Ghosts of Lawrence’s past

This morning my supervisor handed me a thick envelope with the library’s address scrawled across the lower left hand corner in barely legible print. Inside was a 20 page request, written in the same print, for information on the alleged paranormal activity at the nearby Eldridge Hotel that was recently featured on My Ghost Story shown on A&E’s Biography Channel, as well as historical information on Lawrence, Kansas and its involvement in the Civil War. Astonished at the fact that it actually reached us–the three lines of both the return and receiving addresses slant downward and nearly run into each other and off the envelope, postmarked from Santa Rosa, California–my boss passed it along to me after laboriously reading through the first page. She assumed that I would have no qualms with responding to the request, and after my initial shock, I embraced the challenge.

I’ve heard about the ghost stories involved with the Eldridge Hotel, but this gave me the opportunity to look into it a little closer. The patron specifically asked about Colonel Shalor Eldridge, who, according to The Spencer Research Library at Kansas University, was a businessman that was active in making the territory of Kansas a free state and who bought the land where the current Eldridge Hotel sits at 701 Massachusetts street (see “Ghosts rumored to haunt site,” Lawrence Journal World, Wednesday, May 11, 2005). The lot was home to the Free State Hotel, which was destroyed by a pro-slavery mob, and the colonel built what was known as the Eldridge House afterward. Some say it’s his ghost that lingers there today. The activity seems to center around the 5th floor, where an original corner stone resides, and some tell tales of the old elevator (now no longer in the building) bringing them to this floor after they requested others.

Most interesting, to me, was the patron’s concern for the colonel’s spirit. She writes, “I would like to know why is Colonel Eldridge’s ghost and spirit still remaining and lingering and hanging around the hotel and haunting the hotel? Does he know that he had died and does he know that he is dead and that his body was placed in a casket and buried in the grave? And does he know that it is his time to move on and go and walk toward the golden light. And go into the light and cross over the river into the summerlands?” I thought, now how am I supposed to find that out–talk to him?! The rest of the letter requests information on the history of Lawrence during the Civil War, the state of Kansas, any Native Americans that occupied the area, and any cemeteries, prisons and forts in the area.

As I’ve no talent for communicating with spirits, I’m afraid I wasn’t able to find all the information this patron was asking after. With all that she was requesting, I could have put together a lengthy report, or even written a historical account of Lawrence in the late 1800’s! Instead, I simply printed off a couple of articles and pictures from the Lawrence Journal World, an excerpt from Beth Cooper’s Ghosts of Kansas, and a list of books about Lawrence that she could read, and I wrote her a letter explaining what I found and how she could request more. Our library’s policy requires that special requests for research like this be presented on a form and be accompanied by a small nonrefundable fee, so I let her know if she filled out the form and sent it back, I could find more for her.

Though the letter was a little difficult to read, and I may have let it entertain me a little more than I probably should have, I’m glad that it led me to look into Colonel Eldridge’s story. Having not grown up in Lawrence, I really appreciated the chance to learn a little more about the city’s history–and it’s just another reason why I love my job so much.

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