The lovely stone “castle” ruins at the Ha Ha Tonka State Park in Camden County, Missouri are one of the Midwest’s favorite travel spots and its name comes from the Native American Osage phase that translates to “laughing waters”.
The ruins have not always looked this way though; this location used to be a large and lavish mansion for a wealthy local business man named Robert Snyder. A large sum of his wealth was accumulated when he was drilling for natural gas in southern Kansas, but accidentally struck oil. On top of this he also worked in real estate, banking, and owned cattle. But when tragedy struck in 1877, Robert’s first wife passed away and left him alone to parent their son. He then remarried, having three more sons with his second wife but she also passed away in 1896. Robert then married his third wife in 1900; he was 47 and she was only 18.
In 1904 Robert decided to purchase a large plot of land (approximately 2,500 acres) at the Ha Ha Tonka lake near Camden, Missouri and by 1905 he began construction for a new European-castle-style mansion. To be as authentic as possible, Robert went as far as to to hire real stone masons from Scotland who used an on-site quarry to build his new home with. When asked about this new house, Robert said, “Here I will spend my leisure, secure from the worries of business and the excitement of city life. I will fish and loaf and explore the caves of these hills, with no fear of intrusion.” The location was somewhat difficult to get to, so Robert had his own carriage houses built near his new home so he could take a horse drawn carriage up to the property to check up on the construction. Automobiles “took off” (pun intended) around this time, so Robert decided to upgrade his transportation and purchased a car that he would use to go check on construction instead.
Sadly, Roberts dreams never came true. Tragedy struck again on October 27th, 1906 when Robert was involved in one of the states first fatal car accidents on Independence Boulevard in Kansas City. Roberts chauffeur had to swerve the car to try and avoid a young boy who had stepped out into the road, throwing Robert from the vehicle. His head hit an iron trolley post that cracked his skull open, killing him. As if this wasn’t tragic enough, the chauffeur failed to miss the young boy who was also killed in the accident. The silver lining is that this accident brought more attention to that fact that streets were no longer safe for children in the age of the automobile.
The mansion remained unfinished for the next 16 years while his sons tried to continue the construction of the home. Eventually the house was completed enough and one of Roberts sons, Robert Jr., moved in. Robert Jr. was struck with health problems left him unable to do much outside of the home, so he decided to pick up the hobby of rare book collecting to help pass the time. He amassed a collection of over a thousand rare books documenting the areas history, literature, and folklore. Robert Jr. passed away in 1937, and his collection was sent to the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC).
The home was then leased to Mrs. Ellis who ran it as a hotel for several years, but in 1942 tragedy struck one last time when sparks from a fire place ignited the roof; burning the mansion to the ground and leaving nothing behind but the stone skeletal structure. Today, you can still see scorch marks from the fire on the stone ruins.
These castle-like ruins sat abandoned for 36 years, and in 1978 the land was purchased by the state of Missouri to open it as a public park.
As I’m sure you already know, during the colonization of this country a genocide was committed and innocent indigenous people were murdered and thrown into large mass-graves. It is believed that this home was actually built on top of one of these grave sites after a large amount of human bones were pulled from the earth during construction. To clarify, I am not about to pull the “cursed Native American burial ground” card that many paranormal investigators like to pull; I find that to be incredibly disrespectful, and they paint the indigenous people in a negative and “scary” light. I do however believe that the pain and sadness that our first-nations people experienced in areas like this can leave an imprint on the land. This is commonly referred to as the Stone Tape Theory which is when strong human emotions and events are essentially recorded into physical materials like metal and stone. This house not only stands on unmarked graves but is also built from local stone, so I wouldn’t be surprised if residual spiritual energies were present here due to the Stone Tape Theory, and the possible tragedies that occurred.
The ghostly apparition of a woman in white has also been spotted by visitors. It is unknown who she would be, but it is believed that she could be one of Robert Snyders wives.
This is not necessarily relevant to the castle ruins, but the rare book collection that was owned by Robert Jr. is also reportedly haunted. The books are so rare that they are kept locked in a separate room at UMKC, and librarians have heard the sounds of someone turning the pages of a book when no one else is in there. They have also left books sitting out on a certain page being held by a weight, only to return and see that the book has somehow turned to a different page. It is assumed that the spirit of Robert Jr. may have been so attached to his collection that he decided to never part from it…
My Findings and Final Thoughts:
This was such an amazing location to visit during the fall season! I went in early October and the weather was almost perfect; minus the very strong wind that was there that day. It is very sad to walk on the land knowing that they pulled human remains from the earth, and also knowing the many tragedies that sounded Robert Snyder, including his death. To no surprise, I did not spot or photograph a women in white, but I did manage to capture a potential orb that doesn’t seem to be dust or an insect.
This “orb” was so bright in the photo that I actually assumed it was a hole in the stone and that I was seeing the bright sky through it. But after analyzing other photos, it is clear that there is no hole there, nor is this dust or an insect. It is possible that it is a glare, but I did not photograph any other glares to compare it to.
As for the woman in white legend, I struggled to find mention of this online, but I have heard this by ear about the ruins. If anything, it may have been a silly local legend started to spook visitors, but who knows…
I have not visited Robert Jr’s. book collection yet, but that is definitely on my to-do list, and I will update this post if/when I visit UMKC!
My Tips for Visiting
Can it be investigated? Maybe…
If you manage to show up on a slow day with no other visitors, you could conduct a quick investigation outside of the ruins without the interference of other visitors. It was free for us to visit as well, seeing as it is a public park, so if you cannot investigate, you won’t lose out on any money. Check online for current business hours.
There is a parking lot not far from the castle, but the weekends during October get VERY busy! The lot was full so we had to park farther away in another lot and hike through the woods to find the start of another trail to get there. Even then, it wasn’t too difficult and didn’t take too long. The maps on Google are pretty accurate and up-to-date, so it was all easy to find.
We did have to walk on a wooden pathway to get to the castle which is pretty narrow and has steps, so it doesn’t seem to be wheelchair accessible unless you can park in the lot closest to it.
BRING SNACKS AND WATER. Take your time and enjoy this location; there is plenty of space to sit around the ruins, relax, and enjoy the vibes.
Bring bug spray if you visit during spring/summer/the beginning of fall. If you are allergic to poison ivy, oak, or sumac, keep an eye out for these as well. This is a State Park after all and there is a fair amount of trail walking to get here if the closest lot to the ruins is full.