Yesterday I arrived in one of my favorite Kansas town, Marysville, near the Nebraska border in central Kansas to read from The Divorce Girl at the Koester House and stay overnight in nearby Waterville’s Weaver Hotel. If someone told me while growing up in New Jersey that I would be sharing this coming-of-age, love song to New Jersey in some haunted places in Kansas (let alone that I would adopt Kansas as my home), I would have been beyond dubious. For one thing, I’ve always been jumpy in the dark, easily startled, and as a girl, terrified for years whenever I took out the trash in the dark, probably by seeing too many episodes of Dark Shadows.
Yet my life, this book, Kansas, and haunted houses are nothing I could have
imagined. The Koester House, a beautiful home in downtown Marysville, now a historic museum, was built for Charles and Sylvia Koester, completed in 1876, and inspired by the couple’s travels, desires and eye for Greek goddess statues as well as statues of deer, dogs, lions and other critters. Sylvia, who had grown up as an orphan in Illinois, living for years with an abusive relative, found her heart’s greatest and perhaps first real joy in marrying Charles and starting a family. Yet only five years after they married, she died at age 35 of consumption, leaving behind Charles and three young children. Charles stayed in the house his whole life, making it a shrine to his lost beloved. I don’t know for sure that the house is haunted, but the first time I came here three years, I sensed it was occupied, and I love stepping over the threshold to dwell in the beauty, history and story of this place.
The Weaver Hotel is said by many to have a resident ghost, a woman who was married to the owner of the hotel but, due to what the hotel’s information portrayed as a misunderstanding (her husband believed she returned the affections of a workman who pined for her before he fell to his death while working on the hotel), love was lost many directions at once. Her husband left her, never to return despite her yearning for him, and it’s said that her spirit roams the hotel although I kind of wonder if the workman with the broken life and heart might be around also.
There was nothing scary about being in places where beloved mourned losses that broke their hearts. Instead, I felt great warmth in both places, in great part because of how Waterville and Marysville reclaimed these places, making them centers of the community. I read in the Koester House’s library, the audience spilling out to the parlor, and then enjoyed outrageously good cookies (lavender shortbread!) in the kitchen with some fascinating Marshall County people. I slept well in the Weaver Hotel, and would recommend this beautiful, hospital place to everyone. They even made me a fresh Belgium waffle in the morning.
I also patted the head of the golden lion at the front gate of the Koester House, and wished whatever spirits roamed whatever places peace and homecoming.
Special thanks to Sharon Kessinger for organizing the luscious refreshments, and to Wayne Kruse for making it all (and a whole lot more of the arts) happen here. Marshall County is a model for rural communities of how vibrant arts programs can enhance and uplift communities. Thanks to Lori & Tom Parker too.