Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fright Week! Sauer Castle - Kansas City, Missouri

Sauer Castle - Kansas City
photo by lea bryan
I think I need to begin this post by explaining the photo above. The first thing you should know is that this photo was taken on a dark and stormy night late at night. You should also know that I did not have a tripod... I simply had a small camera concealed in my hip pocket. Additionally, I was walking alone (under a full moon that was peeking in and out of a mostly cloudy sky) through a neighborhood that is not so welcoming to strangers.
This is a neighborhood that I am not familiar with, so the night sky played tricks on me... On this particular late October night, the sky alternated between casting long ominous shadows when the moon was out, and plunging me into an uneasy darkness when the moon retreated behind the clouds. There were noises coming from the shadows... a rustling of leaves, dogs barking. Was someone there? What I'm trying to say is that this was a perfect night for a haunting... and the house above, Sauer Castle, is rumored to be full of restless spirits. So, I hope that you can forgive the poor quality of the picture, and the obvious blurring from the slightly shaky hands that held the camera. I was after all, photographing a rumored haunted house, late at night, in a hostile neighborhood, all alone, just one week before Halloween!

There are several stories about Sauer Castle and the spirit or spirits that abide within. One story is of a man (Mr. Sauer) from Germany who builds this castle for himself and his young bride. Shortly after their dream home is complete, war breaks out and he is called to duty. Mrs. Sauer prays each night for the safe return of her beloved. One day she gets word that he will be returning on a certain ship at a specified time. The ship, adorned with black sails arrives at the designated time, but her husband is not aboard. The woman is completely devastated. Believing him to be dead, she returns to their home that evening and hangs herself in the tower. Of course, a few days later, Mr. Sauer returns on a different ship, and rushes home to embrace his young bride, only to find her lifeless body hanging from the tower. He of course is so overwhelmed with grief that he shoots himself and dies at her feet. Supposedly, the house is now haunted by their spirits. Sometimes at night, you can see the figure of a woman walking the "widows peek". Lights turn on and off mysteriously, and the spirits of the young lovers walk the halls of the castle searching for one another. The obvious flaw in this version of the haunting is the ship. Sauer Castle is located in KANSAS... I'm not really sure where this ship would dock, the KAW or Missouri rivers perhaps?

Another story is that there was once a nice family living there. One day, the father, Mr. Sauer, is fired from his job. He returns home and sequesters himself inside the mansion for weeks. Every day, his wife and children plead with him to go with them outside to play, but he stays inside with the curtains drawn tightly so no sunlight enters the room. Mrs. Sauer and the children finally tire of trying to coax him out of his sullen mood, and decide to go outside to play without him. She promises her husband that she will come back and check on him soon. After some time, Mrs. Sauer looks up and is delighted to see that her husband is joining them outside. She runs to embrace him, but notices that there is something in his hand. Mr. Sauer suddenly, and brutally shoots and kills  his wife. The oldest son witnesses the murder, and tries to escape by running toward the front door. However, Mr. Sauer sees the boy, and shoots him in the back, killing him instantly. The crazed Mr. Sauer then begins looking for their young daughter. He finds her near a small pond on their property, and drowns her. After his murderous rampage, he buries his family in the backyard and returns to the house. Several days later, a friend of the family goes to check on them, and finds Mr. Sauer in the backyard, face down in a puddle of blood-soaked grass. The authorities later find the buried bodies of the others. It is said that even though there is no longer a pond there, you can still see bubbles rise and pop on the surface of the dirt. Alright... the obvious flaw here is, if Mr. Sauer killed his entire family, and then himself - how do we know the story of how it all happened? No one involved survived to tell the tale.

Yet another variation of the story of this haunting is that the house once had a pool in the backyard in which the young daughter tragically drowned (another version of this story has her drowning in a fountain out front). The distraught Mr. and Mrs. Sauer immediately had the pool filled in, and shortly thereafter Mr. Sauer was called away to war. Mrs. Sauer went crazy while he was away, and when Mr. Sauer returned from war he found that she too was dead. Now, having lost his entire family, the distraught Mr. Sauer saw no other recourse but to hang himself in the tower. The rumor is that even to this day if you look where the pool was, the dirt is always damp like a freshly dug grave, AND on Halloween (at midnight) two figures can sometimes be seen dancing in the tower.


While it is true that the land the mansion is located on was originally part of a 200 acre allotment given to Shawnee Indian, Big Knife and some have said he was tricked into selling it... or even that it was stolen from him... historical records actually show that it was legally purchased from Big Knife. It is also true that several people have died on the property. The original owner and builder, Anton Sauer died there of Tuberculosis, and his wife Mary also passed away in the mansion. An infant (the great granddaughter of Anton & Mary) drowned in the swimming pool, and their son-in-law committed suicide in the mansion. All of this is excellent fodder for a haunting... that is certain. But is the place actually haunted? The true history of Sauer Castle may not be spooky enough for a Fright Week ghost story... but, I'll let you decide.

The Sauer Mansion was built in 18th Century German Gothic style... which is appropriate because the builder was born in northwest Germany, near Belgium. Anton Phillip Sauer was born in March of 1826 and eventually moved to Kansas City, Kansas in 1867. Mr. Sauer was a prominent businessman in Kansas City, Missouri, having owned a seed importing business, and being part owner in a grocery store, as well as being President of the German Savings Association. Sauer's first wife died before he moved to the Kansas City area, leaving him a widower with five children. After relocating his family to Kansas City, Anton met and married a young German-American widow of means... with two children of her own (the early 19th Century version of The Brady Bunch perhaps?). The couple would eventually add five more children to their brood.

