ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
When the blackest shroud of night settles on the evening, and the house is still as death, dim the lights, gather close together and listen to ghost stories, if you dare, told by Sue Wadkins. The mysterious experiences during Wadkins’ childhood years have provided plenty of chapters for spine-tingling story-telling.
Wadkins was 3 years old when her family moved into the one-and-a-half story house at 115 N. Jefferson in Hillsboro.
“We always called it the Jefferson Street house,” Wadkins said. “I’m the oldest, Karen’s in the middle, and Bill was the baby.”
The Bartels and their three children were the third family to live in the house at Jefferson and First streets in Hillsboro. The interior, finished with solid-cherry woodwork, had large baseboards and crown moulding.
“Every single bit is cherry, and no nails were used because it’s all done with cherry dowels,” Wadkins said. “When I was a kid, I think I counted seven layers of wood in the crown moulding in the living room.”
Large cherry pillars and built-in cupboards separated the living room from the dining room. A built-in china hutch, in the dining room, had a shelf with a mirror behind it. Three bedrooms shared one bathroom.
A stairway went down to a basement with three rooms and a coal shuttle. The back room of the basement was used for laundry and had a second stairway, used as access to the backyard to hang wet clothes out to dry.
An ante-room, between the kitchen and the dining room, had a door to the second story. At the top of the stairs, leading up to the second story, was a floor door, which the family left open. It was anchored to the floor with a large iron hook.
“When we first moved in, the front bedroom was my sister’s and my room, and the middle bedroom was our parents’ bedroom, and the back room was my brother’s room,” Wadkins said. “And then, after my parents divorced, we switched around, and my mom took the front bedroom, and we took the middle bedroom.”
The house was originally built for Adolf Schaeffler and his new bride, Ida, as a wedding present from Adolf’s family, in the early 1900s, Wadkins said.
Adolf, his brother Robert, and sister Louise, grew up in what is now the Schaeffler House Museum. The Schaefflers’ were one of Hillsboro’s prestigious families, Wadkins said. They owned Schaeffler’s Mercantile at that time. Their building, at Main and Grand, still has the name “Schaeffler Block” inscribed at the top.
“Back during the Depression, Robert went down to Oklahoma and bought up a bunch of land for fairly cheap,” Wadkins said. “As time went on, they struck oil, and that’s how they got a lot of their money.”
Adolf, his wife and a daughter settled into family life in their new house. But some years later, Adolf contracted polio, Wadkins said.
“There was a stigma about having polio, especially because he was Hillsboro’s elite,” she said.
Adolf sequestered himself in an upstairs bedroom at the top of the house. His wife hired a nurse, who took the back bedroom and was summoned to Adolf’s loft by a set of bells in her room.
Then one day, one last ring of the bell, one last visit to the room, and Adolf had a heart attack and died, Wadkins said.
“But because the house was his wedding present, and he died in the house, he has always been there from Day One,” she said. “Sometimes, even if I didn’t like it, I always knew I was never alone in the house, that Adolf was there,” Wadkins said.
Having set the background, Wadkins then narrated the following ghost stories.
A game that goes wrong
“Three children were growing up in that house, and it’s like a huge play pen. There were hundreds of hiding places, and we would play hide-and-seek all the time.
“One day, we were playing hide-and-seek, and Karen and I couldn’t find Bill anywhere. So we walked over to the built-in china hutch, with the mirror on the back, and we put our elbows on the edge of the inset. We had our chins resting on our hands, and in the mirror we saw our reflections.
“We were going through everywhere we thought he could be hiding. The rule was we had to stay on the main floor. And we stood there for 30 to 45 seconds and looked at each other’s reflections in the mirror and talked about where Bill could be.
“We turned around and faced the door into the hallway and behind us Bill said, ‘Oh, you guys.’ And we screamed (because) he scared the bejeebers out of us. Our hearts were just beating so fast, because he came out of nowhere and scared us.
“‘Where were you?’ we asked.
“He said, ‘Come on you guys, don’t be so dumb. You looked right at me. I was right there. You were no more than six inches from my nose.’
“He said he was lying on his side, curled up in front of the mirror of the china cabinet. He was in that cubbyhole, but we couldn’t see him.
“We looked straight through and all we saw was our own reflections. That was the last time we played hide-and-seek for a long time.”
Stopped in their tracks
“When we were all grown and away from home, and the house had been sold, my mom, brother, sister and I got together one evening at a restaurant in Wichita.
“We were talking about the Jefferson Street house and I said, ‘Did you guys ever run into Adolf?’ Everybody got very serious. I said, ‘I want to tell you guys something and it’s so true.’
“I was probably about 12 years old. In the middle of the afternoon, I was walking from the kitchen through the dining room, and I got to where those pillars were. I went to go between them, into the living room, and it was like hitting a wall. I was pushing and leaning, and I couldn’t go forward. I couldn’t go through, and it scared me.
“I moved side to side, and I backed up and put my arms at my sides with my palms behind me. I leaned just as hard as I could. I was leaning, and I couldn’t go anywhere.
“My heart started beating real fast, and I leaned forward, and I yelled, ‘Adolf, let me through!’ Boom, I hit the floor of the living room, and the wall was gone.
