The Sallie House, or We're Definitely in Kansas, Toto

Along a quiet street, nestled amongst mature trees, sits an old brick house. It is like many of the houses along N. Second Street in Atchinson KS. Its worn white brick and fading blue trim are indicators of its age, but little else is unique about number 508. In fact, it’s very likely you’d drive by it without a second thought. And you should drive by without thinking, without noticing, without stopping, without going inside. Because what lies inside of this serene, unassuming home could quite possibly kill you.

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Built in 1867, the brick house at 508 N Second Street has had many owners over the years. Originally built for Micheal Crowman Finney and his family. Occupants have come and gone, leaving behind traces of lives filled with joy and sorrow. In 1992, newlyweds Debra and Tony Pickman moved into the home hoping to create new memories as they welcomed the arrival of their first child.

As the couple began to settle into their new home they began to notice some strange occurrences throughout the house. Their cordless phone’s battery always seemed to be dying and reception in the newly appointed nursery was practically non-existent. There were lights that would flicker on and off, or dim themselves. But, as most people do, they ignored these small seemingly innocuous events as just a consequence of living in an old home. Most old houses have some wiring issues, right? It wasn’t until after the birth of their child that anything worth truly worrying about would occur.

Tony and Deborah in 1992

First, there was the fact that their child wouldn’t sleep. Now, this may not seem like anything out of the ordinary, as newborns aren’t known for sleeping through the night, but the baby was barely sleeping at all; waking up near hourly, despite being fed, changed, and comfortably placed in his crib. Then a neighbor inquired about why they left the lamp in the nursery on all night. Perhaps this was contributing to the child’s lack of sleep. But Deborah and Tony weren’t leaving the light on and suggested the neighbor must be confused. However, the neighbor insisted that it was the nursery light that could be seen throughout the night. And then came, the “bear incident”

On July 14th, 1993, the family had just returned home after spending the day with Tony’s family nearby. Tony quickly went upstairs to use the bathroom, and when he returned downstairs to the kitchen, he asked Deborah why all of the stuffed animals in the nursery had been put on the floor. Confused, Deborah asked what Tony meant. He again asked why all of the stuffed toys, which Deborah had carefully placed all around the nursery, were now on the floor.

Deborah was stunned and they went upstairs to the nursery, and sure enough, all of the stuffed animals were on the ground. Well, not just on the ground, but placed in the middle of the room, in a circle, all back to back, facing outwards.

While certainly a bit disturbing, they reasoned that it had to have been a prank by one of Tony’s relatives, or a random person who wandered into the house since they rarely locked the door. Just that day, Tony’s sister had guiltily confessed to having gone inside the house that morning to drop off some items for the baby while they weren’t there. And while an odd prank, and wildly out of character, surely she could have done this to the toys while she was there.

Puzzled, Deborah and Tony straightened up the nursery, turned off the light, and returned downstairs. Then Deborah decided to call Jeanie, Tony’s sister to ask if she had noticed anything weird while she was there and if she had perhaps moved any of the items around in the nursery. Jeanie denied having touched anything but confessed that the entire time she was inside the house, she had a very uneasy feeling and that feeling had increased when she went up to the nursery. So much so, that she had left in a hurry.

With Jeanie ruled out as the culprit, they decided that it must have been someone else and while a bit odd and disturbing for a prank, there really wasn’t another explanation. That was until they noticed that the nursery room light was on. They quickly returned upstairs to find that a teddy bear was on the floor, again. Now, they are really freaked out and they decide to search the house. But no one else seems to be there. They put the bear back in its spot turn off the lights, and go back downstairs. A half-hour later, Deborah returns upstairs and as she peeks into the nursery, she sees the bear is back on the floor.

Now, Deborah and Tony think that someone is still in the house, and as they decide what to do for the night they notice that another bear. In another room, has been turned around. And this time, they know for sure, that no one else could have done it. They both saw that bear facing forward the entire night and there would have been no way for any intruder to move from the upstairs nursery to the living room, where the newly turned around bear was, without being noticed by one of them. With all of the logical explanations seemingly out of the window, Deborah and Tony realized they were dealing with something supernatural.

