POWs to Peanut Butter Raids: Pythian Castle

Pythian Castle, located in Springfield, MO was constructed in 1913 by the Knights of Pythias. The Knights of Pythias is a fraternal order much like the Odd Fellows or the Freemasons. It was founded in Washington, DC and was the first order to receive charter under an act of Congress. The values center to the order are that of loyalty, honor, and friendship. To be a member, one must be a male over the age of 18, not a professional gambler, not be involved in illegal drugs or alcohol, and have a believe in a spiritual being. There were eventually auxiliary clubs: Pythian Sisters, Pythian Sunshine Girls, and the Junior Order of Princes of Syracuse. The Pythians aid victims of disaster and run underprivileged youth camps and retirement houses for members. They also sponsor scholarships, blood drives, and The Cystic Fibrosis Research Foundation. In the early days, newly inducted members received a ceremonial sword. Now, they have swords in each lodge for members to use and for ceremonies. Some notable Pythians include three presidents: William McKinley(25), Warren Harding(29), and Franklin D. Roosevelt(32). The Knights of Pythias decided in early 1900s that they needed to build a grand Missouri lodge. There were 7 other cities in the running for the Pythian Home, and the Springfield Chamber of Commerce wanted to be sure it came here. They raised money to but 53 acres of land, which they sold to the Knights for $1 in 1909. They also constructed a school across the street and name the street Pythian Street to secure the project for their city. (The street is still named this today.) They broke ground in 1911, and the building was completed in 1913, costing a total of $100K. the building is constructed from Carthage Limestone quarried just up the road in Carthage, MO. Something to note here is the theory that limestone is a catalyst for paranormal activity. The grand opening was held in June 1914. the building would act as a meeting hall for members as well as a retirement home for elderly members, and an orphanage for members' children. After a member's death, his children would have a home to go to, but the mothers of these children were not welcome to stay in the Pythian home with their children.

I found a news story on a woman that once lived at Pythian Castle as a child. Her father, a Knight in St. Louis, died, leaving behind a widow and 8 children. There was no life insurance or inheritance, so the woman had to do what was best for her children. The eldest girl, at 16, was old enough to care for herself and remained in STL. The 7 younger children went to live at Pythian Castle. After only a few weeks, the oldest boy ran away and hitchhiked back to STL. He found ways to support himself until he was old enough to join the military. He told people if they ever sent him back to Pythian Castle, he would just run away again. Of this family, there was now 4 girls and 2 boys left at Pythian. What was life like? The boys and girls were kept separate at all times. This young girl in the story had a little brother that was just a toddler, and she could not even speak to him. When we visited, our guid showed us how separate the boys and girls were. There were separate doorways for them to enter rooms, the dorms are on different floors, and they even used different staircases. The castle was largely self-sufficient, with gardens and farm animals. The girls did laundry and cooked and canned, while the boys tended to the gardens and the animals. The children received one outfit a year. One year, this young woman did not like the sleeves on the dress she got, and she tore them off. For this, she was locked in a closet until she sewed the sleeves back on, but she also didn't like to sew. The other girls would sneak down at night and help her until they got the dress mended. Then there were the peanut butter raids. At night, the girls would sneak down to the kitchen and swipe some bread. They would make their way through the tunnel that lead to the laundry and toast their bread on the irons. Then, they would lower the smallest girl into the large vat of peanut butter to scoop it out. They ate to their heart's content and then snuck back to bed. This young lady's mother did come to visit her children, and this was always a hard time on them. They loved seeing their mother, but when she left it became difficult. By the time the young lady was about 15-16, her mother remarried and came to take her children home for good.

This was a retirement home as well. The older members of the Pythian Home helped watch after the children. Other than that, there was not a whole lot about them. There were two suicides that are notable only because some speculate they could be lending to the hauntings. In 1940, Jess Rey died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He had cancer on his face that had begun to spread. In 1942, William Renzenbrink slit his own throat with a razor. Why? On December 30, 1941, and article mentioned that the military would be taking over the castle. They were offering about a third the value, but would be taking it by eminent domain regardless. William realized he would have to move and perhaps didn't want to. His suicide occurred just weeks after the article.

The military did take over the castle in 1942, paying just $0.50 on the $1. They gave the Knights five days to evacuate the castle. It became part of the O'Reilly General Hospital and served as a service club for injured troop. On Firday nights they had live bands and held dances which the local girls attended, apparently looking for husbands. Big names of the time, such as Bob Hope, played here during this time. In the dining hall, there are four columns that form a square near the center of the room. We were told that they would tie rope around these columns to form a ring for wrestling/boxing. There was also a bowling alley in the basement and a theater with a bar. The military also added dungeon-like cells in the basement. This was home to German and Italian POWs during WWII, most of which were injured. Being in the middle of the country, they were less likely to escape as they would be lost in the middle of a foreign land. The German soldiers were nasty to the nurses. It's said they would scream and spit at them and just treat them really badly. There was at least one Japanese POW held here. This prisoner was said to have been well-liked and respectful. For being so nice, he was allowed paints to decorate his cell. The murals he painted on his wall are still there today. They did show us a room that they claim was the site of interrogations. This would make sense with the POWs being held here. This small room is all stone with a very narrow doorway. It is quite an oppressive room.

