NIGHT AT VILLA KATHRINE
NEXT AVAILABLE DATE: FEBRUARY 23, 2019
7:00 PM - 1:00 AM
Join American Hauntings for a rare night in one of the most unusual haunted houses in the state — Villa Kathrine. Built on the high bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River, this Moorish castle was created by an eccentric millionaire named George Metz, who abandoned the house after the death of his only companion.
For years, the house stood as a tribute to one man’s dreams of bringing the exotic regions of the world to the small river town of Quincy. It became a museum for all of the exotic wonders, souvenirs, and furnishings that Metz brought back from his travels to the Middle East and Africa. The castle captured the imaginations of the townspeople and of reporters, who wrote wild stories of the wealthy Metz, a man so rich that he never worked a day in his life and traveled the world instead. Speculative tales were written about Villa Kathrine, the origins of the house’s name, and about Metz himself, the mysterious owner of the bizarre house.
In time, the house was abandoned and fell into a state of decay. Its strange history added fuel to the weird stories about the house, where now only the ghosts of the past still dwelled. Villa Kathrine, the current tenants of the place can assure you, is haunted. But it’s a ghost unlike any that most have ever encountered before.
Construction began on the unusual house in 1900 and stories of the oddity began to spread through newspaper stories and local gossip a short time later. The favorite story seemed to be that Metz built the house in mourning over a lost love. It was said that he met a “fair-haired, blue-eyed” woman in Germany and together, they had discovered the beauty of the homes in the exotic regions of North Africa, on which he based the design of his own home. Metz planned to bring his love back with him to his villa on the banks of the Mississippi, but his bliss was short-lived. Sadly, she refused to come to Quincy. Broken-hearted, Metz retired to a reclusive life in the newly-completed villa. Metz’s refusal to deny or confirm the story fueled the gossip and speculation ran rampant, but little record about Metz’s world travels remains, except when it was related to the house and the collection of furniture and design pieces for the building. Metz became a part of the house itself, and a part of its legend. Its history would not only create George Metz, it would destroy him, too.
Metz lived at Villa Kathrine as a bachelor for 12 years, during which, he wrote, “There was never the slightest hint of scandal, although the exotic structure inspired many grotesque stories.” He was not a total recluse, though. Friends often visited and he even hosted a wedding in 1904. He had many friends, however, his only constant companion in the house was his beloved dog, Bingo. Brought over from Denmark by Metz after one of his trips, Bingo was a 212-pound Great Dane that was rumored to be the largest dog in America. Metz had a special addition built for the dog off the kitchen. When Bingo died, he was buried on the grounds of the estate. Faced with the loss of his longtime friend, a cloud descended over Metz’s dream, plunging him into a terrible depression. Out of fear for his safety, and because of his age and his ability to climb stairs and care for the house, Metz’s relatives urged him to sell the place. Finally, in 1912, he agreed.
One day, a visiting couple, who professed a great interest in the house, prevailed on him to sell to them. Their enthusiasm convinced Metz that they would be ideal occupants for the villa and he sold the house and all of its furnishings to them. Little did he know that the buyers were actually agents for the Alton-Quincy Interurban Railroad, who planned to tear down the house and build a railyard on the site. Word got out and vandals descended on the mysterious house and carried off the decorations and the furniture, turning the place into a ruin.
Metz returned to the house one time, in 1913, with a reporter from St. Louis. The house was overrun with vermin and birds, the tinted walls were stained and destroyed, and what little furniture remained was shredded. He left it, vowing “never to return to this ruin again.” Nineteen years later, Metz did come back for one final visit, returning this time with a reporter from Decatur to find the villa crumbling with decay. “I wish this place were mine again,” he said, “I’d tear it down.”
George Metz never lost his love for the Mississippi River, or for Quincy. After leaving Villa Kathrine, he lived in a succession of apartments with a wide view of the river, first at the Hotel Newcomb, then on the second floor of a house, and finally at the Lincoln Douglas Hotel. He spent most of his spare time feeding the birds and squirrels in Quincy’s parks. Poor health finally took him to St. Vincent Hospital, where he died from pneumonia in 1937.
Villa Kathrine survived the treachery of the Alton-Quincy Interurban Railroad and it passed into the lives of decades of owners, renters, and caretakers, many of whom spoke of odd happenings in the house. They told stories of lights that behaved strangely, doors that mysteriously slammed closed, objects that vanished, and the sound of footsteps pacing around and around the pool in the center of the villa. Many believed that George Metz’s restless spirit had returned to watch over the place. Was he filled with despair because of the way the house had been ruined? Or did he simply love the villa so much that he never wanted to leave it?
After many years of neglect and decay, the villa was finally saved by the Friends of the Castle, a non-profit group who leased the building from the Quincy Park District and began working to restore it. It has since been transformed into a tourist and cultural center and it is open today for a new generation of people to visit the weird castle for themselves -- and to possibly experience the lingering ghost.
Villa Kathrine is also home to the local tourist and convention office and staff members assured me a few years ago that there is a ghost that haunts this house. They don’t believe that it’s George Metz, however, but rather his faithful dog, Bingo. No one knows how or why he stayed behind at the villa after death. Perhaps it was George Metz's enduring affection for the dog that kept him from passing on to the other side, but whatever the reason for his presence, staff members have often reported hearing the clicking of Bingo's toenails on the tile floors of the house. They have often heard the sound in the quiet of the afternoon, or in the early evening, after visitors have departed for the day.