Welcome to the
season that revels in humankind's curious
fascination with things that go bump in the
Yes, it's that scare-the-bejabbers-out-of-me
time of year.
In other words it's the busy season for Chad
Lewis, who has become something of an expert on
spooky sites around the Midwest.
He's just 33 years old and yet has visited more
so-called scary places than he can count.
In Iowa, there's one particular spot, he said,
that's "definitely one of the creepiest places
I've ever been."
Supposedly haunted by the ghosts of tortured
souls and a werewolf-like creature, the area
around an old railroad bridge near Fort Dodge
isn't inherently frightening, Lewis insisted.
"It's just way out in the middle of nowhere and
gives you a creepy feeling," he said.
That 19th-century railroad bridge and dozens of
other locations around the state will be
featured at 7 p.m. Thursday during Lewis'
Haunted Iowa presentation at the State
Historical Society of Iowa in Des Moines.
Lewis is the co-author of "The
Iowa Road Guide to Haunted Locations" ($14),
published this year by the Unexplained Research
Publishing Co. in Eau Claire, Wis.
He and his co-author, Terry Fisk, have also
produced similar guides to locations in
Illinois, Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
Thursday's slide show presentation will be the
first in Des Moines for Lewis, who has a
master's degree in psychology and has been
studying "the weird and unexplained," as he puts
it, for 14 years.
Midwest states provide plenty of grist for
stories about haunted places, Lewis said. Most
of these spots are accessible to the public.
Common threads run through much of the legend
and lore around the Midwest, Lewis said.
In Iowa, he encountered "a lot of stories about
cursed angels in cemeteries,'' he said.
Of all the Midwest states, though, Iowa might be
home to the highest percentage of residents who
seem to be indifferent to ghost stories.
"In Wisconsin, you have a lot of people
investigating ghost stories,'' Lewis said.
"People in Iowa will tell you, 'Yeah, I've heard
stories about that place being haunted my whole
life. What's the big deal?' "
Despite encountering a fair amount of
ambivalence, Lewis and Fisk found enough
enduring local legends to put together a list of
57 locations in Iowa.
Reporter Tom Perry can be reached at (515)
TOP FIVE SPOOKY SITES IN IOWA
Chad Lewis, co-author of “The
Iowa Road Guide to Haunted Locations,” puts
these five spots at the top of his list of scary
places in the state.
1. TARA BRIDGE: Located in Webster
County, this bridge is reputedly “haunted by the
ghosts of young children murdered by their
mother” and “a bizarre, large, unknown creature”
that is supposedly “werewolf-like,” Lewis said.
2. CLEAR LAKE CORNFIELD: The music died
here, where rock ’n’ roll stars Buddy Holly,
Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper were killed in
a 1959 plane crash. Since then, Lewis said,
“mysterious figures have been spotted along the
secluded road” and “some people say they hear
music in the distance.”
3. THE AX MURDER HOUSE: Listed on the
National Register of Historic Places, this house
in the southwest Iowa community of Villisca is
one of Iowa’s most infamous crime scenes. It has
been more than 95 years since the 1912 murder of
a family and their two overnight guests, and
some say the well-preserved home is truly
haunted. “Those brave enough to spend the night
in the home report seeing a door open and
close,” Lewis and Fisk write.
4. THE 13 STEPS CEMETERY: The Linn County
community of Palo is home to the Pleasant Ridge
cemetery, which is not only reportedly haunted
by a phantom dog but also has a step — on a set
of stairs leading up to the cemetery gate — that
only appears at night. “It is very strange,”
Lewis said. “During the daytime only 12 steps
are visible. But at night you can see 13 steps.”
5. KATE SHELLEY MEMORIAL BRIDGE: In 1881,
Kate Shelley, 15, crawled across a damaged
bridge near Boone during a fierce storm to warn
an oncoming train that there was a bridge out.
The original bridge is long gone, but the high
bridge, built in 1901 and now being upgraded to
two tracks, is supposedly home to the ghost of
Kate Shelley. It is also, Lewis and Fisk report,
a place where “phantom trains have been seen and