This article is published in Explore Magazine’s fall & winter 2018 issue, featuring Iowa’s scenic byways. This week, The Gazette will publish articles featuring one byway each day online. You can pick up a hard copy of the magazine at area businesses, convenience stores and grocery stores. You also can pick up a copy at The Gazette.
Almost every December, Jodi Philipp embodies Christmas icon Mrs. Claus and makes holiday dreams come true. But when she’s not dawning her holiday garb and carting reindeer around, she’s hosting murder mysteries every Friday and Saturday at Periwinkle Place Manor in Chelsea, her eclectic “dead-and-breakfast.”
Named after the antique periwinkle casket found in the basement, this historic building has an exceptionally macabre history, a real-life morbid background that accompanies the weekly make-believe murders.
Periwinkle Place was first known as the Hrabak Funeral Home, founded in 1892 by Joseph Hrabak Sr.
It operated as a funeral home until July 2003, and although a private owner bought the building and resided there for several years, the artifacts, and possibly a few souls of funerals past remained. Through fire and flooding the periwinkle casket and many other items remained in the basement until Philipp bought the building in 2013.
She and her husband, John Philipp, had been looking to relocate their murder mysteries, which they hosted on their farm outside of town.
“I wanted a place where people could stay so that they could have fun and wouldn’t need to drive home,” Philipp said. “Then I drove past this place, and I thought, ‘Boy, I could murder people in there every Friday and Saturday.’”
The manor needed a lot of work. Fire had charred much of the first floor, but Philipp was determined to maintain the building’s vintage charm and eeriness.
Instead of replacing the singed wood trim, Philipp chose to showcase the damage by applying a clear sealant. The periwinkle casket, which once transported a body from California to be buried with family in Iowa in the 1900s, is displayed prominently in the front lobby. The body elevator, which was used as a way to transport coffins and bodies to the basement, remains in the home and occasionally transports curious guests below.
The 10 bedrooms of the bed-and-breakfast have been completely renovated, with some morbid touches sprinkled throughout. Unused coffins are used as decor in the hall, and one bed is built on coffin holders so guests can truly “rest in peace,” as Philipp puts it.
Several of the rooms are named after deceased Hrabak family members.
“Some people swear that the rocking horse moves by itself,” Philipp said as she pointed at toys inside the “Julia” room. “I’m kind of a skeptic, but since I’ve been here there are a lot of undeniable things that you can’t really explain.”
That is why paranormal investigators come stay at the manor each year, hoping to gather proof of slamming doors, disembodied humming, moving dolls and other reported encounters.
More frequently, guests come to the manor for the dinner, the mystery and the party.
After dinner is served and the murder is solved, guests make their way to the coach house behind the manor, where the horse-drawn hearse was once kept. Today it houses a party room, where guests can sing karaoke, play games and dance to celebrate a murder well-solved.
Philipp said she has many returning guests who come to solve these murders time and time again. In fact, some of them never leave.
“That’s the shelf,” she said gesturing to a row of urns on display by the check-in desk. “Sometimes guests come to leave their relatives here ... They know they’ll be cherished here.”
If you go
WHAT: Periwinkle Place Manor B&B
WHERE: 704 Main St., Chelsea
DETAILS: (319) 551-3660, periwinkleplacemanor.com