Museums preserve the past by collecting and displaying items of historical significance for present and future generations. Often, museums are located in historic homes and buildings, and include many original artifacts from that particular location. With so many relics of the past, it is not surprising that museums are sometimes believed to include a ghost or two in their collections. Mysterious Heartland has found many Midwestern museums with such eerie tales. Which one will prove to be the most haunted of them all?
10. Union Pacific Railroad Museum
Council Bluffs, Iowa
Formerly home to the Council Bluffs’ Carnegie Free Public Library, this beautiful Beaux-Arts style building across the street from Bayliss Park, at the corner of Pearl Street and Willow Avenue, was built in 1905 at a cost of over $88,000. The Union Pacific Railroad Museum opened at that location in 2003. The museum houses one of the oldest corporate collections of artifacts, photographs, and documents concerning the country’s largest railroad and the railroad industry. Locals believe this building has been haunted by the ghost of a lady wearing Victorian garb since its days as a library. The activity was particularly strong in the basement, where books flew off shelves and objects would appear and disappear. The ghost is believed to be a former pianist who kept to herself, except when she took quiet strolls through the streets of Council Bluffs. Today, her ghost is most often seen walking up and down the museum stairwell.
9. Galena History Museum
Daniel Barrows, a wealthy entrepreneur, built this mansion in 1858. The building served as an Odd Fellows Lodge from 1922 to 1938, when it became home to City Hall. The Galena Historical Society took over in 1967. After a few decades, the staff began to notice unusual sounds and kept a log of the occurrences. These experiences included hearing footsteps and banging on the stairs and in the hallways, furniture moving, and even piano keys playing. In 1991, during a wine tasting hosted by the historical society, glasses filled with champagne inexplicably toppled over throughout the evening. One visitor reported seeing a “strangely dressed man,” who vanished as mysteriously as he had arrived.
8. Fairlawn Mansion and Museum
Fairlawn Mansion, located at 906 East 2nd Street in Superior, Wisconsin, is currently home to the Victorian House Museum. Built in 1891 by lumber and mining baron Martin Pattison, construction on the mansion cost $150,000. It is a beautiful example of Queen Anne Victorian architecture, complete with 42 rooms and a four-story turret with a widow’s watch overlooking Barker’s Island on Superior Bay. It features ornate marble and tile fireplaces and stained glass windows. From 1920 to 1962, the mansion served as an orphanage and was home to as many as 2,000 children during that time. Though the current owner of the mansion, Superior Public Museums, Inc., denies it is haunted, many legends have circulated. A cold damp chill is said to accompany the apparition of a servant girl who was murdered by her husband, and who returned to the mansion in the afterlife. A figure has also been seen in the tower, and the ghosts of two orphaned children appear to play around the basement swimming pool, although the pool was closed at the time Fairlawn Mansion served as an orphanage.
7. Porter County Museum and Historical Society
The Porter County Jail began as an unassuming private residence at the corner of South Franklin and Monroe streets in downtown Valparaiso, Indiana. It was built in the 1860s and purchased by Porter County less than a decade later to use as a sheriff’s residence and jail. In 1947, a second story was added to the jail and it could then accommodate up to 36 prisoners. In 1973, the county built a more modern jail, and the Porter County Historical Society acquired the building and called it the Old Jail Museum. That name was changed in 2007 to the Porter County Museum to better reflect their general history collection. Since opening, museum staff have reported a number of odd occurrences, including hearing phantom footsteps, the sound of small stones or marbles skipping across the floor, muffled voices, and groans. Prisoners used to wrap messages around stone marbles and roll them from cell to cell. Shadowy figures have appeared, and several tour groups have witnessed the apparition of a lady wearing a long, old fashioned dress.
6. Presque Isle Lighthouse and Museum
Presque Isle, Michigan
Presque Isle Lighthouse and Museum sits at the tip of a small peninsula in Lake Huron, off East Grand Lake Road, in far northeastern Michigan. It is located north of Grand Lake in the community of Presque Isle. First lit in 1840, the lighthouse guided ships along the coast of Lake Huron until 1897, when it was decommissioned and sold to a private owner. The State of Michigan purchased it in 1995 and opened it as a museum and park. A man named George Parris, who served as a caretaker of the Presque Isle Lighthouse from 1977 until his death in 1992, is popularly believed to haunt the grounds. Despite missing parts critical to its operation, visitors report seeing the lamp illuminated in the lighthouse tower. The light is said to flash briefly before going dark. In the nearby cabin where George and his wife Lorraine lived, volunteers have found the bedsheets ruffled and caught the smell of breakfast cooking in the kitchen. One young woman even reported having a conversation with “the old innkeeper in the tower.”
