For most history enthusiasts, an afternoon at a museum is a prime way to while away the hours. The endless supply of artifacts, coupled with pieces of period dress and the dim lighting conspire to make one’s imagination soar through time. And who doesn’t love the smell of must and mildew that is reminiscent of the library? (ahh, libraries…well, that’s another story…)
When I was in college, I worked in a museum that was housed in what was once a beautiful old church. I loved going in and walking through the galleries and displays, alone with just my thoughts, conjuring images of those who had touched the wooden handle on the butter churn, or who had ridden tall in the weathered saddles. I had the ideal job, not only because I am enamored of times before electricity and social media, but my writer’s vision is greatly piqued when I am surrounded by what has been or what could be. Also, I am just a nerd. *pushes up glasses*
So, imagine my delight when it came to my knowledge that there was a way I could connect with my own family lineage in an honest to goodness, historically registered home. And with close family members as docents, I could not imagine a more perfect way to spend an afternoon than to sort through the treasures.
In doing so, I had a brief, and unexplained occurrence. But before I divulge further, take a moment to learn the history…
The Marshall house was built in 1885, commissioned by Abram Marshall for his new bride, Belle Crowe Marshall. Married June 4, 1884, the young couple was the epitome of success on the Kansas plains. Abe was a highly successful business owner, five total, which included a bank.He also claimed over 1,700 acres of farmland in Lincoln County. All told however, he was reported to own over 25,000 acres in surrounding counties as well. His wife Belle was one of the five bevy of beauties who hailed from Iowa. She was the daughter of English immigrants who came to America from the Isle of Lazare in the English Channel and with her fair skin and dark hair, she attracted much attention. Belle and her family originally settled in Iowa, but came to Kansas to visit her cousins, the Ryans. And when they would come to town, they would garner the attention of many of the young men, full of swagger and promise. And this is how she met Abe. Marriage was soon proposed, and Belle and her family soon made Lincoln County their home. Two of her sisters, Lydia and Minnie, also married bankers, her sister Emma married the first sheriff of the county, and her sister Julia married a land owner and county treasurer. The family was well-respected and enjoyed prosperity.
And then Frank Chase moved to town.
Charming, athletic,and adventurous, Frank moved to rural Kansas from New York. He set foot in the county, assessed the powerful holdings of Abe Marshall, and proceeded to open his own bank, right across the street from Abe’s bank.
Then, it was reported that folks around town would see Mrs. Marshall rising her white horse through town and tethering it in front of Frank’s bank. Then, it was reported that they would be seen riding their horses together or, even riding a tandem bicycle.
It was further noted that Abe was silent on the topic.
Presumably, this went on until the bank panic of 1893. Unable to shake the fear of failure, Frank closed shop and headed out to California in 1895 to raise oranges and dabble in real estate.
And the tongues of Lincoln County stopped wagging. Abe held steady through the crisis and had great success with his bank. He and Belle had three children and employed household staff, including Gentleman Jim, the son of a slave who had made his way north. He was devoted to Belle and the children and would correct anyone who said he worked for Mr. Marshall.
“I am in the employ of Mrs. Marshall”, he would reply.
Curiously, as the years went on, Belle would take extended trips. She would be gone for entire summers and she would always travel alone. Word had it she was out West…
In the meantime, Abe was elected mayor, and later to the state legislature. He had a golden reputation, was fair and honest as the day was long. his son Ben was successful in the family business but not afraid to help out on the farm. One daughter married and moved to Denver, and the other continued to live at home. He was a good man.
Abe died on December 11, 1930. Not too long after Belle moved west. She sold the home to Mr. Ben Yohe, who continued to keep it a gem of the community. He married twice, and upon the death of his second wife, Lucretia, the home was willed to the county’s historical society in the late 1980s. It is now open to the public for private tours and has hosted the Abraham Lincoln Look-a-Like Contestants at their annual breakfast.
But back to Belle…
On May 31, 1931, an elderly man tottered into the county courthouse to see the about getting a marriage license. The dapper man, dressed in a suit and hat, stated his name and intentions to the surprised clerk.
“I want a (marriage license) for myself and Mrs. Belle Marshall. “My name is Frank F. Chase and I am 69 years old and I believe her age to be 66.” The clerk filed out the paperwork and once in hand, Frank left the office and was seen getting into a shiny new car. The car, it was later reported, went to the home of Mrs. D. B. Day, the former Julia Crowe. Inside the parlor was the Rev. H.C. Bradbury, the town’s elderly Presbyterian minister whose blessing of the marriage of Frank and Belle had finally come to fruition.
Incidentally, the Kansas City Star, a major Midwestern newspaper, ran this story June 21, 1931. That’s how we know what Frank said to the clerk. It’s notable that he said he “believed” Belle’s age to be sixty-six. That’s the mark of a good man.
Now, back to the present. A year ago I was in town, wanting to take some pictures of the house. Two family members and I entered the parlor on a warm and windy September Sunday afternoon and as we stood conversing we heard several loud concussive thumps coming from upstairs. The hair raised on our arms as a chill circulated through our words. Loudly I proclaimed, “We are family and we don’t mean to bother you. We will only be here few minutes.” With that the noises ceased.
My story is not the first to be told regarding strange occurrences in the house. But I guess I may chalk mine up to squirrels. Maybe.