In 1870 or 1871 Anton Sauer purchased a parcel of land, which after having been originally purchased from a Shawnee Indian named Big Knife, was developed into a fruit farm. The land was situated high on a hill, overlooking the river. Sauer wanted to raise grapes on the farm in order to produce wine. Additionally, he built a three story, twelve room house on the property for his growing family to live in. The house, which features a four story tower, twelve foot high ceilings, flooring of alternating walnut and oak planks, marble fireplaces in each of the first floor rooms, chandeliers imported from Czechoslovakia and Belgium, six feet tall windows on the first floor, and a massive double front door (each door approximately five feet wide, ten feet high and six inches thick), was probably the largest and most sophisticated home in the area at the time. The front doors alone were impressive enough... having to be opened with a brass key which was reportedly more than nine inches in length and weighed nearly one pound.

Five generations of Sauer's occupied the mansion over time, and the house has certainly seen its share of tragedy. Anton himself died of Tuberculosis in the second floor master bedroom in August of 1879. His wife, Mary, died in 1919. Their daughter, Eva and her husband John Perkins occupied the mansion next, and raised their family there. One of their children, John Harrison Perkins lost an infant daughter when she drowned in the estate's swimming pool. In his later years, John Perkins Sr. took his own life with a handgun, in the mansion (reportedly because he was feeling hopeless about his declining health). Eva stayed in the family's mansion with her son, and two daughters until her death in 1955.

It is obvious that local folklore has stolen pieces of historically accurate family events and intertwined them with fear of the unknown, suspicion, and superstition. After Eve passed away in 1955, the Sauer Mansion was sold to the owner of a heating oil company, Paul Berry, who lived there alone with his dogs. The house already had acquired notoriety by the time he moved in, though it is not clear why. Rumors of hauntings began as early as the 1930's. There are stories of Berry having to deal with vandals, looters, thrill seekers and trespassers, but he stayed there until he passed away in 1986. There is no record of Berry confirming that the house was indeed haunted, even though he lived there alone for about 30 years.

After Berry died, the mansion was sold to a trio that planned capitalize on its haunted legend by hosting haunted tours. They sought out media attention by bringing in "psychics" and going on local radio shows with tales of eerie happenings within the mansion, thus adding to the haunting hysteria that was already present. Eventually, they sold the place back to a relative of the Sauer family.

The great, great, grandson of Anton Sauer, Carl Lopp, purchased the mansion in 1988 and intended to restore it to its former glory, and take up residence there. From 1988 to 1999 Loop hired various caretakers to look after the property. One caretaker was even arrested and charged with felony theft for stealing artifacts from the home. Since the mansion became "known" as a haunted house, it and the homes in the surrounding neighborhood have all been plagued with legions of trespassers and thrill seekers, trying to get a glimpse of the inside of the mansion, and presumably one of its ghosts. In 2000, Lopp made some improvements to the mansion, but has reportedly had a difficult time proceeding with the renovations because the home is currently listed on several historical landmark registries, and renovation plans are subject to scrutiny by a committee before approval is granted. He stated that he was planning on moving into the mansion in 2000, but the house still sits vacant and, it is still in dire need of repair . Sauer Mansion is currently surrounded by an eight foot chain link fence to dissuade trespassers, and it is still an object of curiosity for ghost hunters and teenagers looking for a thrill.

The Sauer Mansion was at one time a grandiose estate, which sat high on a hill overlooking a beautiful orchard and the river below. It was magnificently ornate, and extravagantly designed. The architecture was unlike anything in the entire county at that time, and remains the largest home in the area (it is located in a neighborhood consisting mostly of small bungalows). Even though the home is in a state of disrepair now, it is easy to imagine the once opulent estate, and to become enraptured by the mystique of a long ago lifestyle... IF you don't allow yourself to become freaked out by all of the creepy old ghost stories!

Sources:
ghostinvestigators.com
HauntedHouses.com
Real Haunts
Centennial History of Argentine; Kansas City, KS 1880-1980

2 comments:

  1. Hi Inigo,
    I grew up in Kansas City, KS just a few miles from Sauer castle, and let me tell you, it was pretty freaky. We would always walk by there on Halloween night, just to see if anything would happen. And, yes, there were so many stories about the place. I never had the nerve to walk up into the yard, you see, the gates weren't there when I was a kid. And my sister did an abstract chalk drawing of the castle from across the street when she was about 13 or 14, which won a ribbon in the school art show in the early 1960's. I enjoyed your story, and also posted my version last October. Your photograph is truly 'eerie'!

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  2. How funny you would call Shawnee Road a hostile neighborhood but like you said you were in a neighborhood that you were not familiar with, and also in neighborhood that like many neighborhoods dislike strangers walking at midnight near a house that attracts a lot of attention. I am speaking from personal experience, my family and myself have lived less than a city block for more than fifty years from this beautiful home. Shawnee Road isn't hostile we are a close net neighborhood that looks out for our neighbors. My family is the "trio" you refereed to in the prier paragraph. Your claim that they bought Sauer Castle to capitalize on its haunted legend is false. They bought the house to open it up, to allow everyone the chance to see what they had always wanted to see, the beauty that laid behind the doors of Sauer Castle. They didn't host Haunted Tours nor did they seek out media attention. The tours were tours of the house, grounds and a brief history of the home. Much of the same history you have posted. The plan was to restore the mansion and open it as a bed and breakfast. Yes there was many questions of ghosts sighting and death inquiring during the tours. Those questions were answered with factual deaths in the house and personal ghosts sightings (if any). The media sought us out, and we responded with factual events and personal stories. We still live close to the house and have very fond memories of this beautiful landmark.

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