116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The calendar says Halloween is Oct. 31. Ghosts don’t have calendars, they just have unfinished business that keeps them chained to the herenow, rather than the hereafter.
So if you’re looking for chills and thrills beyond the grave holiday, here are just a few of Iowa’s haunted sites you can dig into year-round. Most are close to home, but the most notorious one is in the southwest corner of the state.
Mason House Inn, Bentonsport
This is my all-time favorite haunted house, since all of the ghosts who pass through are Casper-friendly.
Bentonsport lies about 107 miles south of Cedar Rapids via I-380/Highway 218. South of Mount Pleasant, the route zigzags west and south along county roads — through Salem (where I’ve not seen any reports of witches), Hillsboro and the countryside.
I’ve stayed at the historic Mason House Inn several times, and participated in a couple of ghost hunts. The first time, I went there on assignment for The Gazette in 2014, with a photojournalist who was up for the challenge, and one of my best friends, who served as our ghost-hunting guide.
I was happy to report that during our overnight stay, I had my own physical encounter from the other side.
I had just climbed into bed and said, “Anyone else want to hop in?” I felt something plop down heavily by my right knee, then skitter across my right leg. Just like my cats did at home.
My friend laughed and said that was Josephine, the ghost cat that has shown up in other guests' photographs. I love cats, so I wasn’t spooked.
This quaint inn on the shores of the Des Moines River was built by Mormon craftsmen in 1846, and began its life as a hotel for steamboat travelers. Its other lives include an Underground Railroad stop, a holding hospital for Civil War soldiers awaiting transport, and in 1913, a tuberculosis sanitarium.
The three-story brick structure has been the final stop for many of the sick and wounded, as well as various owners and residents.
Lewis Mason died of diphtheria in 1868 there; daughter Mary Mason Clark died of a heart attack on the third floor in 1911; resident Dr. Gray died there during its boardinghouse years in the first half of the 20th century; and proprietor Fannie Mason Kurtz died in front of the living room fireplace in 1951.
Owners Joy and Chuck Hanson are on a first-name basis with more than 50 spirits among the 300 or so who zoom in and out or take up residence there.
Abraham Lincoln stops by to chat. Mary Todd Lincoln wants to redecorate. Civil War soldier Harold is the friendly ghost gatekeeper and Mary Mason Clark rules the roost.
In 2006, “The Today Show” dubbed the bed-and-breakfast one of the most haunted lodgings in America. Alas, during the pandemic it’s just been open Fridays and Saturdays, and will be closed from Nov. 7 to March while one of the living residents recovers from surgery.
But if you’d like to experience the inn’s down-to-earth and otherworldly hospitality, you can make reservations for March and beyond by calling (641) 680-1459. The ghosts will still be there.
And never fear, if you merely want a charming, historic place in which to rest in peace, just tell the ghosts to stay out of your room, and they’ll comply. But what’s the fun in that?
Open your mind, and you just might see a white dress float down the staircase, have your hair pulled or hear kids playing in the hallway — when no living kids are there.
For more history, room rates and ghost-hunting rules (no ouiji boards, ghost boxes or alcohol), go to masonhouseinn.com/
Periwinkle Place Manor, Chelsea
This former funeral home has seen a lot of souls pass through since 1892. The funeral doors closed in 2003, but it’s found new life as a bed-and-breakfast, with lots of side activities, from eerie to musical and recreational. (Alas, the Halloween Bash was last weekend.)
The structure lies at 704 Main St. in Chelsea, about 45 miles west of Cedar Rapids via Highway 20. A fire and flood nearly destroyed it, but Jodi Philipp acquired the property in August 2013, and has been restoring it. Through recent remodeling, the house now boasts some themed rooms.
The spirits apparently approve.
According to periwinkleplacemanor.com/is-periwinkle-haunted, guests have reported seeing ghosts; a rocking horse moving; dolls moving or watching them (shudder!); doors opening and closing; hearing humming, coughing, footsteps; and seeing someone sitting on beds.
The manor is named after the Periwinkle coffins, and paranormal activity is the most lively in the third-floor penthouse, dubbed Coffin Coves. An antique casket and a full size coffin are displayed there, and one of the beds is built on coffin supports.
The property offers more than just sweet and spirited dreams. Lots of events have been added, like trivia parties, ghost hunters and psychics, murder mysteries, bonfires, camel karaoke with a real camel on-site, bike riding, hayrack rides, and in winter, a real reindeer on-site.