5. Tinker Swiss Cottage
Built in 1865 on a bluff just south of downtown Rockford, Tinker Swiss Cottage took its name from its unique architecture, which was inspired by Robert Hall Tinker’s visit to Europe in 1862. The Tinker family lived at the home until around 1940, when Mrs. Tinker willed it to the Rockford Park District and it became a museum. In recent years, several paranormal teams instigated the cottage after visitors repeatedly asked the museum curators if it was haunted. During one investigation, a woman’s voice appeared on an audio recorder saying, “I don’t like trains… trains bring death” as a train passed by on the railroad tracks outside. At other times, doors closed with no apparent explanation. In October 2012, Tinker Swiss Cottage was featured on Syfy’s Ghost Hunters. The Atlantic Paranormal Society documented every inch of the museum while filming the episode. At one point in the evening, a rocking chair began to move on its own. According to Executive Director Steve Litteral, the rocking chair has done that several times during the course of regular tours.
4. Old Sheriff’s Residence & Jail Museum
West Bend, Wisconsin
Now owned by the Washington County Historical Society, the old Washington County Jail is located at 340 South 5th Avenue in West Bend, Wisconsin, just a few short blocks west of the Milwaukee River. Built in 1886, the jail was designed to be both escape proof and home to the county sheriff and his family. It served in that capacity until 1962, when the county built a new jail and turned this building over to the Historical Society. According to J. Nathan Couch, author of Washington County Paranormal, museum staff and visitors have routinely heard strange voices and have seen moving objects and apparitions. One popular legend concerns a former sheriff who allegedly murdered an inmate in a fit of rage and buried his body in the basement. While this story is probably not true, paranormal occurrences continue to the present day, leading the Washington County Historical Society to conduct ghost tours of the facility.
3. Gibbs Museum of Pioneer and Dakota Life
Falcon Heights, Minnesota
An old farmhouse in the urban fold of Minneapolis and St. Paul may be a strange sight, but for some visitors to the Gibbs Museum of Pioneer and Dakota Life, the strangeness doesn’t end there. Some visitors report seeing the ghost of a young boy and other children throughout the old home. Pioneers Jane and Herman Gibbs purchased the property in 1849 and erected a small sod house, where they lived for several years while improving the land. The couple eventually built a farmhouse, barn, and schoolhouse on the property. Today, it is maintained by the Ramsey County Historical Society as a museum to educate visitors on the life of Minnesota pioneers, as well as the American Indians who proceeded them. Ghostly children are frequently seen in the farmhouse, and staff have reportedly had to put toys back in a toy box even though it was locked up for the night. Doors and cupboards have also mysteriously opened and closed on their own.
2. Cincinnati Art Museum
The Cincinnati Art Museum sits on a hill overlooking Eden Park at 953 Eden Park Drive, in eastern Cincinnati, Ohio. It is easily accessed off Gilbert Avenue (State Highway 22). Founded in 1881, the museum contains more than just an impressive collection of art. An Egyptian mummy lies in a glass case in the first floor antiquities display. Security guards report seeing a misty figure rising from the case. In the second floor chapel, part of a display from medieval Spain, another security guard reportedly witnessed a tall, cloaked monk standing beneath the Moorish arch. The figure rose in the air before it disappeared. Other guards have heard the echo of footsteps long after all the visitors have left for the night, and have seen a dark mist rising from the black plaster effigy of artist Elizabeth Boott Duveneck.
1. Glore Psychiatric Museum
St. Joseph, Missouri
Rated one of the fifty most unusual museums in the United States, the Glore Psychiatric Museum was established in 1967 and is located at 3406 Frederick Avenue in St. Joseph, Missouri, just outside the former St. Joseph State Hospital (currently a prison called the Western Reception Diagnostic Correctional Center). It contains four floors of exhibits, including patient artwork and an arrangement of 1,446 items swallowed by a patient. While the Glore Psychiatric Museum offers a fascinating glimpse into the history of the mental health profession, it may also offer something of the paranormal variety. According to George Glore, who directed and curated the museum for over 40 years, visitors and staff often reported seeing the ghostly image of a woman wearing a “flowing gown” or noticed passing images in their peripheral vision. These experiences are so common, in fact, longtime staff treat them as par for the course at the museum.