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The Spirits of Iowa

Spooky happenings in unexpected places

By Rasma RaistersPublished 3 years ago 8 min read
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Mathias Ham built The Ham House in Dubuque, Iowa on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River in the northern part of the city.The Mathias Ham House has been a museum since 1964. It is run by the Dubuque County Riverboat Historical Society.

Mathias Ham built a small, two-story, five-room block home in 1837 for his wife and 5 children. After the death of his first wife in 1856 he added 3 more stories made of limestone and created a mansion with 23 rooms. On the top floor is a staircase that leads up into a tall cupola that covers the entire top of the mansion and has a magnificent view of the Mississippi River. Mr Ham married a second time and had two more children.

Mathias Ham had made his fortune from successful business in lead mining, lumber, agriculture and a shipping fleet that sent his products up and down the Mississippi. From the cupola atop of his house he liked to watch his ships. When pirates started harassing ships on the river he was able to alert authorities and have them captured. The pirates knew Ham was responsible and vowed to get revenge. He invested badly in real estate and emptied out his bank accounts leaving his widow just the mansion to live in. To get by Mrs Ham made money by renting out rooms in the mansion.

By the 1890’s all of the family except for one daughter Sara had died off. She lived alone in the mansion. One evening Sara heard a prowler downstairs but as she remained quiet the prowler went away. The next day she told her neighbors about the incident and that she would put a lamp in her window if she needed help. That evening Sara again heard someone moving about downstairs and called out “Who’s there?” Then she locked her door, put the lamp in the window and got her gun. She heard heavy footsteps climbing the stairs to the third floor. They stopped just outside her bedroom door. Keeping her fear in control she shot her gun twice through the door. Neighbors seeing her signal came quickly to help. They followed a blood trail that started from her bedroom door all the way down to the river where they found a dead pirate captain.

It is thought that at least two ghosts haunt the mansion. For many years lights have been seen moving through the mansion’s dark hallways and staircases. Some think that it may be the pirate’s ghost returning to carry out his revenge as he was killed before he finished his deed. Also, Mr Ham may have chosen to remain in his home.

The following has been experienced by the Dubuque County Historical Society employees:

There are many parts of the mansion which leave the living feeling uncomfortable. On the third floor, there are unexplained icy winds and strange chills which people have felt. The theory is that the pirate captain haunts the stairs and the third floor where he met his demise.

Standing near the stairway to the tower unexplained noises can be heard coming from other parts of the mansion. It is said that a man hung himself in the tower in the early 1900s.

On a summer night at closing time, the assistant curator was unscrewing the light fuse to be able to turn off the lights in the front rooms. As she was unscrewing the fuse she heard the loud sound of a pump organ. Then she quickly screwed back in the fuse and the sound stopped. Apparently, someone wanted the lights left on. The mansion’s pump organ isn’t working and is closed up.

The police called up the head curator Ms Griesinger to tell her that a light had been left on in the old section of the mansion. Arriving at the mansion she went down the dark hallway to the fuse box with the idea of screwing in the light fuse so that she could see her way to the area where the light was burning. In the inky black hallway, she felt a strong unseen presence that followed her around as she went about her work.

One night in 1978 a tour guide named John spent a night in the mansion. He also felt a strong presence. About 3 AM he awoke to hear women’s voices in the yard outside his window. He investigated but no one was there. Inside he heard distinct footsteps on the second floor of the original part of the mansion. No one was there. Then John heard soft, shuffling noises in the basement as if someone was leaving or entering through a tunnel. There’s a tunnel about 20 feet beyond the basement wall that collapsed many years ago.

In the upper hallway is a spring-locked window that has occasionally been found open in the morning after being locked the night before. In this same hallway, a well-repaired light only works part of the time which puzzles the electrician.

No psychic research has been done but evidence suggests that a variety of ghosts inhabit Ham House. The suspected entities are the pirate captain, Mathias Ham, members of his family and/or the man who committed suicide.

