Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Falun Four: Mysterious Disappearances Haunt Small Town South of Salina

by Paul Fecteau

This article appeared in the July 2, 2009, issue of tmiWeekly.

In the cool comfort of your living room, you have mysteries at your finger tips. Fire up the D.V.R., punch the remote, and watch C.S.I., Bones, Cold Case, and C.S.I. again. If, however, you have a more adventuresome spirit and are willing to leave your house, you can find more than the common mass-market mystery. You may have to drive down a dirt road in the hundred-degree heat or spend hours squinting at old newspapers on microfilm, but it can be worth it to uncover a genuine homegrown mystery.

One such local story, which has survived via whispered rumor for 80 years, centers on the tiny town of Falun, Kansas, about 20 miles southwest of Salina. On January 5, 1929, The Salina Journal ran the headline,

FOUR PEOPLE GONE
Strange Disappearances Near Falun

That should grab your attention even if the microfilm is a bit blurry. The story reveals that over the span of twenty-fours hours, four people vanished from the unincorporated community. Falun was not normally a news hot spot. It would register a population of only 448 in the 1930 census. Presumably, that headcount would have been 452 if not for those four residents whose absence drew statewide attention.

The disappearances began on the day after Christmas, 1928. That evening was the last time anyone saw general-store owner Don Muller. He was considered a prominent citizen. He had recently served jury duty at the district court. A rumor circulated that he had been seen with several hundred dollars in cash and a suitcase on his way to Salina. He left behind a wife and three children.

That same day, Ranghild Oleen, who lived with her husband and three children about three miles southwest of Falun, was last seen bound for town. She never arrived and, like Muller, her whereabouts remained unknown.

The news story did not speculate about any connections between Muller and Oleen, but you can put two and two together if you like. And if so, you'll like even more regarding the two people who went missing on the night of December 27, 1928, from the Griggs farm, eight miles northwest from Falun in the Smokey Hills. They were Mrs. Griggs and a hired hand named Harold Johnston. The Journal got some detail from the County Attorney regarding Muller and Oleen because a warrant had been charged against Muller for child desertion and Oleen was reported as a missing person. Such was not the case with Mr. Johnston and Mrs. Griggs, so little more information is available about them. Nevertheless, it appears obvious they weren't victims of alien abduction.

Today, Falun has shrunk to half its 1930 size, but plenty of people with ties there remain in Saline County. A descendant of Ranghild Oleen is one such former resident. He won't go into detail regarding her story but acknowledges that she ran off with Muller. He also notes that later in life she returned to Falun frequently to visit her children. Other than the coincidence that two couples chose to flee on successive days, he does not consider his ancestor's story remarkable and sees "no reason to dwell on such things."

He is right, but homegrown mysteries are hard to resist, and the story of the missing four will live on in, of all places, a short story by a young writer with ties to Falun. Shannon Draper-Gard, currently a high school English teacher in Lawrence, turned to fiction to fill in the gaps.

In 2004, Shannon was a grad. student in Creative Writing at K-State, when her mother, aware of her daughter's fascination with her small-town heritage, sent her a clipping from The Salina Journal. On each Friday, the paper ran a "Today in History" column, and that week's selection featured under the heading "75 Years Ago" an excerpt from the 1929 article on the Falun four.

Shannon had lived in Falun when she was twelve, went on to high school in Lindsborg, and recognized some of the names in the article as those of families who had remained in the Smoky Hills, but more than a sense of familiarity drew her to the story. Fascination set in when she pondered people abandoning their families.

After writing extensively about her great-grandmother's life, Shannon had become particularly interested in the lives of women in rural Kansas history. These elements, the basic facts regarding the Falun four, and speculation about their circumstances came together in the form of a short story titled "The Disappeared" which she included in her Master's Thesis.

[Shannon Draper-Gard blogs "Half Asleep in Star Pajamas"]

Today, Shannon is at work on a revision she plans to submit for publication, and she recommends to her students the path that led her to write "The Disappeared." "If you're fascinated by C.S.I. shows," she suggests, "dig through old newspapers, and you'll find inspiration. A wealth of material exists in local history, and it's not all about pretty people in pretty places like we get from Hollywood. It's about our past, and we can use it to tell our stories."

Monday, September 7, 2009

Little Carrie: the Mystery at Mount Hope


A Haunted Kansas Classic…
The material below appeared
on the now-defunct Haunted Kansas Web site.

(See here for its original form
at via archive.org).


Little Carrie: Mount Hope'
s Enduring Mystery

by Rob Amo and Paul Fecteau

Little Carrie Frances Kiene was but five years old when she died in 1885. The statue that stands on her grave in Mount Hope Cemetery in Topeka would, no doubt, have towered over her. Why such a big monument for a small child? Was there something mysterious about her death? If there wasn't then, there is now.

Drive down 17th Street, and that monument will come into view. The first thing you'll probably notice is a hat or bonnet on the statue's head and flowers placed in her arms. The accessories change depending on the season and have been doing so as long as anyone can recall, yet nobody has ever caught someone making the switch.

