From Ashes to Immortality

The war is over.

Over a century the battles have raged on both sides of the border, resulting in the loss of countless homes, over 300 deaths and one ghost wandering a down town hotel in Lawrence, Kansas.

The battle lines were clear, and birth or residence decided where one’s sympathies lied. In 1854, the United States congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act and opened the territories to settlers. It also established the basis of popular sovereignty, allowing for the inhabitants of each state to decide for them whether or not to allow slavery. The settlements to the north, Atchison and Leavenworth (the town that had grown up around the existing military fort) were decidedly pro-slavery. A little to the south, the new communities of Lawrence, Topeka and Manhattan were ‘free-staters’.

The state of Missouri was most decidedly pro-slavery and those that lived along the border had their minds set that Kansas would follow suit. Over the next few years, the Misssouri ‘Border Ruffians’ staged raids on the Kansas towns and overwhelmed  the first elections in the newly formed state. The first two major elections in the state of Kansas saw more voters than the state had citizens, all swaying the vote to a pro-slavery stance.

Lawrence, Kansas was a center for the anti-slavery sentiment and the ‘headquarters of the free-state forces’ in the territory. In early 1855, the Free State Hotel was erected by settlers from the New England Emmigrant Aid Society and was temporary housing for settlers awaiting their homes to be built. In 1856, the hotel was purchased by Colonel Shalor Eldridge and equipped with the finest amenities, making it a first class hotel. Only months later, Sheriff Samuel J. Jones and his posse, leading a group of pro-slavery forces of 800 southerners aimed a cannon at the hotel. They fired directly into the center, causing the newly renovated hotel to burn to the ground and continued their attack on the town, looting and plundering as they went.

In 1855, abolitionist John Brown came to Kansas to fight slavery and over the next two years engaged the slavers on several fronts, the most famous being the Pottawatomie Massacre, with Brown and his men slaughtering  5 militant pro-slavery activist with broad swords in response to the sacking of Lawrence.

Colonel Eldridge, like many Kansas settlers of the day, was undaunted by the destruction. Using what he could of the rubble, he rebuilt the hotel. With the help of his brothers, he re-erected the structure and vowed to rebuild it again if he had to. His words proved to be prophetic.

Quantrill's Raid, courtesy of the Kansas Historical Society

As civil war raged across the country, the Kansas Jayhawkers, guerilla fighters for the Free State cause, defended the border from the infamous Will Quantrill and his raiders from Missouri. In 1862, Quantrill and his men had gained notoriety by jumping the border and attacking the Kansas towns of Olathe, Spring Hill and Shawnee. He actively recruited desperados to join forces with him, adding men like ‘Bloody’ Bill Anderson and the James brothers to his troops.

Early on the morning of August 21, 1863, Quantrill and his murderous force of almost 400 rode into the still sleeping town of Lawrence. During the next terrible four hours, Quantrill and his raiders burned, looted and murdered without mercy the small town of then 3000. Within that short time period, the town was reduced to rubble, smoldering ruins. 180 men and boys were taken from their homes and murdered during the unparalleled brutal and bloody assault.

The Free State Hotel was once again burnt to the ground. The proud City of Lawrence was determined to rebuild and quickly adopted the motto “from ashes to immortality.” Using an original cornerstone from the burned hotel, Colonel Eldridge promptly rebuilt the hotel, which opened again in 1865 with a new name – The Hotel Eldridge.

On August 25, General Ewing authorized General Order #11, evicting thousands of Missourians in four counties from their homes near the Kansas border. Everything in these counties was then systematically burned to the ground. The action was carried out by the infamous Jayhawker, Charles ‘Doc’ Jennison. Jennison’s raids into Missouri were thorough and indiscriminate, and left five counties in western Missouri wasted, save for the standing brick chimneys of the two-story period houses, which are still called “Jennison Monuments” in those parts.

Time passed, the civil war ended and slavery was abolished. Kansas and Missouri never quite moved past the bitterness of the war and remained cool to one another. The Hotel Eldridge became one of the finest hotels west of the Mississippi. In 1866, Kansas opened the doors on its flagship learning institution, the University of Kansas, built upon Mt. Oread, the highest point in Lawrence. Soon after inventing the game of basketball, Dr. James Naismith moved to Lawrence and KU has fielded a men’s basketball team since 1898.

The athletic rivalry between the University of Kansas and the University of Missouri (Mizzou) started off with a bang when KU chose as its mascot the Jayhawk, in reference to the rogue Union troops that had plundered and burned their way through Missouri just 30 years earlier. The Mizzou Tigers also have roots in the civil war, being the name of a band of union militia unit that guarded Columbia from pro-confederate guerillas. Ironically, they once protected Columbia from attack by a band led by Bloody Bill Anderson, who participated in the Burning of Lawrence along with Quantrill.

By 1925, the hotel had begun to deteriorate, when a group of Lawrence business leaders decided that due to the hotel’s importance to the city, that it should be torn down and rebuilt to its former dignity and elegance. The community stepped forth to insure the success of the undertaking and the hotel again displayed its former splendor. Once again, the old cornerstone was used, as well as other materials from the previous structure, including the beautiful crystal chandeliers hanging in the ballroom.

