Published October 26th, 2022 at 6:00 AM
ATCHISON, Kansas – When Stephanie O’Reilly learned that the haunted Victorian house at 1301 Kansas Ave. was for sale, she drove by it out of curiosity.
Over and over she found herself driving an hour from her home in Lawrence to look at the McInteer Villa in Atchison. She felt an almost otherworldly attraction to the property.
“I’m not obsessed with anything,” O’Reilly said. “But there was something about his house.”
She joked with her parents about the notion of co-signing on the house. To her surprise, her dad said yes.
In early 2018 they bought the house.
Since then, O’Reilly has brought the house back in time, filling it with period-appropriate décor, opening its doors to the public and experiencing quite a few spooks herself.
“Some people go into it like: ‘Who’s here? Why are you here? Are you stuck here? How did you die? What is your name? What year is it?’ ” O’Reilly said of the paranormal investigation field. “I just like to be scared.”
The McInteer Villa was built in 1889 by John McInteer, a successful manufacturer of saddles and harnesses.
McInteer lived there with his family until he died in 1902. His second wife continued living in the house with various members of her family until the death of her brother, Charles Conlon.
The villa was then a boarding house for 25 years and had one more owner before the Gerardy family bought it in 1969. O’Reilly bought the house from the Gerardy children, and regularly calls them up with new discoveries to see if they are similar to something their mother experienced.
Over the course of its existence, the house has been the location of nine documented deaths. O’Reilly said some paranormal experts have said the house is home to a “portal,” which would account for the large number of different spirits encountered throughout the house.
“I don’t know,” O’Reilly said with a shrug and a laugh.
Others have also suggested that the large basement of the house (which has seven different, brick-walled rooms) was once home to a secret clinic performing medical procedures on women.
Footsteps, voices, babies crying, a creaking rocking chair, figures in the windows, cabinets that open after they’ve been closed, a shadow figure in the hallway. That’s just a partial list of the (para)normal activity at the McInteer House.
The McInteer House is open for overnight stays, self-guided tours during the day, and guided tours by O’Reilly for certain events.
Almost every weekend is booked throughout the year, and just about every day during the haunted season of September and October.
O’Reilly has cameras posted in some of the common rooms of the house, which can pick up electric voice phenomenons (EVPs) and other phenomena. Many of these, she posts to the McInteer social media accounts.
She also has cat toys scattered around the house. The toys, which light up when touched, often go off without being touched (by a human), alerting to the presence of a ghost.
Flatland sat at the dining room table of the villa with O’Reilly for an interview. Early on in the conversation an alarm on the table sounded, another indicator that a ghost (or something) had touched it. At other times the conversation stopped due to an unexplained creaking or a tapping.
Believer in the paranormal or not, a visit to the McInteer Villa leads one to question every little noise and movement.
Atchison is just an hour north of Kansas City. It’s a quaint town along the Missouri River with just over 10,000 people.
It’s famous as the birthplace of Amelia Earhart, and as home to one of the nation’s most haunted houses.
A little over a mile from McInteer Villa sits the Sallie House, a famously haunted attraction that has appeared on a number of paranormal investigation shows, and is currently owned and operated by the city.
Mary Jane Sowers, the event coordinator for Locally Atchison, said haunted tourism has been thriving in town for well over a decade.
Attractions include the Sallie House, McInteer Villa, events at the Raven Hearse Manor and a trolley tour between all of the haunts.
The haunted trolley ride only occurs during the haunted season on the weekends. Sowers said it’s always a big hit.
“We sell out so fast and completely sell out,” Sowers said.
Each season the haunted trolley brings about 1,000 people to each of the haunted houses in town.
The city benefits from the profits of the trolley and from ticket sales at the Sallie House. Local businesses and services in Atchison benefit from the visitors during the haunted season as many will eat a meal in town, fuel up, do some shopping or stay the night.
“It works out really (well),” Sowers said. “But we all three (the Chamber, McInteer and Raven Hearse) work together really well.”
The haunted tourism complements other tourism in town. Sowers said a lot of folks who come for haunted attractions will also stop at the Amelia Earhart birthplace museum, Muchnic art gallery or other attractions in town.
“Atchison is a very, very fun town, it’s quiet, cozy, homey,” Sowers said.
“Cozy” and “homey” are not exactly the words that come to mind when thinking of a house infested with ghosts.
But that’s exactly how long-time ghost hunter Melissa Johosky describes McInteer Villa.
She’s investigated and slept in some of the nation’s spookiest spots like Malvern Manor in Iowa, Myrtles Plantation in Louisiana and many of the other big-name haunted locations.
“I’ve been to a bunch,” Johosky said. “But out of everywhere that I have been, McInteer Villa is hands down my favorite.”
Since the first time she set foot in the grand house at 1301 Kansas Ave., Johosky said it has felt like home. She’s since been back at least 20 times, and has made it a regular, family gathering place.
“McInteer is really the only place I walk into and I feel like I’m home,” Johosky said. “It’s the only place I feel like I have a connection with.”
