The heart of the Corn Belt, Iowa is bordered by the Mississippi River to the east and the Missouri River to the west. It has the odd distinction of being both the safest state in the U.S. and the inspiration for a Slipknot album. The Hawkeye State, however, is also known for its share of haunted and legendary places, including the infamous Villisca Axe Murder House. But which are the most compelling? After much debate, Mysterious Heartland brings you Iowa’s Top 10 Most Haunted Places!
10. Stony Hollow Road
The ghost of a heartbroken young woman is widely believed to haunt this road about eight miles north of Burlington, Iowa, near the Mississippi River. According to legend, a young woman named Lucinda was secretly engaged and planned to meet her lover on the bluffs outside of town so that they could elope. The man, however, never showed. Some say his buggy became stuck in the mud. Lucinda was so heartbroken that she threw herself off the cliff and onto the road below. In another version of the legend, she went home and heard rumours that her lover had run away with another woman, and that was why she killed herself. Either way, motorists have reported seeing her ghost on Stony Hollow Road for decades. Supposedly, if you go to the bluffs and say Lucinda’s name three times, you will die the next day.
9. Hotel Blackhawk
Hotel Blackhawk, or the Blackhawk Hotel as it is also known, has gone from opulence to disrepair and back again several times over its storied existence. A businessman named W.F. Miller began construction on the Blackhawk in 1915, but all the floors were not added until 1920. It played host to many celebrities, and it is widely believed that actor Cary Grant died on the 8th floor in 1986 (in fact, he died at a nearby hospital). In the early 1970s, there were plans to turn the hotel into low income housing for the elderly, but it declared bankruptcy and the building was seized by the bank. During the 1990s, the hotel gained a sleazy reputation, and in 2006 a meth lab exploded on the 8th Floor. Since then, Hotel Blackhawk has undergone renovation and has been restored to its former glory. Still, stories of strange activity remain. The ghost of a woman in a blue or red evening gown has been seen floating through the hallways. Cary Grant himself is also said to make an appearance from the afterlife.
8. Cresco Theatre
The Cresco Opera House, as it was originally known, opened in 1915. It hosted many different kinds of performances, and even had a screen for motion pictures. Today, the theatre continues this tradition by showing both movies and live performances. The building is long believed to be haunted by the ghosts of past thespians and their patrons. A lone figure that vanishes on approach has been seen sitting in the darkened theatre. Ghosts dressed like vaudeville performers have been encountered around the stage, and voices and strange sounds have been heard when the theatre is supposedly empty. Others have seen shadowy figures in the basement, and electrical disturbances have also been reported. With such an eclectic history, it is no wonder the Cresco Theatre is home to so many ghosts.
7. KD Station
Sioux City, Iowa
Located along the Floyd River, this imposing-but-dilapidated building was once the Swift and Company packing house, which opened in 1920. It served as a stockyard and slaughterhouse for over fifty years, until it closed in 1954. Several years earlier, in 1949, a leaking gas pipe caused an explosion in the packing house that killed 21 workers. The ghosts of these workers are believed to still haunt the building. In 1976, the building was converted into a shopping centre and recreation area, but it is currently abandoned and undergoing demolition. Since 2004, several fires have damaged the structure. For a long time, many locals thought the building was haunted by a man named Paul Pulaski, and the building owner was not shy about advertising it. Strange sounds, often described as machinery, have been heard and the elevator reportedly moves on its own.
6. Independence State Hospital
Construction on Independence State Hospital began in 1873, but it did not open until 1883. The hospital has had many names over the years, including the Independence Lunatic Asylum. Like many asylums on its day, it was laid out on the Kirkbride Plan, which meant the building was laid out in a staggered-wing arrangement so that each wing received sunlight and fresh air. The most violent patients were housed furthest away from the central administrative offices. Independence State Hospital is still in use today, although some parts are abandoned. Visitors have reported feeling cold drafts, hearing whispers, and the feeling of being watched. Others have seen shadows and heard screams in the empty halls at night. Apparitions of former staff and patients are also seen in the buildings and on the grounds around the hospital.
