"Haunted Kansas" author keeps legends alive in sequel

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

A strange phenomenon is haunting towns across the state of Kansas. The phenomenon is not a ghost, a creature or demon. It is legend.

Virtually every community in the state is home to tales of mysterious creatures, angry ghosts and things that go bump in the night.

From the albino woman of Topeka to the hamburger man that haunts the Sandhills of Hutchinson, it is undeniable that legend lurks in the shadows of the state.

Lisa Hefner Heitz, Topeka-based author of "Haunted Kansas: Ghost Stories and Other Eerie Tales," is keeping the legends, but not the ghosts, alive.

"I am interested in the stories and the story-telling alone," Heitz said in a recent telephone interview. "I can't explain them or discount them. All I can do is tell them."

Released in 1997 by the University Press of Kansas, Heitz's book includes 60 ghost stories involving more than 30 communities across the state. The book started as a project while she was a student at KU.

Since the release, Heitz has stayed continuously busy with interviews and presentations about the book. The successes and responses have been very surprising, she said.

"The response has been really, really good. It has been very gratifying."

Besides the praise, she receives updates about the legends and new information about stories she did not stumble on before. The haunting still continue across the state and Heitz has decided to put them into a second book.

"I am working on a sequel. I continue to get plenty of material," Heitz said. "I might also spend a chapter updating some stories from the first one. I have received some interesting information about those."

Many of the new stories have a similar feel to the ones in her first book. But there is some new material of gigantic proportions.

"Some stories I am working on are Big Foot stories," Heitz said. "There is a wealth of Big Foot stories right here in Kansas."

"There are even big foot sightings in Lawrence. There is a newspaper article from October 18, 1978 about Big Foot being spotted roaming near the Kansas Turnpike."

Another tale involving the Lawrence community that Heitz is researching is story about the whale that supposedly lived in Potter Lake on the Kansas University campus in 1911.

Her desire to collect the stories was a result of her own fascination with the Topeka-based albino woman legend. According to that tale, the albino woman, with glowing red eyes, roams the grounds of the Rochester Cemetery with her dog.

"The albino woman is the legend that started me," Heitz said. "It is my favorite."

Six years later, the original book still frightens and fascinates readers of all ages.

The first book is available at many local bookstores. Even if it is not on the shelves, Heitz says that they have the ability to order it.

With the vast amounts of material Heinz has accumulated, a third book might even be in the works. Heitz will continue to investigate the myth and legends that vitalize communities across the state.

"I am not a parapsychologist," Heitz said. "I approach it as a journalist who is reporting. I take it from a folkloric standpoint. . . . I have to be objective. Within the large realm of possibility, anything can be true."