By the time if the controversial 1960 football match-up, the border ware was still raging strong, but trends had changed. The down town hotel had lost its popularity to the new motels springing up on the edges of town. Neglected and forgotten, the Hotel Eldridge closed its doors on July 1, 1970 and became apartments. This was the year KU assistant Coach Don Fambrough was named the succeeding head coach of the football team. So bitter was his hatred, when referred to a doctor in Kansas City, on the Missouri side, he expressed that he would rather die than be treated by a doctor from that state.

The building languished in disrepair until 1985, when once again the citizens of Lawrence banded together and a group of investors raised over a million dollars to match the two million in funds dedicated by the city and its taxpayers. The top four floors were completely redone and converted to luxury hotel suites. The gorgeous marble lobby with it’s carved ceilings and huge fireplace were once again restored to their former glory. As the hotel once again opened its doors to guests, many of whom stayed in town to see the basketball and football teams face off, Norm Stewart, Head Basketball coach for Mizzou was banning the purchase of food or fuel by his team and their buses while in the state of Kansas, declaring he would not allow the state of Kansas to profit in any way from his team playing there. The intensity of the clashes still showing no signs of wavering despite the passing of time.

It was at this time the first reports of disturbances started – all centered on the fifth floor. More specifically, room #506 on the east side of the structure and the small elevator down the hall from it. Guests complained of cold spots, distant voices whispering in their ears and unexplained breezes. Room 506 holds one of the building’s original cornerstones, which supposedly act as the portal to the “other side” – where the ghost can travel between two worlds. Guests in that room have complained of feeling like they were not alone and hearing creaking floors all night, despite the heavily carpeted floor being made of concrete. The ghost of Colonel Eldridge (who supposedly passed away in the hotel) has been seen by employees and guests alike. Doors slam shut without anyone near them, the elevator will often take passengers to the fifth floor and open, regardless of which button the pushed.

Lawrence After Raid, courtesy of Kansas Historical Society

The 2007 football season brought the origins of the rivalry between the two states back into the spotlight. A t-shirt created by a Missouri alumnus gained national attention with its reference to Quantrill’s Raid of 1863. The shirt depicted the burning of Lawrence in 1863 following the raid of Quantrilland his Bushwhackerss against the Jayhawkers of Kansas. The image of Lawrence burning was paired with the word “Scoreboard” and a Mizzou logo. On the back of the shirts, William Quantrill was quoted, saying “Our cause is just, our enemies many.” Some interpreted these shirts as supporting slavery. Most found the shirts and the reference to the attack distasteful at best.  KU supporters returned fire with a shirt depicting abolitionist John Brown with the words, “Kansas: Protecting America from Missouri since 1854.”

John Brown's Final Battle, courtesy of the University of Kansas

Earlier this year, the University of Missouri announced that they will be leaving the Big 12 conference and joining the SEC thus effectively ending a rivalry that has continued for more than 150 years. Although Missouri has expressed interest in continuing the Border Showdowns at the Chief’s Arrowhead Stadium (in Kansas City, Missouri), Kansas officials have declined, simply stating if Missouri is leaving the conference, then let it end. No more will KU football fans line the pockets of Kansas City, Missouri businesses on game day. Even though the football teams are relatively even, with a running score of 56-55-9 in Missouri’s favor, Kansas by far leads the basketball score with 172 wins to Missouri’s 95,leading most Kansans to reflect that it really wasn’t that much of a rivalry.

The Eldridge Hotel is still standing at the end of the war. Missourians left Lawrence on the last fateful day of the war, losing the game in the last dramatic seconds of overtime, by a mere 1 point. They returned to their home state along much the same route as travelled by Quantrill and his men, only this time, Lawrence was emerging as the victor. Maybe standing looking out of the east facing 5th floor window of room 506, Colonel Eldridge could see the headlights making their way across the Kaw River bridge, knowing that for once and all, the enemy was retreating in loss from the final battle, and the hotel he struggled twice to rebuild, was forever safe. Maybe now he can find peace, knowing the war is finally over.


17 responses to “From Ashes to Immortality

  1. Ô my god ! Je vais avoir besoin d’une traduction… bys du vieux continent qui s’apprêter à diner…..

      • I’am sorry ! Cela s’appelle “Live search” et je traduis par morceaux mais cela doit être possible de traduire la page entière d’un coup – ce soir mon ordinateur bugue et ma tête aussi 😉 yoyo

      • Lorsque je tente une traduction, ça se met en route tout seul…. Je vais terminer de traduire aujourd’hui ton fort beau texte… (Bing translator, je ne me souviens plus où je me suis servi de ce “truc”)
        Have a good day Chloé – ici, le temps a fraîchi et on aura peut-être encore quelques gelées matinales, des chutes de neiges et des giboulées de Mars avant ce printemps tant attendu !
        Bises de yoyo et vive le Kansas !

  2. Thank you for that very interesting history. I have read a book last year about those terrible fight between pro and anti-slavery in Kansas.

    • It was a very unfortunate time in American history, but it is time for us to put this time behind us. I find history fascinating, not just American, but all history. I think to understand who we are, we must know where we have been.

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