A broken tombstone in the Pleasant Ridge cemetery north of Palo says that George Wallum was a soldier who died in 1873, at age 82. Ghostologist Chad Lewis says 12 steps lead into the cemetery, but 13 can be seen at night.

Spookologist ranks Iowa's 5 scariest spots


Spookologist's presentation leads off State Historical Society's three nights of scares

By Tom Perry

Register Staff Writer


10/23/07 - Des Moines Register

Welcome to the season that revels in humankind's curious fascination with things that go bump in the night.

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) 284-8224 or tperry@dmreg.com

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 heard.”


Thirteen steps lead into the Pleasant Ridge cemetery near Palo during bewitching hours, legend has it, butonly a dozen can be counted before the sun goes down.

THURSDAY: Haunted Iowa
Chad Lewis, author of "The Iowa Road Guide to Haunted Locations," takes the audience on a ghostly journey of some of the most haunted places in the state. Lewis will present his stories with photos, case histories, eyewitness accounts, ghost lore and directions on finding the locations for your own ghost story. Hear about the "Banshee of Brady Street" in Davenport and the "Millville Poltergeist." Are they real or imagination? Following the presentation, guests may take flashlight tours of the Historical Museum. Concessions will be available.

WHEN: 7 p.m.


SCARE FACTOR: Appropriate for ages 8 and older.



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