5. Terror (Tara) Bridge
Webster County, Iowa
This secluded rural bridge allows traffic to pass over a railroad that used to run past the town of Tara. Tara is long gone now, but strange tales remain. These stories date back to the 1800s, when a frustrated farmer cursed the winds and was struck down dead. Since that time, locals have reported being chased by a howling ghost rider. The area became known as Dead Man’s Hollow. A large, hairy creature or wildman has also been reported under the bridge and in the nearby woods. More gruesome is the story of a woman who took her children to the bridge and waited for a train. As it passed, she tossed them onto the tracks one by one to be crushed to death. This accomplished, she jumped off the bridge and met her own fate. According to local legend, if you stop your car on the bridge and leave it unlocked, the woman’s ghost will drag you out and throw you onto the tracks below.
4. Mathias Ham House
Currently a museum, this unique limestone Italian Villa-style mansion was built in 1856 by a Dubuque pioneer and businessman named Mathias Ham. It sits on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. At least four members of the Ham family died in the home. Mathias’ wife, Margaret, died in 1874, and he joined her in 1889. His daughter May died in the 1890s, leaving his other daughter, Sarah, alone. According to legend, on one dark and lonely night Sarah shot and killed an intruder, whose lamplight is still said to wander through the house after sundown. Most of the strange occurrences revolve around lights turning on and off, and other electrical disturbances. Tour guides and volunteers report feeling the presence of other people—even hearing footsteps and voices—when they are alone.
3. Iowa State University
Founded in 1858 as Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, the college’s name was changed to Iowa State University of Science and Technology in 1959. It is a large public university with a student population of over 33,000. While known for its degree programs in agriculture, engineering, and science, ISU is also home to less rational elements. Fisher Theatre is said to be haunted by the ghost of Frederica Shattuck. Her contributions to the theatre department led to Shattuck Theatre being named after her. Shattuck Theatre was later torn down, and according to Cynthia Thuma and Catherine Lower’s book Creepy Colleges and Haunted Universities, Shattuck’s ghost moved to Fisher Theatre. Students hear disembodied voices, and a wheelchair that belonged to Shattuck reportedly moves on its own.
The Farm House Museum is supposed to be haunted by the ghosts of two sisters, while low moans are heard in Gold Star Hall. Gold Star Hall memorialises ISU students who died in service. One woman, Hortense Elizabeth Wind, became a Red Cross nurse in WW1. Now, staff say her ghost is the origin of strange sounds in the memorial.
2. Oakland Cemetery
Iowa City, Iowa
A blackened, bronze statue of an angel, its arms outstretched and head bowed, is the focus of much curiosity among visitors to Oakland Cemetery. The cemetery was established in 1843 and sits along Brown Street and Highway 1 in Iowa City. The angel statue was designed by a Bohemian artist and erected in 1912 to commemorate Nicholas and Eddie Feldevert. Hundreds of people come every year to see the “Black Angel,” and there are many explanations for why it has changed colour. Many believe that Teresa Feldevert was interested in the dark arts, and her interest corrupted the statue. Anyone who is brave enough to kiss the angel, it is said, will die instantly. Others believe (incorrectly) that a man erected the statue in honour of his wife. His wife’s infidelity, however, left a permanent stain on the statue as a reminder of her sin. According to legend, anyone who touches the “Black Angel” will suffer a horrible fate. One young man tried to remove its hand with a hacksaw and went insane. Later, his body turned up in the Chicago River. The statue is said to turn a shade darker every Halloween.
1. Villisca Ax Murder House
On the night of June 9, 1912, Josiah and Sarah Moore, their children Herman, Katherine, Boyd, and Paul, and their children’s friends Lena and Ina Stillinger, were brutally murdered while they slept by an unknown assailant with an ax. The killer was never officially found, although a traveling preacher named George Kelly was tried and acquitted of the crime. Today, no one lives at the home, but the most recent owner opened it up for tours and paranormal investigations. Dozens, if not hundreds, of eyewitnesses have reported strange encounters in the “murder house.” Vanishing blood stains on the walls, feelings of an evil presence, strange green lights, cold chills, the feeling of being pushed or pulled by unseen hands, and even apparitions have all been experienced here. Ghostly voices, presumably of the Moore Children, have been recorded on several occasions.