Springfield, Missouri has her own castle. The structure sits well hidden behind Evangel College. Driving along Glenstone one would never know the castle existed from the view near the street.
The building was designed to resemble a castle reflecting the theme of the Knights of Pythias, a male secret society started during the Civil War. Built from 1911 to 1913 on fifty-three acres, the cost to build the castle was $150,000. The foundation is of Carthage stone, a hard variety of limestone quarried in the Ozarks. A steel framework supports the building with concrete floors, stairways and ceilings. Pyrobar blocks make up the interior walls. At the time the society called it a lodge. The Knights of Pythias built thousands of these lodges to house the widows, orphaned children and the aged of the order. General William Selby Harney entertained at the mansion; one of his more famous guests was General Ulysses S. Grant (born Hiram Ulysses) Grant.
The castle houses 36 rooms and a second-floor theater seating 355 people with ticket booth, seats, upper projection and lighting room plus changing rooms backstage; the theater was the first in Springfield to show silent films. Funerals were held here, along with church services for the orphans.
Thirty stairs lead up to the front door. The main floor has a foyer, meeting room, ballroom, dining hall and sitting parlors. The basement houses a gymnasium along with cells used by the military. One room is said to have belonged to a Japanese man who was the cook. His paintings decorate the wall.
Besides the theater on the second floor are dormitories for the children, who lived there when the building was an orphanage, and bedrooms for adults. The boys were segregated to the right side of the building, girls to the left. The children accessed the kitchen via the dual staircases from the dorms on the second floor. They sat on opposite sides of the kitchen and were not allowed to speak to each other. One of the surviving orphans of the era says a boy ran away from the home due to loneliness. He wasn’t allowed to talk with his sister.
A powerhouse and carriage house were also part of the property, along with the boiler and laundry which was accessed via an underground tunnel.
Records show 105 deaths occurred in the facility; 2 of these were children. There are no public accounts of military deaths; those records are sealed. Pythian Castle had the first theater in Springfield to show silent films and when it served as an orphanage church as well as funeral services were conducted in the theater.
It became the O’Reilly General Hospital when taken over through immediate possession by the U.S. military and used for a service club for enlisted men in World War II. Renamed the Enlisted Mens’ Service Club, the castle was used for rehabilitation of injured U.S. soldiers and for entertainment.
A library and arts and crafts section was included. The theater hosted big bands for the USO and famous movie stars. Bob Hope, Cab Calloway, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and Gloria Stuart (the elderly Rose in Titanic) performed here.
German POWs were held in the basement, according to accounts. A cell in the basement has iron bars; they were labeled “hostile,” and any POW who died was left in the steam tunnel (the same tunnel the orphaned girls used to traverse to take the dirty linens to the laundry).
There is talk that the prisoners may have been tortured. One room in the basement bears markings curiously resembling bullet holes. Were the prisoners shot? Would someone risk ricochet from firing a weapon in the small room?
After the war, the castle was used as a reserve center before becoming storage. The building served as a hospital for four years and eleven months before being leased to OCAC (Ozarks Area Community Action Corporation). After 1993, a couple tried to maintain the building but the cost of upkeep proved too much for them, and they moved out.
Pythian Castle gained a new lease on life when the current owner, Tamara Finocchiao, bought the building and began hosting weddings, murder mystery dinners and ghost hunts. Tamara’s quest to preserve the castle has not been an easy one. She’s struggled to meet city requirements and now has the castle on the National Register of Historic Places. Tamara has a genuine love for the castle and its restoration, like Tim Piland, guide for the ghost tours, she is very protective of the ghosts inhabiting the place. Neither of them believe the majority of the spirits are malevolent—except possibly the one in the tunnel area.
Voices of a man and woman having a conversation are heard;and voices are captured on recordings. Orbs show up on film and shadow figures (I caught what appears to be the shadow figure of a young boy on the second floor). People feel lightheaded and nauseated in the expansive basement, footsteps are heard there and ominous feelings come over those on the tour.. Batteries drain constantly, light bulbs blow and on one of our visits there, recorders who worked upon entering the castle recorded all night, but then failed to do play back or even turn off unless the batteries were removed from the device.
