Fall to-do’s in Atchison

By Mary Elsen, The Circuit.

For a town consisting of roughly 10,000 people, Atchison has made a name for itself.

Atchison, a place imprinted with the tracks of its historic railroad years, was established in 1855. It boasts of many historic sites, including Amelia Earhart’s birthplace and the Forest of Friendship. However, it also has lain claim to the title, “The most haunted town in Kansas.”

The nickname, “the most haunted town in Kansas,” came from the book “Haunted Kansas” by Lisa Hefner Heitz, said Jacque Pregont, President of the Atchison Chamber of Commerce.

“If you’re in the tourism business and someone coins a phrase like that for you, you use it, so we have used it ever since,” Pregont said. “I will tell you that I don’t know how haunted we are, but virtually every television show has been here.”

According to Pregont, the Chamber of Commerce works to represent businesses in the community and increase tourism. There are events throughout the year that draw visitors to Atchison, but fall is different because of how much is going on.

“Essentially, it’s nine weekends that we have haunted tours as well as activities going on, so we run a fall marathon,” Pregont said.

Maria Miller, the tourism director for the Chamber of Commerce, shared her take on promoting Atchison during the fall season.

“For a community of our size, I think the history and what we have to offer is incredible,” Miller said.

“We aim to focus primarily on the haunted history component,” Miller said. “When we talk about Atchison, we talk about history, mystery and entertainment.

Miller gave the example of how the cemetery tours heavily incorporate the history behind the gravesites, rather than focusing on ghost stories.

Miller went on to point out the interwoven stories of “history and mystery” surrounding Amelia Earhart’s death and whether Abraham Lincoln, who spoke in Atchison, predicted his own death.  The trolley and coach tours and walking tours aren’t simply settings for scary stories, they delve into the history behind things including architecture, the traditions and cultures at the turn of the century and the home museums.

A big haunted attraction in Atchison is The Sallie House, which has been featured in documentaries, television shows and other writings. It’s said to be home to the ghost of a 6-year-old girl who died during a surgery. Due to the urgency of the operation, the doctor began the procedure before Sallie was knocked-out; she died screaming.

“We average about 300 people a weekend in September and October who just go through the house on a self-guided tour,” Miller said.

The Sallie House is a major attraction that offers overnight stays and paranormal investigations, both of which are sold out for this season.

Senior Olivia Hoopes, art major, has lived in Atchison since she was 13-years-old. She’s not a huge fan of the haunted aspect of Atchison, but she enjoys other events in town throughout the year.

“I think there’s a lot of better things that we could be known for than the most haunted town in Kansas,” Hoopes said. “I am not a fan of Atchison promoting itself as the ‘Most haunted town in Kansas,’ because I think we, as a town, are better than that. We have much more tangible things to offer than a freaky, supernatural experience.”

Instead of taking part in haunted events, Hoopes is more drawn to community events including Oktoberfest, theater events and the open-air art event.

Whether folks are interested in getting a scare, learning history or making family memories, Miller says fall in Atchison has “a little bit of something for everybody.”

She loves meeting people from around the world and hearing the story of what brought them to town.  Sometimes it’s something as simple as their last name or a distant relation to Amelia Earhart.

The list of year-round events in town is extensive.

“For a community of our size, the amount of events we have is really remarkable,” Miller said.

For a full list of events, look on visitatchison.com.