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Historic House in Carthage is the Site for Many Civil War Ghost Stories

The historic Kendrick House in Carthage is one of the last standing antebellum homes from the pre-Civil War era. Today, the house stands as a museum commemorating its involvement in the War, and is the site of many legends of paranormal activity. For our ongoing series Sense of Place, KSMU’s Rebekah Clark shares how the grounds were used during the Civil War, and tells of some local controversy about the haunting of the house.

In her newly published book, “The Civil War Ghosts of Southwest Missouri,” Lisa L. Martin describes her discoveries in both her historical and paranormal findings. She works as an attorney in Carthage, and also co-founded the Paranormal Science Lab, which is a group dedicated to investigating the paranormal activity in the area. She says that the Carthage area was extremely involved in Civil War activity.

“This area, southwest Missouri, was one of the hardest hit in the Civil War, particularly for the civilians, although it’s not widely publicized. In fact, the Battle of Carthage was the first major land battle where both armies knew they were going to engage in employed strategy; it involved about six thousand troops.”

Built in 1849, the Kendrick House is the oldest standing house in Jasper County. Martin said that during the war it was used as a field hospital for the Union army during the Battle of Carthage. After that battle, it was used by the Confederate army. At various times it was occupied by both sides, and also by “bushwhackers,” or members of radical military groups. Many scenes of violence, including lynchings and murders, happened on the premises during the war.         

“So there were a lot of hardships, a lot of trauma that has carried down and there were various ghost stories that were associated with some of those events in southwest Missouri that I ended up writing about.”

I asked Martin to share with me one of those stories. She told me about a story she feels isn’t widely known. She started the tale by saying that because this area was so split during the war, many bushwhackers targeted small towns, terrorizing the civilians.

“The Tale of Johnny Reb” is a story about one such bushwhacker whose skeleton was found by Union troops marching from Springfield. Legend has it that the troops took his skull and hung it from a tree along the road to warn other bushwhackers of their fate. 

“And now, at various times, the specter of a headless man in Civil War attire, including a duster, is seen in the fields wondering, as if looking for something. The legend goes that he’s looking for his head and never finds it.”

None of these tales have been proven, however. One skeptic, Steve Weldon, works as the director for the Jasper County Archives. Weldon is an expert on local history in the Carthage area. He says while he thinks people can have a profound spiritual connection with the past, he sometimes has a hard time buying into all the ghost stories. I asked him about “The Tale of Johnny Reb,” and he had a different account.

The account basically was that a pro-Union man had been taken from his field—his body was never found. Sometime later, a body was found, with what looked like a bullet hole in his skull. They had no idea who that was. They assumed it was the possibility that it was the Union man that had been taken from his field.”

Today, the Kenrick House stands as a museum open for visitors during the day. And every weekend night in October, the Paranormal Science Lab gives tours to people who would like to hear about the ghost legends of the house.

You can visit more information.

For KSMU’s Sense of Place, I’m Rebekah Clark.