Haunted history: Inside the Vaile Mansion in Independence

Updated: Oct. 24, 2022 at 5:30 PM CDT
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INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (KCTV) -- The Vaile Mansion was one of the most magnificent homes in its time, a treasured piece of architecture in the Kansas City area.

The Victorian was built in 1881 by Col. Harvey and Sophia Vaile, two wealthy New Yorkers who moved to the area when Harvey was appointed postmaster general for the region.

It towers above a lush garden and fountains just a few blocks from the Truman Presidential Library. Today, it is maintained by the City of Independence and volunteers like Sandy Dougherty and Charlie Beck.

Beck and Dougherty met KCTV5 wearing period costumes to give crews a tour of the home. Both are part of the Vaile Victorian Society that looks after the mansion, welcoming visitors to enjoy its splendor.

The Kansas City Times called the mansion “the most princely house and most comfortable home in the entire west” in 1882. Dougherty said the Vailes enjoyed copper bath fixtures, marble fireplaces, expensive furniture and other opulent touches. Restoration efforts at the home have brought in several period-authentic pieces of furnishings.

“We’re showing you how the very elite lived,” Dougherty said. “We’ve done a great job restoring it.”

But, the Vailes’ dream life in Independence would soon become a nightmare.

“It’s a sad house,” Dougherty said. “It’s beautiful but a lot of sad things happened here.”

For a start, the Vailes never quite fit into the Independence community -- especially Sophia.

“She was not accepted socially,” Dougherty said. “She was never invited to a single home. No one came to call on her. That was quite a statement.”

Harvey soon became embroiled in scandal, accused of mail fraud along with some other postal officials. He was never convicted.

But, as the trial was wrapping up, Sophia Vaile died suddenly of a Laudanum overdose.

“Mr. Vaile never remarried,” Dougherty said.

Harvey Vaile passed away a decade later. A property dispute after his death led to most of the home’s furnishings being sold. It soon became a sanatorium, then a nursing home. Through several decades, it fell into disrepair until it was donated to the city in the 1980s.

Dougherty and Beck have been part of a long effort to restore the property to its original glory. Though paranormal investigations have been discouraged in recent years, the house has been at the center of several reported sightings and mysterious happenings. Some paranormal groups have claimed to communicate with Sophia Vaile herself.

Neither Beck nor Dougherty had ever witnessed anything strange, however.

“Maybe the ghosts don’t like me,” Beck said.

Their work preserving history takes precedence over reported hauntings.

“It’s important to keep the past alive,” Beck said. “If you don’t know the past, you’re bound to repeat mistakes.”