In 1980, after being abandoned by the military for year, the castle was leases to Ozarks Area Community Action Corporation(OACAC). OACAC ran their food pantry operations as well as other functions from the Castle for a number of years. In 1993, it was auctioned as military surplus. It did not generate a lot of interest, and a farmer from nearby Mansfield bought the castle for a mere $4,000! It wasn't long before the new owners realized the expense of remodeling the castle would be much more than they wanted to put into it. The castle was then sold to current owner, Tamara Finnochiarro. Tamara is a former professional swing dancer and aerial acrobat from Los Angeles. Her and her mother had decided their next home would be a castle, and they felt lucky to have found one in Missouri when they thought they may have too leave the country to find one. There were many disputes with the city over zoning policies, and this held off the reopening of the castle. It was finally opened in 2010. The castle is now serving as a wedding and event center. They also host murder mystery dinners and history tours. The biggest draw, however, are the paranormal activities. You can take a ghost tour or even carry out your own paranormal investigation. There are a few groups that do overnights investigations that you can pay to go along.

The paranormal activity! Shortly after moving in, Tamara answered the door and found two former OACAC employees standing on the other side. They wanted to know if she had met the ghosts yet. Tamara had noticed there was something going on in the castle. She was painting and had drapes covering the doorway of the writing room. She pushed through to get into the room, and she encountered a physical body standing on the other side. She actually bumped into it. She was the only one in the castle and saw no one after she opened the drapes to the other side. She also heard the noise of a crowded room that she found to be completely empty and footsteps in different ares of the castle. The most common claim is the whistling melody heard throughout the halls. We heard this multiple times and we could never find a source. In the East wing of the castle, a worker was greeted with a child's voices saying, "Hello!" One man told about all the fun he had playing with the children in the castle when he was a kid in the 60's. He was then told the castle was deserted in the 60's to which he said they sure moved things around like real children. There were these weird passageways inside the walls. We were told on our tour that the children would actually go into the walls and make their way around the castle that way. In the boys' dormitory, the claims are feelings of intense sadness. Some people break down crying upon entering the room. One group got an EVP of a child saying goodnight after they had said goodnight and were leaving the room. There are photos that have been taken throughout the building that show apparitions, orbs and funky streaks. In the tunnel that runs underneath the castle, the sound of boot steeps is heard. They say, if you go all the way to the end of tunnel and stand and listen, you can hear the sounds of heavy footsteps or boots coming at you down the tunnel. They call this entity Mr. Boots. Pythian castle has drawn a lot of paranormal attention, being featured on television shows Ghost Adventures, Ghost Lab, and Haunted Collector.

We visited Pythian Castle and did a small two hour "investigation." I put the in quotes because none of us a professionals in any sense of the word. Basically, we have watched the shows and bought some equipment and educated ourselves on how to use it. We enjoy doing it, but we are definitely learning. This was a fun night for us to finally put our new skills to the test and see what happened, or if anything even would. We heard the whistling; multiples times! It always seemed to come from around the same corridor on the second floor, and we set up there once to see if we could hear it while we sat there. We captured it on the audio recorder once from a different area and the recording is loud and clearly a whistling tune. No one in the group would claim it, so we have to chalk it up to unexplained. Krysten, one of our friends that is also just getting into investigating went with us and brought her girlfriend along. As we walked through the second floor, the three of us heard rustling and movement on one of the stairways and no one was there. We all took turns in the tunnel and most of the groups heard the footsteps but not all of us. The most remarkable of all the work was the spirit box sessions. Of course, we only had two house, so we did not have the time to sit down for sessions of half hours to get good sessions. The responses were still incredible. We use the Estes Method, created by the guys and The Ghosts of the Stanley. To do this, the "messenger" wears and blindfold and noise-cancelling headphones while listening to the spirit box. Others in the group lead the session through questions that the messenger cannot hear. I love this method, because I am pretty skeptical. We had a lot of direct responses and our best session took place in the nurses' quarters that is adjacent to the boys' dorm room. During the session Krysten thought she heard a noise from the dorm and her and my brother, Brandon, went over to check it out. She noticed that one of the balls in the room seemed to have been moved and pointed it out to my brother. He kind of shook it off as he is a little harder skeptic than most. As Brandon stepped back into the nurses' room where the session was still going on, the message was "Brandon, try it. Bounce the ball." Everyone was pretty excited about that. Just after ending the session, Harley, Krysten's girlfriend, suddenly broke down crying. If you remember, one of the popular claims in the next room is people doing exactly this. Now, the cool thing about her reaction? She was not on the ghost tour with us, and she had no knowledge of that claim. She did not understand what had come over her. All in all, we had a fun night, and we will go back for more at some point. It is a beautiful location, with tons of great history and the energy of the place is just amazing.

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