Temperature changes, doors closing and furniture moving are reported. Sounds of children, women and even men weeping are heard. Strange mists form out of nowhere; and a ghost cat has been heard running upstairs, meowing. A child’s voice has also been captured during an EVP session.
In 2007, Philip and Christopher Booth released “Children of the Grave” a documentary partially filmed at Pythian Castle. The film has been featured on the SyFy channel and can be ordered through Spooked TV.
While onsite they filmed a man-sized shadow following them through the tunnel. Noises were heard behind them, pounding on the pipes as if water was flowing, but the pipes are not connected as both photos and the video proved. I’ve been in the tunnel and large sections are missing . It’s impossible for any substance to be moving through them. The Booth Brothers filmed a large, wet-looking, (and what appeared to be an adult male’s) hand-print on the eastward windowsill in the theater. In the tower room, while filming, the Booth brothers captured the EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena) “You Bastards.” The tower room has a reputation of being the site for child molestation and Tamara’s dogs refuse to enter the room.
It has been thought a ghost named Jeff resides in the castle. But when that name is used the fire alarms go off as if someone is trying to say the name is wrong. Tamara’s research has uncovered a man named Jess was suffering from throat cancer and shot himself onsite, this is now the name associated with the ghost. Other spirits said to haunt the castle are Ben and A.J. Tamara says people often come onto the property and ask if she’s met either of these two male spirits she says.
Tim is a skeptic but his first night in the castle proved a restless one as a hand gripped his arm awakened him. He believed it was M.J., Tamara’s mother, who told him to “get up. The dog is on the roof.” Tamara and her mother were not in the castle at the time but one of the greyhounds was stuck outside on a small roof. Obviously the “voice” alerted him to the dog’s plight and initiated its rescue.
Tim’s heard dragging sounds in the basement, shuffling feet on the other side of a locked door; voices from the kitchen and a childlike “yoo hoo”. Sounds of breaking glass prompt investigating only to prove nothing is there to have caused the noise. He says humming is heard, and sounds of objects being moved around. A frigid cold is reported felt in the theater.
In the tower room, while filming, the Booth brothers captured the EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena) “You Bastards.” The tower room has a reputation of being the site for child molestation and Tamara’s dogs refuse to enter the room.
One night in the boiler room at the entrance to the tunnel Tim was giving a tour the group was in front of him and he heard footsteps coming up behind him. At a wedding held in the castle Tim was down the next level, in the kitchen area of the basement getting supplies. On the other side of a locked set of double doors he heard a shuffling gait. Going through the castle into the basement from the other end he searched and found the room to be empty. Going back to the kitchen he heard the shuffling again. This time he called out telling whoever was beyond the door to “Stop it”. The gait ceased.
On another occasion Tim was playing poker with his cousins. Doors within the castle began to open and close followed by the sounds of crates dragging across the basement floor. No one was found upon searching for the source of the noises.
Tamara walked beneath a tarp during renovations and encountered something solid, yet no one was on the other side. A police officer on a tour of the castle saw a military officer standing in the boy’s dorm.
During renovations on the bowling alley in the basement, a worker decided to spend the night in the basement. He tried to open a recliner, but the broken chair barely budged. Giving up he slept on a couch nearby. In the middle of the night the recliner opened by itself.
Jeanna Barker reports attending a tour and while standing on the stage felt a man’s hands on her shoulders, no one was nearby. Many visitors to the castle report encounters with the spirits and submit stories and photos to the castle Facebook fan page.
Tim says the ghost like company and as he recounted his stories during my initial interview with him for my book, “Missouri’s Haunted Route 66:Ghosts Along the Mother Road” he led us through the beautiful rooms of the castle. New accounts popped into his mind and as I hurried to write the tales down I caught a male’s bemused chuckle. Perhaps Jess was enjoying hearing of his exploits.
The castle hosts monthly tours and events and is a great find for tourists interested in a fascinating piece of history, with or without ghosts. Contact information is found at: http://www.pythiancastle.com/ghosts.html.