House on the hill

From musical galas and wartime preparations, to the deaths of its owners and the birth of a university, the house has stood steadfast.
Perspectives Staff // Fall 2011
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Epperson house

–Photo by Bob Greenspan

Epperson House has weathered many changes during its 88 years perched on the hill. From musical galas and wartime preparations, to the deaths of its owners and the birth of a university, the house has stood steadfast. Its evolution from home to dormitory to classroom has filled its residents with both adoration and aversion for the house, but the prominent emotion is fear—of its past and for its future.

Industrialist and philanthropist Uriah S. Epperson and his wife, Elizabeth, began construction on a sprawling Tudor-Gothic mansion in 1919. When it was completed four years later, it had 56 rooms, a basement swimming pool, marble fireplaces, ornately carved staircases, and an octagonal turret that overlooks campus. Today, no student orientation is complete without a ghost story and a backward glance at one of the house’s darkened windows.

Boyd Breedlove

During his 10 years as a UMKC employee, Boyd Breedlove has encountered a few mysteries within the dark corners of Epperson House. –Photo by Michael McClure

Bumps in the night

Tales about hauntings in the house are well known, ranging from the vague—strange lights and mysterious footsteps—to the darkly detailed, such as the disembodied, blue-suited arm that reaches out from nowhere to turn off the lights. One of the often-retold ghost stories involves Harriet Evelyn Barse, who lived with the Eppersons while she attended the Kansas City Conservatory of Music. Uriah and Elizabeth referred to Barse as their adopted daughter, even though she was 10 years older than Elizabeth. According to legend, Barse designed a custom organ that would reside in the balcony overlooking the living room. But she died at age 47, soon after she moved into the house and before the organ was completed.

Over the years, students reported seeing Barse in the house wearing an evening gown. There are also stories of phantom organ music in the home, and a visible mark on the floor of the balcony shows where Barse’s organ once sat in spite of efforts over the years to remove the mark. Other stories describe the wandering spirits of Uriah Epperson and a daughter who allegedly died in the home. But Stuart Hinds of the LaBudde Department of Special Collections in the Miller Nichols Library, which houses the U.S. Epperson collection, points out that the Eppersons had no children.

Throughout the years, reports of mysterious activity have come from UMKC faculty, staff and students who have witnessed strange happenings while they were in the house. UMKC employee Boyd Breedlove is one such witness. He’s been working for the university for about 10 years, and during that time he has become familiar with the intricacies of Epperson House. Breedlove says the house is usually quiet, but one night he wasn’t sure what to make of what appeared to be a dark figure in the corner of the basement. “When I walked up on it and hit the corner with the flashlight, nothing was there,” he says.

Breedlove is not the only one to experience strange occurrences. Other employees and students have had unusual experiences in the house, too, from digital recorder batteries mysteriously draining, to odd noises emanating from under a manhole cover. Some folks around campus believe the house is haunted, but until he sees solid proof, Breedlove says he’s withholding judgment.

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