Fort Riley hosts annual Ghost Tours

Visitors to Fort Riley listen to the story of Sarah Fox at the old train station across from Waters Hall during the 21st annual Fort Riley Ghost Tours Oct. 29, 2017. Fox was the daughter of a 19th century Army sergeant who was a victim of the cholera epidemic. Her body was buried by the train station and later exhumed and placed in an unmarked grave in the current Fort Riley Cemetery. She has allegedly been seen walking around the area at night. (Photo by Christina Cannon | Collegian Media Group)

The ghosts of Fort Riley’s historic past came out Sunday evening for the military post’s 21st annual Ghost Tours event.

The tours started in front of Polk Hall, which was once the fort’s commissary, and were led by volunteers from the Historical and Archaeological Society of Fort Riley.

Maggy Gray, member of the HASFR and one of Fort Riley’s “pie queens,” volunteered this year to lead visitors around the neighborhood as a haunted tour guide, or a “ghostess” as the HASFR calls them. This year’s tour covered the area surrounding the Cavalry Parade Field, including a stop at a tour mainstay, the Custer House.

Gray, who has only been at Fort Riley for about a year, said she also attended the tour last fall when it covered the neighborhood surrounding the Artillery Parade Field.

“We do a different tour every year,” Gray said. “Last year it was focused on Scholfield, and this year it’s focusing on the Cavalry Parade Field and Forsyth Avenue and trying to take care of some of those stories on this end. It’s a lot less residential this year too, because we’re [telling stories] about the old theater, and King Field House and the old commissary.”

While not every house on Fort Riley has a story, many of the homes surrounding the parade fields and older sections of the fort have storied pasts. Gray’s own home, known as Quarters 18-A, was a stop on the tour.

Gray told tour guests stories the past residents of Quarters 18-A have told her and she shared her own experiences with the home. Gray said her children refuse to use the showers on the second floor because of a “presence” that spooks them.

Another stop on the tour was Quarters 24-A, known as the Custer House. The house was believed to be General George Armstrong Custer’s home during his assignment at Fort Riley, though later research suggests that Custer actually stayed in Quarters 21-A.

The Custer House was burned down by a fire in the kitchen at some point, after which it was restored to be a facsimile of what Custer’s quarters would have looked like in the 1800s.

Sarah Curry, the current occupant of the Custer House, said there was a seven-year gap during the 1930s where the house had no inhabitants, which is most likely when the fire occurred.

“There’s a list and there’s an empty space of about seven years in the ’30s,” Curry said. “So that’s our guess, because there’s residents listed before that and then there’s this gap in the ’30s.”

Curry said there is architectural evidence to support the claim that the Custer House burned down in the 1930s.

“Our house is very ’30s,” Curry said. “It has these big arched doorways and it doesn’t have chopped up rooms. It looks like a modern house. We know it was rebuilt from the ground up because it has beveled limestone instead of flat limestone bricks.”

While the Ghost Tours were free and open to the public, a donation of $5 allowed viewers to get in the front of the line for the tour. Visitors had an opportunity to purchase books of ghost stories told by current and former Fort Riley residents. The event is held each year in October.