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Spirits linger at historic Conrad Mansion

by TAYLOR INMAN
Daily Inter Lake | October 31, 2021 12:00 AM

The home of the founder of Kalispell has long been thought to be haunted by his ghost, but the Conrad Mansion around Halloween is spooky even when the spirits aren’t around.

The nearly 120-year-old mansion turned museum gets covered in spider webs and skeletons this time of year for its annual ghost tours.

Museum Director Brit Clark said the ghost tours are one of the ways the museum brings in revenue for the year. The tours are done at night when the house is almost completely dark. They’re so popular the tickets sell out well before Halloween. The tours share the mansion’s history and maybe a glimpse of one of the famed Conrad ghosts.

The mansion was built by Kirtland Cutter, the same architect who built Lake McDonald Lodge in Glacier National Park. It was the dream home of Charles and Lettie Conrad. Charles moved to Montana after fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War and eventually became the owner of one of the largest river freighting and shipping businesses in the area. This is where he made his fortune, and it positioned him to be the founder of Kalispell.

“Charles and Lettie moved to the Flathead Valley because he received a tip from James J. Hill that the Great Northern Railroad would come right through here,” Clark said. “I think it was James J. Hill who said ‘you bring the town, I’ll bring the railroad,’ or vice versa.”

The house started being built the same year Kalispell was founded in 1892 and was completed in 1895. Charles didn’t get to enjoy his new home for long and passed away a few years later in 1902. Clark said Lettie was left to run the home and help build up the town.

“Charles did a lot, no question, but his wife Lettie is the reason the town is the way it is today; she was the one who was here, she cultivated it, donated a lot of land that we still use today, so we try to focus on both of them,” Clark said.

The Conrads raised three children in the mansion: Charley, Cate and Alicia. Alicia, the youngest of the Conrad children, lived in the house until her death in 1981. Clark said she is who donated the house to the city of Kalispell and is why the house has the extensive collection it does.

“She’s the reason 90% of everything on display is original, because she was a hoarder, she never threw anything away, which is great for us. Most historic house museums don’t have the original artifacts. They’re sold off, or lost, or whatever, but all of ours are here,” Clark said.

THE MANSION caught on fire in 1910, but was quickly extinguished with the help of neighbors and other townsfolk, Clark said. As a way to say thank you, Lettie threw a huge Halloween party for the town inspired by Dante’s Inferno.

“The basement was hell, the ground level was Earth, the second floor was purgatory, and the third floor was heaven,” Clark said.

The Conrads did hold the third floor of the mansion in high esteem. Clark said that’s where Charles Conrad’s “sky office” is, and where his alleged ghost can be seen the most.

“This is where he spent a lot of time, so naturally this is where people see him. They don’t really see him, per se, but he takes on the form of cigar smoke. So, if you’re walking and you get an overwhelming smell of cigar smoke, that’s Charles,” Clark said.

Clark said Lettie is seen as an elegant ghostly Victorian woman and Alicia has been seen as the ghost of a little girl. She said another room that sees a lot of paranormal activity is the children’s playroom, which sits near Charles’ office on the third floor and still displays many of their toys.

“The thing about the ghost tours that I’ve learned since working here, is that I’m not a believer or a disbeliever....but you have to be respectful of people’s beliefs, so if they say they saw it, they saw it,” Clark said.

Although the ghost tours are done for the season, normal tours can still be scheduled for daytime visits by calling and booking an appointment. She said Halloween is the biggest event for the mansion besides Christmas, which sees the home get decorated in an entirely different, fantastical way, including a tree that reaches to the second floor ceiling, a tradition the Conrads started themselves. Clark said the museum allows people to learn about not just the Conrads, but to see what life was like for them and what hopes they had for the Flathead Valley.

“The beliefs they had about community and conservation ring true through today, so there are spirits of the Conrads everywhere in this town, whether you know it or not. They were here before us and I think that they’ve echoed through the generations,” Clark said. “I don’t think you can really understand history or where we’re going without engaging in it. I don’t think you can learn everything from books and lectures; you need to immerse yourself in it. So houses like the Conrad Mansion visualize what life was like.”

To book a guided or self-guided tour, call 406-755-2166 or visit their website at conradmansion.com.

Reporter Taylor Inman may be reached at tinman@dailyinterlake.com.

photo

The lights are turned off during the mansion's annual ghost tours, making these mannequins draped in cloth look extra spooky in the dark.

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