The summer air outside the Farm House was heavy. Gnats and mosquitoes flew around bushes outside of the ISU museum as the American flag on the porch hung still from the lack of breeze. The sun sweltered as it hauntingly cast shadows against the grey stucco structure and finally set in the distance. As the darkness set in, so did a slight wind. Peering from the window into blackness, Allison Juull prepared to close the museum as she routinely went around closing all the doors, locking everything up and setting the alarm.
Numerous stories have surfaced of museum tourists who have felt odd feelings upon entering the house. The first dean of agriculture and long-time resident of the Farm House, Charles Curtiss and his daughter, Edith, occupied the house for many years. Reports of the museum’s past curators have said the curtains to Edith Curtiss’ room, even if pinned shut, will be open the morning they return to open the house, the pin sitting underneath the window refastened. Lights are said to flicker on and off and furniture to apparently move by itself.
Unable to tie down the silverware so it wouldn’t walk out or set the table, Juull had been giving tours of the house to the public for several hours that day. After fixing the disarray on the table, she walked out and away from the house down the path of red bricks. As soon as she unlocked the museum door and walked inside the next morning, Juull saw that the silverware on the dining room table was askew.
Unfazed, she straightened up and went about her daily schedule and closed that night as usual. Walking into the house the following morning, the silverware was different again. It looked as though someone had been having dinner and forgot to clean up. Searching the house, including the basement, Juull found nothing that would make sense of it all. Perhaps upstairs, a clothespin sat, refastened, underneath the window as a presence far too familiar waited for her to see the curtains drawn back once more.
Paranormal activity isn’t limited to what is seen in the theaters. In fact, people throughout Iowa have reported sightings of ghosts or paranormal activity in their homes, schools and work places. Uncertain and paranoid about these occurrences, people often look to experts to help them understand the unexplainable.
Dan Berger, founder of the Iowa Paranormal Activity Research Team, or IPART, is a ghost hunter. Having researched paranormal activity around the Drake University campus and several museums around the state, he offers his services free of charge with donations accepted. Through presentations to the public, Berger and his team of ghost hunters help explain to people that there is very little to fear about what they are experiencing. Although some of these ghosts may be harmless, he won’t rule out those who want more than just a chat and a cup of tea.
“There is evil out there, and even though it is very rare to see, it can and will cause problems in people’s lives,” Berger said.
Interested in why ghosts are present, many people look to Berger and his team to help answer their questions.
“Well, assuming there is such a thing, it could be they do not know they are dead,” Berger said. “They may have some unfinished business or they are just plain pissed and don’t want to cross over. However, I have seen, heard and felt many things that I cannot explain by normal scientific methods and are, in the true sense of the word, ‘paranormal.’ Do I think there is something real out there? Oh, yeah. Too many things are happening to say it is a simple case of worldwide mass hysteria.”
Rummaging through files in the Special Collections Department of the Parks Library, one can find a small number of stories written about seeing or hearing ghosts or experiencing paranormal activity around campus. Some are very well known, while others are new to many people. Whether the ghosts of Fredrica Shattuck in Fisher Theater, C.Y. Stephens in his own auditorium, or the faint moans in the Memorial Union of the only woman to graduate from Iowa State who died in the first World War, all of these are pure urban legends and myths passed down from generation to generation.
By looking further into the contents of the hard stock of the green folder, one will find that Barton and Freeman Halls are also said to have been haunted by the people they’re named after: Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, and Alice Freeman. Both are said to be “nice ghosts,” though.
Finally, Friley Hall is said to have been haunted by “Mr. Big,” a top-hat wearing man who got lost in the residence hall and simply disappeared one evening. However, Mr. Big is said to still haunt the long hallways of Friley, interacting through Ouija boards and cold breezes.
Although the overall consensus about paranormal activity and ghosts isn’t very positive, ghost hunters, such as Berger, believe there is something out there to be discovered and researched.
