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Campus History: Epperson House

Epperson House earned a spot on ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ as one of the top five haunted houses in the United States
Epperson House earned a spot on ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ as one of the top five haunted houses in the United States

Epperson House, a 56-room brick and mortar mansion, stands perched atop the southwest corner of 52nd and Cherry streets overlooking the UMKC campus.

The massive, allegedly haunted, Tudor-gothic mansion is styled after 15th-century English castles.

A stone retaining wall and long promenade of steps and balustrade railings to the building’s hilltop entrance add to the stateliness of Epperson House.

The original brick, stone and Tudor half-timber façade is embellished with tall leaded-glass windows, ornate masonry and an octagonal turret topped with a parapet.

Formerly known as Hawthorne Hall, construction of Epperson House began in 1919 and took six years to complete. The manor boasts an interior replete with six bathrooms, marble fireplaces, carved oak paneling, crystal chandeliers, a 15-by-30-foot basement swimming pool, secret passageways and an organ balcony and performance stage in the living room.

The 87-year-old mansion was constructed as the residence of local philanthropist Uriah S. Epperson. It cost $450,000 to build, which translates to $5.6 million in 2009 dollars when adjusted for inflation.

After his death in 1926, the house was left to his wife, Elizabeth Epperson. She owned the estate until her death in 1939. The home then became the property of J.J. Lynn, a business associate of Epperson.

Flight cadets eating a meal in Epperson House in 1942
Flight cadets eating a meal in Epperson House in 1942

Lynn planned to use the property as an office for Epperson Underwriting Company but was met with opposition from Epperson House’s wealthy neighbors.

Lynn instead donated the property to UMKC, then called the University of Kansas City (UKC), in Sept. 1942.

It was named Epperson House Resident Hall for Men and housed 44 aviation cadets during World War II.

“There remained an air of vacancy in the mansion despite the presence of the cadets,” an Oct. 2, 1942 Kansas City Star article reads. “The university had not completed redecorating the place, and workmen were still busy.”

Structural changes to the home’s interior were not made immediately. To accommodate the cadets, steel cots were placed in large rooms and used for beds.

The cadets came from rural towns in Kansas and Missouri. At UKC, they studied ground school courses, receiving 240 hours of class instruction. The Epperson House cadets also received 40 hours of flight training during their 60 day stay in Kansas City prior to deployment.

Upon the completion of the new men’s dormitory in 1956, commonly known as Cherry Street, the School of Education was moved to Epperson House. The university modified the interior to accommodate classrooms, offices and a library.

More recently, the building housed the Department of Architecture, Urban Planning and Design, which recently relocated to Katz Hall on July 7.

Epperson House is rumored to be haunted and has been featured on “Unsolved Mysteries” as one of the top five haunted houses in the United States.

The ghost of Harriet Barse, a Kansas City Conservatory of Music student who lived with the Epperson family, allegedly haunts the mansion. Security guards have reported hearing music coming from the organ loft in the living room and seeing Barse dressed in a recital gown.

In 1979, a patrol officer reported his car was hit from behind when parked in front of the house. He heard the sound of shattered glass and got out of his patrol car to investigate the scene, but found no evidence of another vehicle.

Security guards in the late 1970s also reported hearing footsteps and witnessing other paranormal activity.


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