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William Allen White: Haunting Memories
by Kelley Weiss, class of 2003

William Allen White and his wife, Sallie, stand in front of their home in Emporia.

In the middle of the night distinct footsteps coming up the stairs echoed through the house and started down the hallway towards their bedroom. The dog came into the bedroom and lay down next to the bed. David Walker clearly remembers that night in Emporia when he stayed in William Allen White’s house for a night with his wife Barbara White Walker, William Allen White's granddaughter. The only problem is that when the dog came into the room Walker couldn’t see it and neither could his wife. Walker insists the dog was a ghost. This occurrence of extraterrestrial meetings was not the first in the house.

The house is now vacant as the Kansas Historical Society prepares it for the public, but the spirits are said to still roam the house. David Walker related the story of when the head appraiser for the historical society stayed in Emporia for a week working on cataloging the house. She stayed in the house for the first couple of nights working into the early morning. For several nights she said she felt the presence of someone else watching her from behind while she cataloged in the dining room . On one particular evening around 1 a.m. she felt a cold draft behind her in the dining room. After feeling the coldness and having the intense feeling of being watched, she decided to leave. She left that evening and stayed in a hotel for the rest of her stay in Emporia. When William Allen White and his family also reported spirits present, although the White's believed the ghosts were non-threatening. Some believe the spirits could be the ghosts of Almerin Gillette and his wife. Hist wife allegedly committed suicide in the home.

The house carries a rich history. Almerin Gillette, a cattleman and lawyer, built the house to impress his young wife, who moved from New York City to Emporia in 1885. The market crashed prior to the completion of the house and Gillette could not afford to finish building it. The Gillettes lived in the uncompleted home for 14 years. During that time, Mrs. Gillette, who was not happy living in a small town, was troubled by the couple's financial difficulties. Rumor has it that she eventually became depressed and committed suicide in the home, though the cause of death was never determined. It is rumored that her spirit roams the many rooms of the White home.

An illustration of the William Allen White house.

In 1899, William Allen White leased the house and then bought it in 1901. The Whites completed construction on the house, which included expanding the living room to hold the many guests for their famous parties. Sallie White, William Allen White’s wife, chose walnut wood to replace the flooring in the living room. She bought the wood from her brother who owned an orchard farm in Lyon County. Prior to the expansion, the living room area had four different rooms. All the walls were taken out and the space became one open area. The house is recognized for its architecture and contents. William Allen White traveled the world and collected several artifacts over the years that now are valuable antiques and collectibles.

Two years before William Allen White’s daughter died, she designed the plans for her dream bedroom. Fourteen-year-old Mary White, his daughter, didn't want any furniture in the room and chose a “minimalist” design. She didn't want a bed in her room. Instead, she designed a space outside of her room to house her sleeping quarters. This space was big enough to hold a small cot. Mary White put the cot on wheels so that she could wheel it in and out of the room. Unfortunately, White’s daughter died in a horse-riding accident prior to the completion of the renovations.

In the backyard a small rectangular pool sits empty today. Several rumors circulate about its purpose. White family members dispelled a rumor that a nude William Lindsay White floated in the pool day or night. He did enjoy floating in the pool, but wore swimming trunks. The rumor mill started because William Lindsay White had a robust belly--the only portion of his body visible while floating in the pool. The concrete pool originally served as a fish pond, then as a natural system to collect water from the roof to be used in the yard.

William Allen White lived in the house until his death in Jan. 29, 1944. His son, William Lindsay White, lived in the house after his father, but only for the spring and summer seasons. During the fall and winter, William Lindsay White and his wife, Kathrine White, lived in New York City, where his daughter, Barbara White Walker, went to school.

William Allen White entertained several guests in the backyard and the pond can be seen in the left hand corner.

When Kathrine White died in 1988, Barbara White Walker inherited the house. Since then, Walker heated and cooled the house, kept the electricity on and maintained the grounds. The Walker family gave the house to the Kansas State Historical Society in 2001. It is now operated as the William Allen White House State Historic Site.

 

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