Pottawattamie County Squirrel Cage Jail can be found in the downtown area of Council Bluffs, Iowa. It sits on a small park which is located just right of the modern Council Bluffs police station and jail complex.

The jail was built in 1885. It is a three-story Victorian brick building and one of three revolving jails left in the United States. These are known as squirrel cages, the 30 cells were like pieces of pie in a circular jail structure. There was one door for each floor. There were ten cells rotated by a hand crank on each floor and would be turned until the right cell was lined up with the door on the correct floor. Today the cells no longer rotate.

When the morgue for the Episcopalian Church was torn down the first superintendent J.M. Carter oversaw the building of this jail. It was occupied by guests of the county continuously from 1884 until 1969, for 85 years. The superintendent and his family lived in the apartment located on the fourth floor.

In the early days, hardened criminals and murderers awaiting execution were locked up here. The last two men hung in Iowa spent their last hours in this facility. Later violent criminals went on to full-blown prisons. This jail became holding cells for defendants awaiting trial at the Criminal Court building and a place to put men and women who were serving County time for various less serious offenses than first-degree murder.

The jail closed in 1969 and was bought by the Council Bluffs Park Board in 1971 for preservation. In 1972 the building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Four people have been known to have died here. Three were guests of the County jail system and a police officer. One inmate had a heart attack, one committed suicide by hanging him or herself in their cell and one death occurred by stupidity – a prisoner trying to write his name on the ceiling fell to his death from the third level of the jail cage. Then during a farmer’s strike in 1932, 84 people were arrested. To assure there would be no forced jailbreaks from the angry crowd the police armed themselves with machine guns. Unfortunately, one policeman accidentally shot himself with a gun.

Working on a project in the building a woman was startled to see an entity of a sad little girl. She was dressed in gray, sitting in one of the cells. Visitors have felt an unseen presence tugging at their clothes as if a child wanted to get their attention. From various cells, a feeling of depression and sadness radiates. It also appears that certain supervisors are also haunting the jail. Paranormal activity has occurred outside the cell areas, in the hallways and in the 4th-floor apartment.

Bill Foster became the new superintendent in the late 1950s. He experienced so much paranormal activity that he realized that the former occupants of the 4th-floor apartment still lived there even though they were no longer alive. He chose to bunk on the second floor. The entity of the first superintendent J.M. Carter is thought to be the restless, intense spirit who never gave up his position and continued to check up on jailers and prisoners over the years that this building was a jail. Otto Gudath the superintendent from 1949 to 1958 has been seen by witnesses as a full-body apparition on the 4th floor. These two entities keep a close eye on visitors and follow people about on the 3rd and 4th floors. Doors happen to open and close by themselves.

Paranormal activity has been witnessed in the 4th-floor apartment. A male apparition was seen from the outside by a window on the 4th floor where the superintendent lived. Walking by an unseen presence has been heard in the apartment. Odd light balls have been noticed and cabinet doors tend to open by themselves.

Paranormal investigation groups have been able to record some scientific evidence which suggests that some inmates and jailers are still within the jail. Most of the evidence gathered by Paranormal Research and Investigative Studies Midwest (PRISM) investigators was gathered on the 3rd and 4th floors. Great sadness was felt by psychics inside the cages and about 25-30 orbs were caught on film inside the cell area. Tugs on their clothes by unseen hands were felt by two investigators. A more in-depth investigation is planned to be done of the Squirrel Cage Jail.

At the Oak Hill Cemetery in Cedar Rapids, Iowa a Czech girl haunts the graveyard. She carries flickering candles and tries to pull people into one of the mausoleums. It is believed that the entity’s name is Tillie who is buried in the potter’s field section of the cemetery.

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About the Creator

Rasma Raisters

My passions are writing and creating poetry. I write for several sites online and have four themed blogs on Wordpress. Please follow me on Twitter.

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