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Sunday, October 31, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Haunted history honored with church's ghostly tales

By Jeff Douglas
The Associated Press

CHARLIE RIEDEL / AP
Todd Chenault holds a portrait of 19th-century priest Father Henry David Jardine in the sanctuary of St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Kansas City, Mo. Last night, the church held a dinner and program about Jardine, who is said to be haunting the church.
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As the legend goes, St. Mary's Episcopal Church is haunted by the ghost of Father Henry David Jardine, a 19th century priest whose footsteps still echo throughout the Gothic-style sanctuary.

St. Mary's yesterday tried to separate fact from fiction by bringing together the ghostly tales and historical documents about Jardine's life, which has been shrouded for years in mystery and intrigue.

"He is quite a legend. And sometimes it's hard to know what to believe," said Todd Chenault, the unofficial church historian who organized the $45-a-plate dinner. The event featured fake fog and music from the church's 30-foot organ.

Chenault, 45, who has gone to St. Mary's all his life, remembers trading spooky stories about Jardine with his fellow Sunday school students in the 1960s. As an adult, however, he has worked to learn the true story about the priest.

Rumor has it that Jardine killed himself in the church's third-story living area and was buried in a basement vault. Not true, Chenault said.

Old newspaper clippings show Jardine died in 1886 in St. Louis, not Kansas City. St. Mary's does have a tomb, but the downtown parish that Jardine commissioned was not finished until months after his death. The stigma of suicide kept him from ever resting in the crypt, which instead holds boxes of cereal and canned goods for the needy.

On more than one occasion, Chenault says, he has heard footsteps shuffling from behind the organ. When he was a child, Christmas trees fell off ledges near the instrument for no reason, year after year.

"Have I heard things? Yes, plenty of times," Chenault said. "Have I seen any ghosts? No, never."

According to church archives, Jardine increased St. Mary's membership and created a hospital and schools for children from 1879-86.
 
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Betty Herndon, who helped lead yesterday's event, billed as "The Historic Haunting," said many church members during Jardine's time praised his emphasis on old Roman Catholic ways, but others were not as accepting. Influential members spread rumors, hoping for his resignation, Herndon said.

Jardine also was accused of misusing parish funds, drug use and immoral behavior with young church girls. The scandal prompted the priest to file a libel suit against John Shea, a former editor of The Kansas City Times. Jardine lost the case.

"It was a kangaroo court; witnesses made outrageous claims with no evidence. You name it," said Chenault, who said he reviewed court documents from the lawsuit.

Jardine then traveled to St. Louis, where his priesthood was revoked. Days before he was scheduled to contest the decision, he was found dead. In his hands, according to newspaper accounts, were a crucifix and rag soaked in chloroform.

Herndon said Jardine commonly inhaled the toxic drug to ease facial muscle spasms, so his death might have been accidental. Herndon said few believed Jardine committed suicide or the allegations that came before. Arriving by train, Jardine's casket was covered in black cloth and his congregation came to view it.

"The scene was sorrowful, even to a stranger," The Kansas City Times reported.

Church archives show that St. Mary's buried the priest a day later on unconsecrated ground for $88. The funeral precession stretched for more than a mile.

Jardine's remains have been exhumed and moved three times, most recently in 2000 to return them to St. Mary's. His ashes rest beside the organ, under the church's high altar.

"Religious believers live in a spirit world," said the current rector, Father Jeffrey Cave. "We pray to be surrounded by angels and so forth. Ghost stories like Jardine's are all too common."

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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