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Wilhelm highlights ghostly tales from historic fort

9/30/2013

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

Bob Wilhelm, who never saw one in his 28 years while he worked at Historic Fort Hays, is not entirely convinced he believes in ghosts. Still, he thinks something is happening out there, just from the stories he's heard.

Wilhelm, who retired as the fort's director in March, gave a presentation Saturday at Hays Public Library for the Courtney-Spalding chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. His presentation was titled, "They Walk the Night: Ghosts of Fort Hays."

"I'm not here to convince anybody of the existence of ghosts or to debunk anybody who is a real believer in the spirits that walk around at night," Wilhelm said.

Wilhelm said the "Ghost Hunters" TV show once wanted to do an investigation of the site, but the state put too many hurdles up, including not allowing the ghost hunters to set up inside the buildings.

Wilhelm talked about ghostly sightings others had seen at the fort through the years, such as the mountain-man sighting. That one took place one night while re-enactors were camping at the fort, and one left the campfire to go to the bathroom. He passed by a Buffalo Soldier on the way, said hello, but never got a reply. The mountain man kept walking, then turned around to invite the Buffalo Soldier re-enactor to their campfire -- but no one was there. They later checked, and there was no Buffalo Soldier re-enactor at the camp site.

There also have been sightings of soldiers at the guardhouse and officers' quarters through the years, Wilhelm said, but the ghost everybody seems to know about is the Blue Light Lady, Elizabeth Polly.

Polly was the wife of Ephriam Polly, a hospital steward at Fort Hays. Polly, a hospital matron at the fort, tended to cholera victims during an outbreak in 1867.

Polly is said to have walked to a spot known as Sentinel Hill south of the fort in the evenings.

When Polly contracted the disease herself, her dying wish was said to have been she wanted to be buried on the hill. And, the soldiers at the fort honored her request.

In the years since, there have been ghostly sightings in the area of a woman in a blue dress.

What's interesting about Polly, Wilhelm said, is she was written about in the Hays newspaper at the time, offering proof there was such a person at the fort.

"The story of Elizabeth Polly is still ongoing," Wilhelm said. "I'm not saying we can ever prove there's a ghost out there. But was there an Elizabeth Polly? It appears there was an Elizabeth Polly. And she was buried out there, on this hill."