Haunted Road Trip: The Sallie House, Atchison, Kansas

Sallie House

Previously: Emily’s Bridge.

A lot of people know Atchison as the place in which famed aviator Amelia Earhart was born. But the unexplained disappearance of the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean isn’t the only strange thing to have come out of the Kansas city; indeed, Atchison is home to something much weirder: The Sallie House.

Located at 508 N. 2nd Street, the residence known as the Sallie House is — as they so often are — unremarkable from the outside. It’s old, sure; the house is thought to have been built somewhere between 1867 and 1871, making it something of a historical treasure. I also happen think it’s cute and quaint, although it’s possible that I feel that way purely because I have a soft spot for old buildings. (That’s what you get when you grow up in a historic town.) But there’s more to the place than just painted bricks and a peaked roof; some incredibly strange stuff has allegedly gone on there. If you believe in haunted houses, this one is pretty much the quintessential example.

Michael C. Finney purchased the land and built the house for his family in 1866, and although we’re not totally sure what the timeline is — town records from the era are patchy due to flooding that wiped some of them out— we’re fairly certain the Finney family had moved into the place properly by 1871. Michael C. Finney died just a year later in the fall of 1872, leaving behind his two sons, his daughter, and his pregnant wife. (The baby turned out to be another boy, born in 1873.) But even though the Finney patriarch was gone, the family flourished; indeed, the house was occupied by Finneys for roughly three quarters of a century, with other houses springing up nearby also filled with Finneys.

The line of Finneys occupying the house ended after the death of Agnes Finney True in 1939; then, after her brother Charles, who had been living in Topeka, passed away in 1947, 508 N. 2nd Street began being rented out. Records are a little scarce for about 10 years; we know a family named Mize moved into it in 1948, although they stayed only a short while (something which also, by the way, remains unexplained), but after that, we don’t know who occupied it until 1958. That’s when Ethel Anderson moved in, who stayed until 1990. (Anderson passed away in 2000.)

And then on the last day of 1992, the Pickman family arrived. Their experiences are the most well-known, because in 1993, the television show Sightings contacted the Pickmans about the possibility of conducting an investigation in their home. All told, the Sallie House was featured on Sightings in eight different episodes between 1993 and 1997, although the Pickmans moved out in 1994. They still maintain what’s probably the most extensive website about the house on the internet, though, because… well, let’s just say you don’t live in a place like that without it leaving its mark on you — figuratively, but also maybe literally.

Why is it called the Sallie House? That actually remains somewhat unclear. Unlike a lot of allegedly haunted houses, this one doesn’t seem to have some sort of defining moment in its history that might have induced a haunting. But Sallie is the name given to one of the entities who appears to be residing in the house, even though we don’t know exactly who Sallie is.

There are a lot of stories, of course, but they’re mostly just that—stories. There’s no historical evidence that any of them actually occurred; indeed, Debra Pickman herself refutes all these so-called backstories.  One version of the legend posits that Sallie was a little girl living during the early 1900s who died of acute appendicitis after visiting the doctor whose office was located at the house; in fact, this version of the tale describes her as actually dying on the operating table — believing that the doctor was torturing her with his tools. In another version, she was taken to the doctor after experiencing respiratory issues; the doctor, however, did not see how serious her illness really was, which later resulted in her death from pneumonia.

What’s notable here is that both these stories — which, again, aren’t supported by any historical evidence — ultimately come down to the same thing: An ill child suffering from a negligent doctor in an era of questionable medical care. It’s not an uncommon story to hear; medicine at the turn of the century was far less advanced that it is now, and not only did people die much younger then in general, but children died much more frequently as well. I suspect that the prevalence of these kinds of stories and urban legends is our attempt to come to terms with the fragility of our own mortality, as well as some of the darker periods of medical history.

In any event, Sallie is thought to be a child, mischievous but not necessarily malevolent. This is why I actually find it kind of interesting that the house is named for her; while it’s true that some of the alleged activity — stuffed animals spread across the floor by an unknown force, pictures turned upside down, and the like — is pretty benign, some of the other stuff that’s described as having happened at the house is… not. We’re talking scratches left on bare skin, people pushed in dangerous ways, mysterious fires set, and other things of a concerning nature. The Sightings episodes feature a lot of it, as do many of the other television programs that have come to investigate the house since then, if you want to see what’s been recorded; whether or not you’re convinced will likely depend on whether you’re a skeptic or a believer in the first place, but at least the shows are relatively easy to find.

Maybe that’s why these days, it’s suspected that whatever is in the house might be evil. Maybe it’s another spirit — that of a woman Sallie apparently doesn’t like very much. Maybe it’s demonic in nature. Who knows. But whatever it is, it’s probably not just Sallie.

The Sallie House is for sale, by the way. It went up on real estate site Zillow in February of 2016; the original asking price was apparently $1 million, but as of this writing, it’s down to about $500,000.

Just, y’know… in case you feel like tempting fate a little.


The Sallie House.

Sallie the Heartland Ghost.

The Infamously Haunted Sallie House Is For Sale.

[Photo via Jennifer Kirkland/Flickr]

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