Part of that is the beauty of the house. It has a wrap around porch, tower with a classic conical roof, bay windows and a brick façade with contrasting details.
It’s exactly what one would expect a haunted mansion to look like, only this one is actually haunted.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever been there that I haven’t had something paranormal happen,” Johosky said.
Johosky typically hears footsteps up and down the stairs and hallways, hears voices, and on one occasion, her niece got scratched at the villa.
She recalled a visit when one person in the group was listening to a ghost box with headphones. A ghost box, or spirit box, according to Spirit Shack, is a device that scans AM and FM frequencies to generate white noise. In the white noise, spirits can speak, allowing real-time communication with the ghosts in the room.
Through the spirit box, they heard what sounded like a conversation between two young children, who kept saying “You touch it, it’s on his hip.” “No, you touch it,” the other would reply.
Those listening to the box didn’t know what the ghosts were talking about. But they later came to find out that her husband, who was in the room, had a concealed carry gun on his hip.
“It was really creepy,” Johosky said.
Some of her strongest paranormal experiences have been in the villa’s unfinished basement.
Johosky and her closest friend sat in chairs back to back with one another. Each had on a blindfold and headphones playing white noise so they couldn’t hear the other. This is another common practice in paranormal investigations.
Johosky said she kept seeing visions of bodies of water, which kept getting larger and larger. At the end of the experience, she learned that just behind her, her friend felt like she was drowning. The feeling was so intense that the friend passed out and had to be taken outside.
“My best friend to this day will not go back in that room,” Johosky said. “It was very intense. It was very weird, but it was also cool.”
As much as she loves the house and feels at home, Johosky is still afraid of the spirits in the home. That’s part of the fun.
“I would not go to any part of that house by myself for any extended period of time,” Johosky said.
O’Reilly maintains a healthy amount of skepticism for everything she hears. She believes in the experiences of others, but prefers to experience things for herself.
“I tell them, ‘Oh my god, that’s so crazy,’ ” O’Reilly said.
But usually, she’ll soon experience a similar interaction, or hear from others who had similar experiences in the same places.
She welcomes everyone into the house, even the skeptics.
“I enjoy the skeptics here because when you’re not looking for it, that’s sometimes when it happens,” O’Reilly said.
As active as her house is, O’Reilly can’t guarantee that folks will have a paranormal experience.
Ghosts, as it turns out, are unreliable employees.
“I can’t schedule an appearance,” O’Reilly laughed. “If I could schedule an appearance, I’d be raking it in.”
Her dad, who went in on the house with her, passed away 2 years ago, but he’s still a part of the business.
She keeps his ashes upstairs in the house. Sometimes she’ll walk by, tap the case and say, “Dad, stir sh*t up.”
“One, it keeps me from crying,” O’Reilly laughed. “Two, he would find that funny. And three, it’s a business, so stir sh*t up.”
Just like she can’t schedule an appearance, she can’t turn the ghosts off.
Sometimes a family pays to stay the night but only lasts a couple of hours. She remembered one family who had to leave after several hours of the cat balls lighting up.
“They didn’t get here until like 7:30 and were out by 10,” O’Reilly said. “I felt bad, but they were freaked out. I knew when the cat balls were freaking them out that anything else that would happen that night was just going to be too much.”
But she gets it. The house has been too much for her at times too.
“There are times, I just want to go home,” she said. “It’s super uncomfortable when the sun goes down and you’re by yourself. It’s a whole different feel.”
Sometimes, the upstairs is too unnerving for her, and she’s waited to finish cleaning until the guests for the night arrived.
“I mean, it’s my house, and that’s what I paid for,” O’Reilly said. “But I want other people to experience and send me pictures and video.”
As she gave a tour, she recounted some of the things that other visitors had seen in one room or another.
“Nope. I’m okay, I don’t need to see that, ” she’d say about some of the spookiest stories, and laugh.
Johosky hasn’t been inside the famous Sallie House that’s just down the street. To her, McInteer is just more inviting. Even if folks don’t have a paranormal experience at the villa, they get to stay in a beautiful historic house.
“People are missing (out), I mean, it’s like a hidden gem,” Johosky said. “The ghosts are just a bonus.”
Her biggest piece of advice to any first time ghost hunters visiting McInteer Villa: Sit in silence.
“Listen to the house come alive, and make noises,” Johosky said. “You’ll hear things that really catch you off guard.”
She also recommended that folks take lots of pictures and take them in bursts of three at a time. It’s common to see something move across the three images.
In her many visits to the house, Johosky has admired O’Reilly’s care for the house and cheery personality.
“I just think she is a breath of fresh air for the paranormal field,” Johosky said. “She’s not all serious (or) high strung about it … she can have fun with it.”
Johosky also noted O’Reilly’s passion for paranormal experiences. Not only does she travel to other haunted houses, but she continues to explore her own.
“She loves that house,” Johosky said. “That house has her heart, and she just wants to share it with everyone.”
Cami Koons covers rural affairs for Kansas City PBS in cooperation with Report for America. The work of our Report for America corps members is made possible, in part, through the generous support of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.