“As it turned out, each of us kids had an experience where we would get to a point and just walk into something. We couldn’t go forward. We could go side to side, and back, but we couldn’t get through.
“It happened that one time to me. It was never in the same place for each of us. We would hit this invisible barrier and we could not get through.
Appearance at the landing
“When I was in the fifth grade, my parents had separated, and we had baby-sitters to help take care of us.
“One summer day we had gone to the swimming pool. Whenever we came home from the pool, we had this rule. We had to take off our swimming suits, take them downstairs and put them in the dryer.
“So we got home from the pool, and my sister changed out of her suit into her little shorts and shirt and started to go down to the basement.
“The washer and dryer were in the very last room of the basement.
“Karen started down the stairs, and I wasn’t far behind her. All of a sudden, Karen was screaming the most horrible, terrifying scream I have ever heard in my life.
“I came running through the kitchen, and I went to the basement door. She was screaming-I’m getting goose bumps just remembering it-with her eyes wide open in terror.
“She’s crying and screaming and crawling and grabbing, trying to get up the stairs, and she’s floundering.
“The baby-sitter gets ahold of Karen, and we’ve each got her under one arm. We’re getting her upstairs, and the whole time she’s looking back down the stairs and screaming.
“We got her to the living room and onto our couch. She kept trying to climb over the back and hide in the corner.
“We couldn’t get her calmed down, and the baby-sitter called mom at work. My mom got home, and it took so long to calm Karen down.
“Mom said, ‘Karen, what happened?’
“Karen said, she was watching the steps so she wouldn’t trip, and she saw something a couple of steps ahead of her. So she glanced up and saw a man wearing a dark blue suit, a white shirt and a tie. The man got to the landing and turned around. He looked up at Karen, smiled and then went down the last three steps into the basement.
“My mother was sitting there, and the color drained from her face.
She said, ‘Karen, why don’t you go sit outside and get some fresh air.’
“My mother started shaking, and she said, ‘Oh, my God, she saw Adolf. I was at his funeral, and that was what he was wearing in his casket.'”
The basement door
“One night, when I was about 14 years old, I was taking a bath. On the other side of the wall, next to the bathtub, was the stairway from the basement going up to the outside.
“I kept hearing that door bang shut, and I could hear footsteps going up those steps. When you live in a house for so many years, and somebody walks through a room, you know what room they’re in and probably can tell what they’re doing.
“But I kept hearing footsteps going up and down these stairs and the door opening and closing. I thought, who keeps going in and out of that basement door? It’s dark and it’s nighttime.
“I hollered at my mom, and she came into the bathroom and said, ‘What’s wrong?’
“I said, ‘Who keeps going in and out of that stupid door? What’s going on?’
“She said, ‘What did you hear? Are you sure?’
“I was a little angry, and I said, ‘Well, yeah.’
“She said, ‘Finish rinsing your hair, and get out of the tub. I want to show you something.’
“So I got my ‘jammies’ and my robe on, and I came out.
“She said, ‘Let’s go, I want to show you something.’
She went through the kitchen, down the stairs, through the first room in the basement, through the second room, to the third room, to the stairway.
“Now, that’s where Mrs. Schaeffler did her laundry, in the back room. Then she’d go upstairs and hang it out on the line, so she didn’t have to take it all through the house.
“Mom said, ‘Let’s go up the stairs.’
“We got to the top of the stairway.
“Mom said, ‘Open that door.’
“I reached for the handle, and I turned it, and it wouldn’t open.
“Mom said, ‘Are you sure you heard this door?’
“I said, ‘Yeah.’ But I’m pulling and the door doesn’t open.
“She said, ‘Sue, I didn’t tell you kids this, but a couple of weeks ago, I had someone come over and nail that door shut.'”
She heard footsteps
“We would be sitting in the living room at night and we could hear Adolf walking back and forth upstairs, from one end of the house to the other, all the way across. That was real weird for our baby-sitters.
“Now there were different baby-sitters over the years.
“One night we’re in bed, and the baby-sitter is there.
“Mom’s out for the evening, and when she comes home, the baby-sitter is sitting in the rocking chair holding one of our carving knives.
“My mom walked in, and said, ‘Lori, what’s going on?’
“And Lori said, ‘I heard him, I heard him, I heard Adolf. For the last hour, all he’s done is walk back and forth.
“‘I finally got to a point where I was so scared, I ran to the kitchen and got one of these carving knives. If he’d have opened that door, that would have been it.'”
The final chapter-or is it?
Wadkins recently visited Adolf’s grave and gently wiped off the debris from the headstone which read, “Adolf W. Schaeffler, born Oct. 15, 1886, died, Aug. 25, 1950.”
“It wasn’t a thing you could pass off as a child’s active imagination,” Wadkins said. “There was too much we kids experienced without talking to each other about it until years later.
“That was his house, his honeymoon house, his wedding present from his parents. He’s going to keep a close eye on it.”
The fourth family to own the Jefferson Street house are Glenn and Margaret Schattak. They’ve owned it for about 30 years and are the current residents.
“We do love our home here,” said Glenn. He said they haven’t experienced any haunting of their home.
“It doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen-or it couldn’t happen.”