Plenty of spirits in surrounding area

Becky Dietzler is pictured in a second-floor room at Turkey River Mall that may be occasionally inhabited by spirits.

The old hotel that now houses Turkey River Mall was empty for several years before Tim and Becky Dietzler bought it in 2004. A thin film of dust had settled on flat surfaces of the Elkader landmark, and former guest rooms had acquired a musty, stale odor. That’s exactly what Tim and Becky expected from a building long shuttered and unused. What they didn’t expect was something they discovered in a second-floor guest room--something that continues to this day.

“From the first, this room had an overpowering smell of cigar smoke and perfume,” said Becky, standing in a room now filled with collectibles offered by one of her nearly 100 vendors. “Now it’s hit and miss: some days you can’t smell anything and some days it’s there again.”

Everyone seems to know of at least one truly haunted place where spirits aren’t confined to the one day of the year spent celebrating them. In Northeast Iowa, they wander through and around several places. Some are dark reminders of evil deeds perpetuated near the haunted area while others, like the ghosts at Turkey River Mall, are silent, friendly visitors.

“We’re not sure but we might have a ghost couple,” Becky said. “On three occasions at exactly 4:50, I’ve seen a woman dressed in ‘40s-style clothing walk in the front door and up the stairs, but I’ve never seen her leave. We also had a customer say she saw a dapperly attired gentleman accompanied by a lady in Victorian clothing going up the stairs to the third floor.”

On a regular basis, someone—or something—turns out lights ahead of Tim as he closes the store down for the night. The couple frequently hear footsteps overhead when they know the building is empty and once, a mirror was moved from the wall above a dresser to the floor in front of it. During the renovation process, tools were often shifted from one place to another. Several customers have also commented on “experiencing things” of a paranormal nature as they wander through the cavernous shop. One shopper heard a voice faintly calling out the name “Virginia.” 

Though Becky and Tim have heard rumors of a suicide in the hotel many years ago, they haven’t been able to prove it. Though generally silent, their ghosts are sometimes mischievous. They are never scary or malicious.

There also appears to be a benevolent ghost at the historic Franklin Hotel in Strawberry Point. The elegant, Victorian-style structure, now owned by Doug and Kris Schmidt, is allegedly home to a 1920s spirit thought to have been a “working girl.” According to hotelier Schmidt, “one evening a couple came into the hotel and immediately sensed a presence. They both agreed that the ‘presence’ seemed upset that a mirror that had once been one of her favorite fixtures had been moved.”

Other hotel guests have heard inexplicable noises and even Schmidt, who claims not to believe in ghosts, “once saw a figure wearing a long lavender gown walking from the lobby to the dining room.”

“The Iowa Road Guide to Haunted Locations” by Chad Lewis and Terry Fisk lists two local places believed to be inhabited by spirits. 

At Lover’s Leap in Elkader, people have reported seeing an apparition of a beautiful young Indian woman standing at the edge of the cliff. It might be ghost of White Cloud, the daughter of an Indian chief who fell in love with a white settler. According to legend, warriors from her tribe, who disapproved of the relationship, ambushed the settler, beat him viciously and left him for dead. When White Cloud learned of the attack, she committed suicide by jumping off the cliff known today as Lover’s Leap. 

Another version of the story involves an Indian princess and a lead miner. The two were lovers and decided to leave the area with stolen lead. When their plot was revealed, they were attacked and beaten unconscious. When the young woman regained consciousness, she assumed her lover was dead and threw herself off the cliff. When he came to and saw her dead body, her lover also killed himself by jumping off the same cliff.

Mossy Glen near Strawberry Point reportedly has more ghosts per square acre than anywhere in Iowa, according to Lewis and Fisk. At least six spirits are believed to haunt the trails. They include a man who took his own life by plunging into a muddy sinkhole, a traveling peddler who was robbed and murdered by area residents in the 1850s; an attorney’s widow who died under suspicious circumstances; the attorney himself, who one day rode into the glen and was never heard from again; and a broken-hearted young woman named Lucinda, who left a single rose on the path near a cliff before leaping to her death. All of these incidents reportedly occurred in the mid-19th century.

The ghost of a 1936 murder victim, Daniel Shine, is also said to haunt the area. He was the victim of a vicious family plot to kill him and take ownership of his 80-acre farm.

A local woman, Minnie Hines, plotted with her common-law husband, Jim Hines, to get Dan to marry Jim’s niece, Pearl Shine. Pearl was a red-haired orphan, who was married and divorced twice before the age of 30.

The plot hatched by Minnie and Jim worked; Pearl and Dan were married. Five days after their wedding, Pearl convinced Dan to transfer the deed to the farm to her. The day after she filed the transfer, Jim and another man ambushed Dan, beat him unconscious and stuffed his body in a  closet. He was later shot, though the conspirators made the shooting look like suicide.

Eventually, all of the persons involved in the crime were tracked down, tried and convicted. Dan’s ghost is believed to wander the Mossy Glen, which is located near his family farm.

By Pam Reinig, Register Editor


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