Fraternity members share supernatural tales

Legendary ghost story lives on in former governor's mansion

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Some just don't want to talk about her. Others mention her in hushed tones, not wanting to seem foolish.

And some, like Mike Folkmann, are matter-of-fact about Virginia, the ghost of Sigma Nu.

The Kansas University sophomore and some of his friends have had a few unexplained experiences -- flickering lights, slamming doors and troubled dreams -- that make them think there's something to the ghost story.

Some, including the chapter president, say they've actually seen Virginia's ghostly image in the Kansas University fraternity's house at 1501 Sigma Nu Place.

"Some people are kind of scared by it. They're scared of what they don't know," says Folkmann, who, as a freshman, lived in the room considered by the fraternity as spook ground zero.

"It doesn't really bother me too much," Folkmann said, "as long as I don't get hurt or anything."

Shrouded by mystery

Virginia, so the tale goes, met her death some 92 years ago at the end of a rope strung from the rafters in the Victorian mansion, formerly the home of a Kansas governor.

The facts about Virginia's death have been clouded by time and, no doubt, embellished over the years through the fraternity's retellings.

The legend is also shrouded in mystery that includes a whiff of sexual scandal, jealousy and perhaps even a cover-up.

The tale recounted most often goes something like this: Virginia was a servant girl, or a maid, who worked for Walter Roscoe Stubbs, who was the governor from 1909 to 1913.

Stubbs, a Quaker, was well thought of in Lawrence and throughout the state. He made his fortune as a contractor for the railroad before getting involved in politics.


Scott McClurg/Journal-World Photo

Mike Folkmann, a Kansas University sophomore from Lawrence, used to live in the "haunted" Bowery room at the Sigma Nu fraternity, 1501 Sigma Nu Place. Legend has it that in 1911 then-Gov. Walter Roscoe Stubbs found the body of his servant, Virginia, hanging in the room. Since Sigma Nu purchased the building in 1922, fraternity members have reported several ghostly sightings. Folkmann said he had "crazy" dreams while living in the room, which is undergoing renovation.

Though he spent part of his time in Topeka, the state capital, Stubbs also continued to live with his wife in his three-story Lawrence residence.

As the tale goes, on April 22, 1911, Stubbs arrived home after a few days in Topeka. He walked into the expansive house and climbed the stairs to the third floor.

In the ballroom he found, to his horror, the body of the young Virginia, swaying from a rope in a coat closet.

It looked like suicide. Stubbs went looking for his wife and climbed the steep, narrow stairs to the flat rooftop balcony.

There he found the first lady of Kansas, catatonic and rocking back and forth, traumatized by the death.

But was it suicide or murder?

According to the legend, Stubbs' wife suspected her husband of having an affair with Virginia, so she killed the girl and trussed her up in the closet to make it look like suicide.

The governor's wife was later committed to an asylum, according to one account of the tale.

The story doesn't end there.

As an added twist, the legend states that the governor had Virginia's cremated remains buried behind the large stone fireplace.

Adding to the mystery is an engraved plate on the fireplace with a cryptic message that says in Gothic typeface, "The World of Strife Shut Out, the World of Love Shut In."

Sigma Nu sightings

The fraternity acquired the governor's property in 1922.

And over the decades, the Virginia stories began to accumulate. They included sightings of a girl's ghostly shape, the sounds of footsteps, slamming doors and flickering lights.

In 1978, Kevin Sevidge, then a KU journalism student, set out to debunk the story for a journalism project, interviewing some 50 alumni from various decades who lived in the house.

Interestingly, the sightings the former students told him were very similar, Sevidge found. And, in the end, Sevidge could neither prove nor disprove that a murder took place.

According to a 1982 Journal-World story, Sevidge, then a law student, said that in his research he could find no death certificate of a woman named Virginia.

Part of the reason was that Virginia supposedly died in April 1911, but death certificates were not required and systematically recorded until July 1911.

A pair of international ghost hunters were invited to investigate the house in October 1999. Ed and Lorraine Warren checked out the house before they gave a talk at KU about their research into the supernatural.

"Is the building haunted? I would say there's a good chance," Lorraine Warren said after looking around and feeling what she thought was a presence.

An apparition

The current Sigma Nu chapter president, Patrick Redetzke, a senior from Hutchinson, has one of the most chilling accounts.

One night when he was a freshman, he had been up late studying until 3:30 a.m. He finally went up to the group sleeping room on the second floor and crawled onto a top bunk.

Redetzke pulled up the sheets and looked down between his feet.

"I see this apparition. It was a white figure with long hair. It was a girl looking out a window. I freaked out," he said.

He shut his eyes, thinking he was seeing things. Then he knew he had to look again. So he looked.

She was still there, staring out the window.

Redetzke huddled under the blanket in terror, not wanting to look again.

"I looked once, looked twice and that was enough for me to know something was there," he said.

Recent sightings

Folkmann, a Lawrence resident, said he never heard about the Virginia ghost story until he joined the fraternity.

In the second half of the fall 2002 semester, Folkmann's room was the Bowery, which is the former cloak closet where the governor allegedly found Virginia's body.

"It was kind of eerie, living in that room," he said.

Sometimes, he would set his alarm clock and in the morning it wouldn't go off.

"Every other room I've lived in my alarm will go off," he said.

Other nights, his sleep wasn't restful.

"Sometimes your dreams aren't so pleasant," he said. "I don't know if that's psychological or what."

Any dreams of her?

"Not of her, just crazy things going on. Unpleasant things."

About a month ago, Adam Masonbrink, a freshman pledge, said he and another student were awake in the house late at night on a weekend when few members were there.

"I heard the sound of two or three young children running up and down the hallways, making a lot of noise," he said. He went out to investigate. No one was there.

"It really freaked me out," he said.