That’s right, a camel and reindeer. Jodi and her husband, John Phillip, have been familiar faces in Eastern Iowa as Santa and Mrs. Claus, complete with reindeer from their 2-Jo’s Farm in rural Van Horne. That property was heavily damaged in the 2020 derecho.
Periwinkle Manor, however, lives on.
Granger House, Marion
This late-19th century middle-class living museum is home to more than just antiques and history. People have reported seeing a woman in white in the window at midnight. In recent years, Granger family members and transients looking for work are said to have made their presence known during ghost hunts.
Private paranormal investigations are available, and from 8 p.m. to midnight Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, the curious may still be able to grab a ticket for the October Flashlight Tour. Cost is $25, and tickets must be purchased in advance.
Roseman Bridge, Madison County
People who seek out this historic covered bridge are more likely hoping to channel Robert Kincaid and Francesca from “The Bridges of Madison County” novel and movie. It’s the bridge Kincaid is looking for when he stops at Francesca’s house for directions. It’s also where she leaves him a note inviting him to dinner.
In an alternate reality, this is Madison County’s “haunted” bridge, according to madisoncounty.com/portfolio/roseman-covered-bridge-1883/.
It’s the site “where two sheriff’s posses trapped a county jail escapee in 1892. It is said the man rose up straight through the roof of the bridge, uttering a wild cry, and disappeared. He was never found, and it was decided that anyone capable of such a feat must be innocent.” Or just really good at disappearing.
If you go there at night, make sure you cue up your phone’s map app, or you’ll disappear trying to find your way from the winding rock roads and back to the highway.
Black Angel, Iowa City
So many legends, so little proof. Still, the Black Angel continues to intrigue and lure people to Iowa City’s Oakland Cemetery, 1000 Brown St.
The Gazette has reported on the myths and legends over the years, but a July 2017 Time Machine article provides a much less scary, comprehensive look at the 8.5-foot Feldevert family monument.
But if you’re more interested in the lively lore, click on the Black Angel link at icgov.org/city-government/departments-and-divisions/oakland-cemetery to read the myths, legends, peculiarities — and facts — about this mysterious monument located on Lot 1 in Block 24.
You might not want to go there on Halloween, however, since one of the myths sited on the city’s web link says that “touching the Angel at midnight on Halloween means death within seven years.” So keep your hands to yourself if you’d like to hang around a bit longer.
Villisca Ax Murder House
This is one of the most notorious sites in Iowa, and will take more than 3.5 hours to get there from Cedar Rapids, via I-80 west, then south on Highway 71.
It’s the family home where two adults and six children were murdered in their beds, most likely between midnight and 5 a.m. June 10, 1912. The victims were Josiah and Sarah Moore, their children, Herman, 11, Katherine, 10, Boyd, 7, and Paul, 5, as well as Katherine’s friends Lena Stillinger, 12, and her sister Ina, 8.
The case remains unsolved.
Daylight tours and overnight stays are available for those who dare. For details on the house, the crime and tours, go to villiscaiowa.com/.
Edinburgh Manor, Scotch Grove
Once the Jones County seat, in June 1840 the town of Edinburgh received a grant signed by President Buchanan for land on which to build a courthouse. Shortly thereafter, the county seat was relocated, and the land was repurposed to create the County Poor Farm. It operated as such from 1850 to 1910, and more than 150 people died there.
With the demise and demolition of the farm, Edinburgh Manor was built on the site between 1910 and 1911, to house “the incurably insane, the poor and the elderly.” The Manor closed in 2010, but remnants of its past live on.
It’s about 36 miles northwest of Cedar Rapids via Highway 151. Day tours and overnight visits are available. For history and details, go to: edinburghmanor.wixsite.com/edinburgh.
Vinton’s historic haunts
In an effort to raise your hackles as well as some historic preservation funds, the Benton County Historical Society is offering paranormal investigations at the 1863 Horridge House and 1899 Vinton Train Depot.
Josh and Katie Hopkins, local paranormal investigators and authors, are managing the paranormal tours. Their work has been featured on television news, ghost-hunting and YouTube shows.
Even if you don your blinders and don’t see ghosts, you will see some fascinating Carpenter Gothic architecture at the house and at the restored depot, where “hobos” have left their mark in the motorcar shed.
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