Welcome to The Gasp Menagerie! Recently I discovered that I share with our co-founder, leader, and resident pop-culture icon Uncle Creepy a passion for all things paranormal. Ghosts, cryptozoology, the unexplained… all that creepy stuff. Hence, our beefed up coverage of that realm of the weird under the title The Gasp Menagerie.
First up, one from my own childhood: The Vaile Mansion in Independence, Missouri, just a few miles from the hospital I was born in and the house I lived in as a child.
I’ll start off by saying this: The details surrounding this house are straight out of a horror film. Some of this is legend, but most of it is historical fact, and I say that because many of you aren’t going to believe me. It sounds too much like viral marketing for a new film to be true, but a great deal of this is verifiable fact. When I delve into legend, I’ll let you know, but even that is word of mouth passed down, not creative writing.
The Vaile Mansion was built in 1881 by Col. Harvey Vaile, who became very wealthy with a company that ran mail to Santa Fe. Built for his wife, the mansion is gorgeous, opulent, and naturally foreboding.
Things were great for Harvey and Mrs. Vaile until he was charged with mail fraud. The charges were serious enough that he was forced to travel to Washington to defend himself in a trial. During this process, Mrs. Vaile was overcome by the horror of losing it all and being shamed and took a fatal overdose of morphine in the house.
Harvey was never the same. One legend says he buried his wife on the property in a glass coffin flush with the ground, so he could visit her, until the townsfolk protested and he gave her a more traditional burial. This can’t be confirmed, but it wouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with the Vailes.
When I was young and toured the house, the guides would supply more details. I also spoke with older folks who had lived in the area all their lives. The rest of the tale of Col. Vaile goes like this:
At some time he built a little room on the north side of the mansion’s first floor. I don’t recall if this was before or after the death of his wife. A little room with three windows, like a bay window. Just big enough for a single chair so he could sit and look out over his property.
Nothing so strange there… except for the wood. He hired a woodworker to put faces into the grain of the wood. Strangely, I can only find a single photo on the Net of these faces, and it features two friendly, smiling faces. I assure you, having seen them myself more than once, the rest of the faces are not smiling or happy. Demonic is a word I’ve used before. Twisted. Insane.
Harvey Vaile died five years after his wife, unable to live without her. According to what I’ve been told, be it legend or truth, he spent much of his time sitting in that little room looking over his property. On the day he died upstairs in the master bedroom, the windows of the little room exploded outwards, even though nobody was in the first floor of the house at the time.
If we stopped now, it’s a tragic and creepy story. Problem is, now things go from bad to worse. The house proceeded onto a path that would take it into horror, violence, and atrocity.
Around the turn of the century, it became an asylum for the mad. Mental health care wasn’t exactly at a good place in those days, so the asylum is said to have been filled with torture and abuse. I was told that the asylum was closed down because of that abuse, and the house was turned into a nursing/rest home. Again, according to what I was told as a child, this was not a happy place. Rife with death and, again, accusations of abuse, the rest home shut down and the mansion was left vacant and decaying. This was not before a fully functioning morgue was built to handle the amount of deaths occurring inside.
A couple bought the mansion in the 60’s and restored it. In 1983, when the husband died, they donated it to the city.
Shortly after that is when I toured the grounds more than once as a teenager on school trips. Back then, while the opulence and beauty of the place were featured, so was the dark history of the mansion. The morgue, the room with the faces, the reported hauntings.
Oh yes, plenty of those. When I was a boy, you see, the Vaile Mansion was the place you didn’t walk across. You crossed the street before walking past it. It’s said Mrs. Vaile haunts the house, either trapped there or regretting her suicide and being unwilling to leave the palace built for her by her husband. Mr. Vaile is said to walk the grounds, glowing at night, or sometimes is seen peering out of that little room he built. Workers at the house refuse to enter the basement because of the feeling they get. This was the area that once housed metal cages that held asylum patients, where bodies were stored from the rest home.
When I entered my 20’s and my interest in the paranormal flourished, I looked into doing an investigation in the house. After contacting the city, my partner and I were told absolutely not, and that trespassing charges would be pressed if we attempted to enter the property for that purpose.
Here’s where we get into horror movie territory.
You see, the city had the Truman home now that Bess had passed several years before, and the Bingham-Waggoner home (a rancher’s sprawl), and wanted to include the Vaile in their gentrified tour of historic homes… all for one group price. Suddenly, any talk of hauntings was gone. For a time, I know they stopped taking tours to the room with the faces, although I found a report from 2012 that says they were taken there. Now the Vaile was to be a picture of late Victorian pageantry. Christmas decorations and tours every winter. Every spring, the Strawberry Festival with shortcake and dancing. And the story of the mansion? Now, it’s all about the love affair of the Vailes.
Any unpleasant facts in the history of the mansion are gone. Check the official site, and any site related to the city, and you’d think this was a fairy castle where a princess lived. Asylum? Not here! Deaths? Nope! Suicide and madness? Have some strawberries!
The city leaders happily ignore this house of horror and, with complete disrespect to those who died in madness and torture, tart the place up with pretty decorations and pass it off as a place of celebration.
This is basically Jaws with ghosts.
So every year, this place is crawling with people putting on their happy faces and celebrating on the grounds of a house steeped in death, insanity, and horror.
How long before something happens to burst the smiley-face balloon the city has built around the Vaile? Better yet, how long before someone turns this tale into the next big horror film?
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