“Everybody has an opinion on what this all is and why it happens,” Berger said. “How do you prove it either way? You cannot. Could be paranormal events are just a by-product of being observed. Maybe it is the normal thing after death. Until someone dies and comes back to tell us about it, everything we do and talk about is just a theory. It’s just part of human nature to be afraid of what we do not understand. It is our fear that does the actual damage.”
Each year since the early 2000s, visitors have been able to face their fears and meet some of the resident campus ghosts at the “Haunted Iowa State” tour.
The event began as a tour of the cemetery hosted by University Museums. Every year around Halloween, maps are given to students and others who attend the tour, starting at the Campanile and, hopefully, ending up safely back in their beds that night. A three-hour scare-fest, “Haunted Iowa State” took place Wednesday evening tourists experiencing eight “haunted” locations at their leisure, said Amanda Hall, interpretive specialist for University Museums. Hall explained how the tour has grown in popularity since she became a part of it as a student.
“The first year we had around 60, and last year we topped 700,” Hall said of the number of people who attended the tour. “I was a student employee before beginning full-time employment in 2005, so I have been at the museums for all of our ‘Haunted Iowa State’ events. It’s hard work putting everything together since our staff is small, but we have great student employees that really take this project and run with it. They do a really great job each year getting volunteers, decorating, coordinating with campus, reaching our audience with publicity and finding costumes for our ‘ghosts.’ My job gets easier every year. I have always loved local ghost stories, and this gives me an opportunity to share these stories by reaching an audience in a different way, giving a very different sort of history lesson, and hopefully scaring a few participants as well.”
Places said to be haunted on the ISU campus:
Site 1: Stephens Auditorium — haunted by C.Y. Stephens
In the dark basement of Stephens Auditorium, C.Y. Stephens makes himself known by cold drafts and the sounds of faint footsteps in the distance. Sometimes he can be found in the back right corner of the third balcony, watching a performance. Many performers believe this to be a sign of good luck.
Site 2: Memorial Union — haunted by the only woman to graduate from Iowa State and die during World War I.
Her ghost produces a low, eerie moan that can constantly be heard. Maintenance personnel can’t explain the phenomena and believe it is a spirit trying to communicate.
Site 3: Friley Hall — haunted by Mr. Big
One dark night at approximately 1 a.m., Friley security guards were doing rounds in food service. While checking all the locks, the guards were surprised to find a well-dressed man standing more than 6 feet tall, wearing a cape and a top hat and standing at the end of the hallway. “Hey, you there! Stop!” shouted the guards.
The mysterious man began to run as the guards closely followed. As they approached the end of the corridor, the guards looked to find the man at the other side of the hallway, where they had originally been. The guards never saw him pass them in the small hallway. After calling him for several hours and searching the grounds, the man was nowhere to be found.
Later that night, the guards, exhausted looking for him yet finding no trace, began to lose hope. That was until one of the guards shined his flashlight into a hole in a brick wall that sealed off an old incinerator room. No way in or out.
As the flashlight shone against the back wall, the guards noticed something against the wall. Six feet off the ground was the chalk outline of a man’s head, complete with top hat. Next to the outline, written in the stone, were the words: “I am Big.”
Site 4: Linden Hall — haunted by a football ghost
This apparition can sometimes be found the night before a home football game, decked out in a football player’s pads and uniform.
Site 5: Fisher Theater — haunted by Frederica Shattack
Frederica was a disabled woman who started the drama productions at Iowa State. One night in 1978, her wheelchair, which she donated to the theater productions before her death, mysteriously moved across the stage while a group was practicing. Eyewitnesses said the chair seemed to stop in the middle of the stage, as if to deliver a monologue. None of the personnel felt threatened by the presence. They believed she wanted to let everyone know that she’s happy that others are continuing her life work.
Site 6: Iowa State University Cemetery
Countless students, staff and faculty have reported strange happenings at this place, located directly north of Towne Engineering.
— Daily Correspondent Mark Runkel