By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
GALENA, Kan. —
The seedier side of Galena’s past — a past involving prostitutes and murders — has come back to life with the resurrection of an historic bordello-turned-tourist destination, and questions are being raised about just what happened in days gone by.
On Monday, the Discovery Channel’s Ghost Lab, with paranormal investigators Brad and Barry Klinge, will be in town to capture interviews with old-timers as well as re-enactments for B-roll using local actors and actresses, said Russ Keeler.
His Siloam Springs, Ark.-based business, After Midnight Paranormal Investigations, now dovetails with what was once a crumbling, two-story home at 206 N. Main St. on historic Route 66.
“We’re going to get video clips of miners and prostitutes, and some of the events that may or may not have taken place,” he said last week.
Keeler said he has recorded what he claims is “a lot of paranormal evidence.” He has plans to offer paid tours and overnight accommodations in what he referred to for a time as “Galena’s Murder Bordello.”
“I think because of its location on Route 66 and national appeal to paranormal enthusiasts, it will attract tourists from all over,” he said.
But two researchers say Keeler had better get the details straight first: Accuracy as to where murders actually took place and who owned the bordello is vital to the historical record of the town.
“I’ve been researching this ever since I retired 10 years ago,” said Carolyn McLean, a native of the area. “I want the record straight.”
And Marilyn Schmidt, president of the Cherokee County Genealogical-Historical Society in Columbus, does too.
They say there is no evidence of a murder having taken place there, and the bordello was never linked to the city’s notorious Steffleback family, some of whose members in 1897 were linked to at least one, and possibly other murders. According to historical records, members of the Steffleback family and their accomplices killed and robbed residents and travelers in the Galena area during its mining heyday.
The Steffleback family was described by The Joplin News in 1897 “as ignorant, ornery and mean a combination as exists and are capable of stooping to anything. They have lived in jails in this vicinity for years.”
The Stefflebacks’ actual house was little more than a primitive log-and-board miner’s cabin that burned down in 1897, McLean said.
Keeler initially referred to the bordello on Main Street in print, on the Internet and in media accounts as “The Steffleback Bordello,” but agreed after McLean’s and Schmidt’s research that there is no evidence linking the bordello and the Steffleback family.
“She is correct in that regard,” Keeler acknowledged this week. “Three years ago, we were called into Galena and were under the assumption this is the house where all the murders took place.”
It’s been a learning experience for him, he said.
McLean said there was never any evidence that the Stefflebacks ever owned or were associated with the bordello.
Keeler said that after digging through additional research, he, too, was unable to make a solid connection, and on his company’s website concluded: “Although many claim this is the Steffleback Bordello, not to be confused with their home, which was a old run down log house on the edge of Galena, Kan., we have not been able to tie Nancy (Steffleback) or her family to the location by historical records.”
He added: “However, lots of paranormal evidence has led us to believe they are here.”
The nefarious Stefflebacks in 1897 were charged with and convicted of one murder.
Schmidt, president of the Historical Society, said: “In this notebook from our genealogy library, we have all the newspaper articles that appeared in the Galena and Columbus newspapers from 1897-1901, that includes information the Stefflebacks lived in a shanty on the west edge of Galena on Owl Creek. That shanty was burned down after the Stefflebacks were sent to prison and anything left was carted off as souvenirs.”
The Stefflebacks continue to be a part of the town’s unfolding history, however. Last month, Keeler brought descendants of the Stefflebacks to town to give them a tour. He obtained from them family history that he passed on to Michael Wallis, Route 66 historian and author, for purposes of creating a “little booklet.”
“I’ve agreed with her, she’s right — the Stefflebacks didn’t live there,” Keeler said of McLean. “But their history is fascinating.
“We’re trying to promote to tourists, not trying to misrepresent this was owned by them or even for certain where the murders took place.
“We have an old organ coming in, will be adding old-time furnishings later this month. We’re trying to bring back some of the old times.”
A century ago
Reportedly a house of ill repute a century ago, and condemned to the wrecking ball, developers saved the Galena bordello in January and it has recently undergone some restoration.