Now, Deborah wasn’t too worried about the potential of a ghost being in their home. She had actually harbored an interest in the paranormal since childhood and thought the idea of a ghost in her own home was kinda fun. Tony, on the other hand, was a devout Catholic and didn’t see the whimsy in any kind of spirit being around. He actually didn’t even really believe in such things. But, as they relay the events of the night before to a few family members, Tony’s brother suggests they get in touch with a psychic he knows and Tony’s mom reaches out to someone she knows who previously lived in the same house. When Tony’s mom ask the previous residents if they ever noticed anything weird happen while living there, they said yes. They noticed some cold spots, an odd smell, electrical issues, and the kid’s toys always seemed to be on the floor. And when she would ask her children to keep their toys put away, the kids would tell her that it was SALLIE who kept moving them around.

Then the psychic that Tony’s brother reached out to calls Tony and Deborah from California and she reveals that there is in fact a ghost in their home. A little girl named Sallie. The psychic says that they needn’t worry, as Sallie is friendly and is likely just excited to have a new baby to keep her company and play with. The psychic tells Deborah and Tony that, in order to keep Sallie from becoming too overzealous, that they need to set some boundaries for her and admonish her when she moves things around without putting them back where they belong. But, other than that, they can rest assured that Sallie will do their family no harm.

The day after their call with the Psychic, Tony’s other brother comes for a visit and Tony tells him all about what’s been going on in the house, and about the psychic and Sallie the ghost girl. George finds this all a bit amusing and takes out a camera and calls out to Sallie, saying “If you’re in here, say ‘cheese’.” And as he snaps the photo, the bear from the other night turns around, right before his eyes. That was the last straw for Tony, he shouts for Deborah to get the baby and they begin to leave for his parent’s house. As they make their way to the car, Tony feels something that causes him to grab his back and shout in pain, but they press on, desperate to leave the house as quickly as possible. Once safely at their parents’ house, Deborah inspects Tony’s back to find blood coming from three long scratch marks.

The family reaches back out to the psychic, who agrees to come and take a look around the house in person. As the psychic, Barabara inspects the house a few days later she reconfirms that Sallie is not dangerous, but perhaps was unable to control her emotions as she senses she has anger towards or a fear of men. Barabra insists that the couple just needs to set firm rules with Sallie, who she says can become a little petulant and bossy. She even suggests providing Sallie with a few toys of her own, to keep her from disturbing the other items in the house.

And so, that’s what they do. Deborah begins to almost dote on Sallie, giving her some crayons and paper and even her own doll. Deborah, wanting to let Sallie know that she was safe and welcome, buys her a doll and carefully wraps it in gift paper and bows. She leaves in a corner of the nursery that they had decided would be kept especially for Sallie’s use. After a few weeks, Deborah is going about her day and enters the nursery to retrieve something she had forgotten moments before, she briefly notes that the gift-wrapped box, still untouched in “Sallie’s corner” but as she turns to leave she notices something is laying in the baby's crib. It was the doll she had bought Sallie. Out of its box. When Deborah goes to the gift in the corner she finds it is still perfectly wrapped. Not even the tape had been disturbed. But the box was lighter now and when she and Tony opened the wrapped gift later that evening, they indeed found it to be empty.

Months begin to pass and Tony and Deborah continue to live with the occasional odd occurrences in the house. Nothing else violent has happened since the scratches on his back, so he is resigned to just letting Deborah entertain Sallie as long as nothing else harmful happens. That’s not to say nothing has happened to Tony during this time. He is hearing scratching in the walls at night and voices seem to speak at him building on each other into an almost deafening crescendo. Then, on October 31st, 1993 Tony comes home to find a young girl in his kitchen and before he can ask who she is, she vanishes. When he later tells Deborah about his sighting he describes Sallie as a young girl with short brown hair, pulled away from her round face into a bow. She was wearing an older style, white lace dress and had big eyes.

