will find plenty to appreciate as well. According to a 1971 article in the Columbia Daily Tribune (recounted here), a group including students, a teacher, and a newspaper reporter gathered for an amateur ghost hunt in Senior Hall. As soon as the door shut, wind filled the room and blew out the candle. Hearing footsteps, the journalist peeked out into the hall and saw two figures, a woman dressed in a gown and a man. “The man dropped into a low crouch, his left hand outstretched as though to ward something off. Then both figures disappeared down the stairs,” he says. Naturally, the group immediately left. Hours later, another group of students entering Senior Hall and were stopped by a woman in a gown warning them that their teacher (a member of the previous group) was no longer welcome there.

Stephens College’s most famous ghost, however, is Maude Adams, the founder of its renowned theatre department. An acclaimed Broadway actress, Maude retired from the stage out of grief from the loss of her mentor, Charles Frohman. In 1935, President James Wood of Stephens College coaxed her out of retirement to begin the theatre department. A notoriously demanding teacher, students learned to disappear when they heard the distinct tapping of her shoes approaching. Maude passed away in 1953, but her dedication to theatre transcends the grave. According to student reports as recent as the early 2000s, her tapping shoes can still be heard in the auditorium, as well as her recitations of Shakespeare and Chanticleer, in which she held a starring Broadway role.

The Haden House at 4515 N Highway 763 boasts a storied history as well. In the 19th century, the Haden Opera House belonged to a slave-owning, Union-supporting banker. This plantation home burned down in 1900, but was rebuilt and remained in the family until 1954. In the 1970’s, the Haden House became a restaurant. In a Columbia Tribune interview, the family who lived there and ran the restaurant reported furniture, crockery, and other objects moving on their own around the house. Spectral figures sometimes moved through the hallway, evaporating or disappearing through doorways. One resident described waking to a young woman standing at the foot of his bed, staring. When the home became a bar known for criminal activity and drug use, reports of hauntings ceased.

If after a night of Halloween festivities your appetite for the paranormal should coincide with your appetite for a greasy breakfast, then head down Providence to Jewell Cemetery. This exclusive burial ground was once part of an estate owned by George Jewell and is reserved for his descendants. His second wife, Cynthia E. Jewell, is rumored to haunt the historic site; some say they have seen her ghost pass through the Waffle House that sits alongside the cemetery.