Path to the Pumpkin Patch: First Halloween column explores haunted Iowa

haunted iowaBy: Miranda Cole

What are your plans this year to celebrate Halloween? Maybe handing out candy to trick-or-treaters or going to a costume party? What about going to the Heart of Darkness, or even better, an actual haunted house in Iowa? This year, take a road trip with your friends, and visit one of these places.

For those who are interested in a truly gruesome ghost tale, go to Villisca, Iowa, to see the Villisca Axe Murder House. On June 10, 1912, in the little white house of the Moore family, a murder was committed. Sometime between midnight and 5 a.m., the parents and their six children were all murdered in their beds. Their murderer was never found. If you want to take a tour during the day, admission is $10 for tourists 12 and older. If you and your group of friends would be brave enough to spend the night, it’s $428 for one to six people, and it’s $74.90 for each additional person.

To this day, many people want to experience the Axe Murder House, to see if it’s just legend or history. On April 4 of this year, Cedar Falls resident Sarah Moore, and seven of her friends decided to visit the Villisca house for fun. One of her friends had a ghost tracker app on his phone. At one point of the night, it was going off every few minutes calling attention the “barn.” They have a barn in the yard.

Most of Moore’s strange occurrences at the Villisca house were upstairs. “We went upstairs, and there were a bunch of videos about the history of the house and the family. So that was weird. None of us knew that stuff was up there.”

The bedrooms were the place where the murders took place, so maybe that could explain Moore’s terrifying experiences upstairs.

“Another strange moment occurred upstairs of the Villisca House. I walked up the stairs to give a friend her phone, and when I got up the stairs, I got really cold, and it was hard to breathe, like pressure on my chest. I got a bad feeling up there. Then the ghost tracker app went off again, and it said “danger” or something similar to that. I can’t recall exactly, but I ran downstairs and refused to go up there again,” Moore said

For a haunted close a little closer to home, one might explore the Mathias Ham House in Dubuque. It is a 19th century house, built in 1856 for the lead miner Mathias Ham. The legend says that Ham had turned in some pirates, and they now wanted revenge. In the 1890s, most of the Ham family had died off besides Ham’s daughter Sara. She lived alone at the time, and one night the pirate captain came to get his revenge. She shot him, and as they followed the bloody path, they found the dead pirate captain.

Some mornings the museum staff will come in to find a window or door left open that they do not remember leaving open. People believe that two ghosts haunt the house: the pirate captain and Mathias Ham. Visitors speak of hearing odd noises coming from the tower and feeling cold drafts. Some of the light fixtures will only work some of the time, and this leaves their electrician confused, as everything is in working order.

A last potentially haunted location is even closer to home. On May 1, 1873, the new state mental hospital opened to patients. The hospital quickly became overcrowded. By the 1930s, there were roughly 700 new patients each year. According to legend, some patients had reported that they were beaten by the hospital staff.

Parts of the hospital remain abandoned, such as the Kirkbride building. Current staff members have claimed to see apparitions of former staff members and patients, most commonly hearing screaming and laughter throughout the building. Tours of the hospital are only available to groups or organizations, to schedule a tour call, (319)-334-2583.

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