Now, a number of things continue to happen in the house including a small fire that seems to ignite spontaneously and Tony experiencing what feels like small bites on his toes. He starts having violent dreams and waking up with marks on his body. He sees a woman walking through the house and follows her, thinking it was Deborah, and when he follows her into a room there is no one there, and he then finds Deborah in a separate room of the house. And Deborah seems to not believe in what Tony is telling her about his encounters. She still thinks Sallie is a kind little girl and that Tony is just suffering from sleep deprivation. Even the psychic continues to insist that Sallie is safe and in the summer of 1993 the Pickman’s are approached by the producers of the paranormal TV show Sightings. They offer to come in with professional help to investigate what is really going on in the house in exchange for being able to film for the show. The Pickman’s agree, hoping that finally, someone can truly help them. During the filming and interview process, Tony is attached multiple times. The film crew was able to film many of these occurrences as they happened. Scratches appeared across Tony’s arm, stomach, and back. At one point, the camera crew just let the tape run on Tony and caught on tape the bizarre scratches that appear in front of their own eyes. Over the several-day shoot, Tony would be attacked again and again leaving him covered in welts and bloody scratches. One instance of an attack left Tony with what appeared to be the letters “M” and “C” etched into his back.

Sightings Episode on The Sallie House

A psychic with the film crew begins to tell them that there are multiple presences in the house along with the ghost of Sallie. One of the presences is that of a doctor, and based on the researchable history of the house, MC Finney (the original owner of the house) had a son who became a doctor and lived in the house for a while. And this brings us to a possible origin for the spirit of Sallie. There is a local legend surrounding Sallie that says she was a young girl when she suddenly fell ill and begun experiencing terrible abdominal pain. Her mother frantically rushes her to the home of the local doctor, Dr. Charles Finney. The doctor diagnosis young Sallie as having appendicitis and being in need of an emergency appendectomy. He begins the procedure by administering an anesthetic but, as he begins to cut into her, Sallie begins to scream in agony. For some reason, the anesthetic hasn’t taken hold, and now the doctor must proceed with the surgery with the child fully awake during each agonizing moment. And it is there, in his basement office, that young Sallie dies.

At the end of filming, the crew has no new answers or solutions. The Pickman’s then allow a medium to come into the home to perform a cleansing of the home. She identifies three spirits in the home: a man, an older woman, and Sallie. The medium then asks if they would like to invite any of the spirits to remain, and Deborah immediately picks Sallie. As the medium begins the cleansing Tony is once more violently attacked. And while most people might have left, the Pickman’s stayed in the home, partly because they couldn’t afford to pick up an move so soon after having a child and renting and furnishing the house. And Deborah also didn’t want to abandon Sallie, after having established a motherly bond with the seemingly sweet young ghost girl. But as the days wore on Tony’s mental and physical state got worse. Unfortunately, the cleansing the medium had performed didn’t seem to have any positive impact and Tony continued to suffer violent attacks and the voices he heard continued to plague him. Even worse, he could now clearly make out what the voices were saying, and they were telling him to kill Deborah. There are two versions of the next story that I came across, but both of them involve Deborah coming home one day to find a dead cat in the home. One story details how Tony, was attempting to finish some laundry while Deborah was at work and didn’t realize that at some point in starting and restarting the dryer, that one of the pet cats had gotten inside the machine and was killed. Another more gruesome story tells of a day Tony walks into his kitchen to find a stray cat has gotten inside and is drinking milk from a nearby bowl. This, for some reason, enrages Tony to the point where he picks up a butcher knife and stabs the cat, killing it. Afterward, he puts the bowl in the sink and goes to calmly watch tv in the other room.

The thoughts of killing Deborah increase and it is at this point that Tony becomes so fearful of what he may be driven to do, that he now knows that they must leave this house and, a couple of days later, when an unseen force nearly pushed Tony over the railing of the second-floor banister, Deborah agrees.

Years later, the Pickman’s now believe that in addition to the ghost of Sallie, the older woman, and maybe Dr. Charles Finney, that there was a demon in the house. One that uses the sweet child ghost to lure people in and endear them to Sallie and then subjects them to demonic attacks and oppression. Even people who have lived in the home after the Pickman’s didn’t stay long. Now the house is owned by the state and is used as an attraction and is a popular hot spot for paranormal investigators. Many of whom have picked up EVPs, experienced scratches, cold spots, and witnessed objects move seemingly unassisted.

And unfortunately, moving hasn’t seemed to help the Pickman’s completely escape the harmful presence of the Sallie house. Tony still reports violent dreams, mysterious scratches and injuries, and near-deadly experiences, including waking up with his clothes on fire and having a butcher knife fly at him out of nowhere. He still feels drawn to go back to the house and other visitors to the home have reported a strange, threatening presence remaining with them long after they depart. So, if you’re ever in Atchinson KS, think twice before you visit the Sallie because, as another famous Kansan said, “There is no place like home.”

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