Capital-Journal reporter Scott R. Greenberg researched the strange events for a November 1999 article. He found out that Mount Hope did not become a cemetery until 1906, twenty-one years after Carrie's death. In fact, records indicate that she was moved to the cemetery from Valencia on August 30, 1920 (see Greenberg, Scott R. "Mystery Will Be Left Unsolved." The Topeka Capital-Journal. 14 Nov. 1999).

He also found that, though no cemetery employee has ever been able to figure out how the changes get made, they find them a pleasant gesture. At least one of Carrie's descendants, however, remains offended by the activity, terming it disrespectful.

The questions linger . . . When Carrie's Easter bonnet gives way to a sun hat and eventually to a stocking cap will the change come as a lasting tribute a little girl's innocence? Or is it done with mocking laughter? Is the prankster of this world? Or the next?

As little Carrie sports her Easter hat for April of 2002, we may now have answers to a few of those questions. For if you take a closer look at that hat, you find penned on the band the initials of your humble Haunted Kansas correspondent.

An individual claiming to personally know the woman responsible for Little Carrie's seasonal wardrobe changes contacted Haunted Kansas on March 17. This contact wanted to prove her authenticity and has since sent us pictures of Carrie's hat, stocking cap, and bonnet. She also had the initials added to the hat prior to its placement on the statue on March 23, 2002.



This image was sent to Haunted Kansas via e-mail by our anonymous contact.


So what more do we know of the motives behind the secret? Most importantly, the woman stresses that it is not done out of disrespect but out of reverence. The following comments are reported by our contact to come directly from the woman herself:

"It's been something I've had such fun doing for a long time and I think a good part of the enjoyment comes from having 'my own little secret.' Only Carrie and I knew for sure for a long period of time who would give her a hat and when. Now a third person entered into this and made you aware of some of the circumstances, which is fine with both Carrie and I, because she will never identify the source of Carrie's hats."

So some of the mystery remains. We don't know who actually slips under darkness among the tombstones to Little Carrie's grave.

But we do have her final words which indicate the tradition will continue:

"I love doing this, and Carrie loves wearing the hats. I think it's pretty neat that you are taking the time to care about Carrie and her hats."

A brief Flash News article from 2008 appears to be the only attention given to Little Carrie since Rob and I posted the Haunted Kansas page in 2002: http://www.flashnews.com/news/wfn5080908J26068.html

Update: As indicated in the comment added by JamaGenie, in an odd bit of synchronicity, another writer was also pursuing the Little Carrie legend at the same time I was reposting this story. Read her post and see brand new photos at Saturday's Child:

http://saturdayschild-jama.blogspot.com/2009/09/tombstone-tuesday-who-dresses-carrie.html

--Paul

Friday, August 14, 2009

Pitt State Prof Researches A.D.C.

by Paul Fecteau

Dr. Julie Allison's research on After-Death Communication (A.D.C.) has gained local media attention, most recently in April when KSN News devoted a feature story to her work (see "Dearly departed communicating beyond the grave"). The Pitt State Psych Professor, whom I spoke to by phone last weekend, approves of the KSN piece which emphasizes her scholarship. "I was interviewed as a psychology professor in my office at P.S.U.," she notes, "and in that context, the focus was appropriately on science."

(at right, Dr. Julie Allison, image courtesy of
Pittsburg State University
.)


Allison and collaborator Kelli Gariglietti surveyed Pitt State students and found that 54% had experienced some form of A.D.C. The full results of the study appeared in 1997 in the peer-reviewed Journal of Personal and Interpersonal Loss. The article has been republished at least once but is not readily accessible today, though an abstract is available online through Informaworld.

Media reports on the research project have not ignored the event in Allison's life that would ultimately lead her to conduct A.D.C. research: the 1993 murder of P.S.U. psychology student Stephanie Schmidt (see Speak Out for Stephanie, a site maintained by the victim's parents).

Schmidt had been missing for weeks when another psych student came into Allison's office. "I saw Steph," the student said. Her tone was so matter-of-fact that Allison assumed that Schmidt had returned. The student went on, however. "She's okay, but she is dead." According to the student, Schmidt had appeared to her in a mirror. Schmidt's body was discovered a week later.

Allison, too, has encountered the phenomenon--"perceived it," she is clear to stipulate, differentiating perception from experience. For Allison, it took the form of a dream in which her late father told her she would have a son. She was subsequently surprised to learn that she was, in fact, expecting a boy.

Allison discusses that incident and her beliefs with candor. "My personal position," she reveals, "is that A.D.C. does exist." That view does not appear in her academic work since it is not something science can, as of yet, prove. It is, however, "supported by my faith," she says. She seems mostly untroubled by the tension that often exists between science and spirituality.

She is also motivated by what she learned from the study. "Though the experience of A.D.C. is usually comforting," she explains, "people don't want to talk about it for fear they'll be viewed as 'crazy.'" Allison sees a need to expose the phenomenon in order to counteract the marginalization of those who have encountered it.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Welcome to Weird Kansas

This 'blog features accounts of unusual phenomena and uncanny stories originating in the Sunflower State.

Send suggested topics to paul@paulfecteau.com.