One of the Midwest’s most beautiful Victorian homes is definitely beautiful and possibly haunted.
If the Vaile Mansion in Independence, Missouri is not haunted, it most certainly should be. In its 136-year history, the estate has been a residence, a psychiatric hospital, and a nursing home. All told nearly a hundred people have died in the house including both of the original owners. Haunted or not the mansion is stunning both on the outside as well as the interior, so let’s explore this beautifully restored Victorian home and learn a little about its macabre past.
These side views of the mansion. The home was built in 1881 by Colonel Harvey Vaile. Vaile was a successful attorney and owned a company that moved mail and freight throughout the western half of the US. The House initially sat on 55 acres and had a large lake in the back. The mansion has three floors, 31 rooms, and nine fireplaces. All the bricks in the home were crafted directly on site and all the wood, marble and glass were imported from Europe.
All the doors both interior and exterior were hand carved and intricate. The city of Independence which now owns the mansion has gone to great lengths to restore the home to its Victorian charm.
Harvey and Sophia Vaile, the original owners and builders of the mansion. Harvey was a successful abolitionist lawyer. His close association to the Lincoln administration enabled Mr. Vaile to access the freight lines heading out to the western half of the country. The mansion was a gift to his wife. The house cost over $150,000 (3.5 million in today’s money) to build. No expense was spared the house even had hot and cold running water(very rare at the time) and imported furnishings. Unfortunately, the Vaile’s time in their new home was short-lived. In the early 1880’s Harvey Vaile was implicated in a case of mail fraud and spent nearly two years in Washington D.C. In February 1883 while her husband was away, Sophia died in the mansion of an overdose on morphine. No one is exactly sure if her death was an accident or suicide. What is known is that she was distraught over the prospect of her husband’s possible conviction and some accounts say she was suffering from stomach cancer at the time of her death. Sophia Vaile’s fear was unfounded as her husband would be acquitted on all charges later that year.
Harvey Vaile returned to his home after the trail but reports are he was never the same and became a bit of a recluse. He would continue to occupy the home until his death in 1895. Since the Vaile’s had no children the house and all the property were contested by his nieces and nephews in a protracted legal battle that would last for five years. Even after succeeding in court the family was unable to pay the court costs so the house and property were all sold off in an auction.
Since none of the extended family could afford the legal fees of a contracted legal fight the property was acquired by their lawyer Carey May Carroll who converted the home into a psychiatric hospital. There has been a persistent rumor that patients whose mental conditions were the most profound were kept in cages in the basement. There were a lot of rumors about this place especially during the time it was a sanitarium. The house would later be converted to a nursing home.
The mansion would change hands many times and eventually was abandoned and slated for demolition a local family purchased the home for just $60,000 but spent a great deal more than that trying to restore the home. Eventually, the city of Independence would acquire the estate in 1983 and the home has been restored. Since none of the original furnishings remain all the furniture of the house has been donated but is of the period when the Vailes lived there.
At the time of its opening, the Vaile mansion was considered one of the finest homes in the entire country. Whenever any dignitary would stop by Independence or Kansas City they were sure to make an appearance at the home. The house has three floors, only the first two are open on the tour. The third floor was a planned ballroom and billiard parlor. Sadly, the Vailes never was able to finish furnishing the floor. After Mrs. Vaile’s death, Harvey Vaile lost interest in any additions. The floor was used during the mansions days as a psychiatric hospital and nursing home. I was told the third floor is just used for storage now. Some have made the contention that the third floor is the most haunted and that is why it is off limits. Rumors abound, but the explanation of being for storage seemed plausible to me.
Each of the nine fireplaces is made of imported Italian marble which glows when there is a fire lit.
The dress on the left is a winter dress while the white dress on the right is a summer dress. The white dress is actually Edwardian and not Victorian and is from the 1910’s
So is the mansion really haunted? I asked the guide if she has ever experienced anything out of the ordinary while working at the mansion. She said that she hadn’t and she often was the first person to arrive in the morning and usually the last one to leave but still hasn’t noticed anything peculiar.
Another guide said something I found very interesting. She said that even if the house were haunted they would never really present it as such. “We only want to promote the mansion for what it is; a beautifully restored Victorian-era home. If we let it get around that the house was haunted, we might attract negative attention such as vandals.” She added I would like to think the Vailes would be pleased with the way we restored their former home” I said that I was sure they would be.
I’m probably not the best person to ask if the place really is haunted or not. I don’t think I am very perceptive in things like that. I can tell you the night of my visit I had some scary dreams but that could be me just psyching myself out. Who knows?
Haunted or not the mansion is stunning. The house is in Independence, Missouri only a couple blocks from the Truman Library. Admission is $6.00 and I feel like I got my money’s worth. Come by and visit and let me know what you thought of it, especially if you get “spooked”