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'Free State Horror Stories' explores Lawrence's haunted side

Free State Horror Stories

The "Free State Horror Stories" video series covers haunted Lawrence spots including Stubbs Mansion, the current Sigma Nu fraternity house. 

From the Eldridge Hotel to Stubbs Mansion, Lawrence is notorious for its ghost stories and so-called haunted spots. A group of video producers recently released their video series, "Free State Horror Stories," to capture the tales of each story throughout October.

Producer Matt DeSarle says his inspiration for the project came from the opportunity to do a unique local spin on his goal of producing ghost stories.

“Growing up, [my family] used to always gather around Halloween and tell ghost stories and scare the crap out of each other," DeSarle says. "So when I learned about some of the ghost stories here in Lawrence, I pursued that, and the story started telling itself."

When producing each episode, DeSarle aimed to separate his series from more typical ghost story series by including a historical aspect to each episode. DeSarle said many of this season’s ghost stories stemmed from the Civil War, so he wanted to appeal to those interested in Civil War history as well as paranormal activity.

“Every time there's a ghost story told, we're going to anchor it in a way to kind of a history that was surrounding these stories during that time period,” DeSarle says. 

Videographer Rusty Baldwin echoed DeSarle’s goal of incorporating a historical aspect to each episode, using it to give a connection between history and current events. 

Baldwin likened the current fight for social justice and equity to the many battles of the Civil War, which can be seen through each ghost story’s history.

“We were a border town during the Civil War, and Lawrence was burned down three or four times,” Baldwin says. “It’s cool to explore the history that comes with each story from that time period.” 

During Baldwin’s time working on "Free State Horror Stories," he was able to work with DeSarle and their team to uncover the history of many haunted Lawrence sites. The series highlights various ghost stories including ones at the Eldridge Hotel and Stubbs Mansion, which is now the Sigma Nu fraternity house. 

“I thought that the more historical aspect was really fascinating,” Baldwin says. “You see all these ghost hunter things on reality TV, but Matt didn't want to do it that way — he really wanted to dig into the stories.”

Baldwin and DeSarle got the opportunity to visit Stubbs Mansion this summer, but because of COVID-19, they were only able to explore and get footage for one day.

Nonetheless, DeSarle and Baldwin believe Stubbs Mansion gave the opportunity to explain how ghost stories reflect the history of a certain region, rather than just sensationalizing the haunted aspect like many other similar shows do.

As October continues, DeSarle, Baldwin, and the rest of the "Free State Horror Stories" team plan to release a new story — ranging from the Stubbs Mansion to the Eldridge — each week on their website

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