The walkway to the underground businesses lies directly beneath the main street sidewalks,
Ellinwood, Kansas lies on the Santa Fe Trail near Great Bend. When it was settled by German immigrants in the 1870s, the town was laid out with a two block business district, the same business area the town has today. But they included underground walkways beneath the sidewalks and there was another whole set of businesses below the ground level stores. At the peak, there included 11 saloons. Next to the underground walkway, there were coal bins for the businesses, and the sidewalk would be pried open when coal was delivered.
In the 1920s and 30s, the town was shrinking and natural gas replaced coal. The underground businesses closed, and in the 1940s, walls were placed in the walkway, separating the buildings. In some places the underground was used as a basement, in others, they were closed up with the original business furnishings left in place.
Many years later, Adrianna Dierolf inherited the Dick Building. As a young girl, she wasn't permitted to go down to the underground, but this was her chance and she hired someone to open up one of the entrances. She discovered that many of the shop furnishings had been left behind.
Adrianna started showing people the tunnels in 1981, but when Ellinwood replaced its sidewalks in 1982, the community filled most of them with sand. Only 3 sections were kept open, and today's tours are under the section at the Dick building, which housed a harness maker, barber, and bathhouse underground.
Today, the Ellinwood Museum Association offers tours of the Ellinwood Underground World. The late James Elliott led our tour, which departed from the nearby Wolf Hotel. James had a great voice and did a good job of making the history of Ellinwood interesting.
Calling this attraction the "Underground World" is a bit misleading. It makes it sound much larger than it is. The tour can only visit a small portion of the Underground beneath the Dick Building. Still, it is well worth a one hour visit.
While touring Kansas, I've learned to ask if there are any ghost stories about the old attractions I visit. In this case, James said he knew no ghost stories about the underground, but there were several spirits in the old hotel where he has the antique shop. Following the tour, his partner, Bill Starr, told us about his experiences with three ghosts, 2 friendly and one not, in the 1894 Hotel Wolf where they live. He also told us about a ghost at Dozier winery south of Ellinwood.
Bill says that they believe that one of the spirits in the Wolf Hotel was a young woman. It is mischievous and moves items when they are out of the upstairs room. Other times, it places nuts and other items under pillows.
The malevolent ghosts is believed to be the spirit of of a African American man who was shot by a police officer during the period of sundown laws. He was shot in the alley outside the hotel and died in the boiler room in the hotel's basement.
The third spirit said to haunt the Wolf Hotel is that of Bernard J. Millet, who committed suicide in the hotel dining room on February 24, 1927. A “dinner with a ghost” was hosted in the Wolf Hotel on the 80th anniversary of Millet's death in 2007, but there were no unusual manifestations.
copyright 2007-2013 by Keith Stokes