By Orrin Grey.
Perched atop a hill overlooking the Kansas River, on a winding street in an affluent residential neighborhood, Sauer Castle of Kansas City still looks like something ripped from a Gothic ghost story. Built between 1869 and 1871, the two-and-a-half story house with its soaring tower and widow’s walk is said to be the finest example of 19th-century Italianate architecture in the state of Kansas. It’s also said to be extremely haunted.
The Castle’s original occupant was Anton Sauer, a German-born businessman who moved to Kansas City from New York after the death of his first wife in 1868. Ill with tuberculosis, Sauer nevertheless survived his westward trek, where he met a 28-year-old widow named Mary Einhellig Messerschmidt. The two married in 1869, adding Mary’s two daughters to the family of five children Anton brought with him from New York.
The couple bore five additional daughters, one of whom died in infancy in the house itself, and was interred on the grounds. When Anton Sauer succumbed to tuberculosis in his bedroom only a month later, he was laid to rest in Union Hill Cemetery, with his infant daughter re-buried at his side—though rumors persist that every member of the Sauer family is buried somewhere on the property of the now-crumbling estate.
In fact, Sauer Castle seems to attract many strange tales and wild stories. Legends tell of a woman who hanged herself in the tall tower, of buried treasure and buried bodies and a secret tunnel that leads to the river. A deranged husband supposedly murdered his entire family in Sauer Castle, and buried them in the back yard before killing himself.
Neighbors claim to see floating lights in the tower and on the grounds, and to hear voices from within the house when no one is living there. The widow’s walk is said to be haunted by the apparition of a woman who paces it in black, while on Halloween a man and a woman can be seen dancing in the tower.
While the facts of the Castle’s history may be less salacious and spooky, there’s plenty of dark history behind the house to please ghost hunters and historians alike. Five generations of the Sauer family lived and died in the house, including a single suicide.
Over the years, several ghost hunters, psychics, and paranormal researchers have turned their attentions to the Castle. In the 1980s, several investigations concluded that the haunting was localized in the attic, while Maurice Schwalm, a “historian of supernatural happenings” and the author of the 1999 book Mo-Kan Ghosts: The Casebook of a Kansas City Psychic Investigator, reportedly took photographs during his investigation that showed evidence of spirits.
Not all investigators are convinced of Sauer Castle’s paranormal nature. After conducting a significant examination of the house and its owners, Becky Ray of Paranormal Activity Investigators seemed substantially less convinced of Sauer Castle’s spectral inhabitants, referring to it as “a beautiful empty house that seems to beg for ghost stories to be attached to it.”
The current owner, Carl Lopp, a descendant of Anton Sauer who bought the house in 1988 with the intention of restoring it, is even clearer, stating in a post to a closed Facebook group that, “There are no ghosts and no evil spirits inhabiting the Castle or the property.”
Nevertheless, ghost stories about Sauer Castle persist. Standing in the shadow of the ominous home, it’s easy to see why. So long as it sits empty and strange atop the hill in Kansas City, such tales will continue to gather in its vacant rooms like cobwebs.
Today, a massive chain link fence surrounds Sauer Castle in a futile attempt to keep out vandals, sightseers, and would-be ghost hunters. Plastic “Private Property” and “Beware of Dog” signs flap in the breeze. In spite of being listed on the National Register of History Places, Sauer Castle continues to deteriorate year after year.
Neighbors these days seem less concerned with phantoms than they are with the fate of the house itself, which may one day transform from an out-of-the-way Kansas City landmark, to just another lost piece of the city’s storied history.
This article was first published on The Line Up.
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