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Ham House


2241 Lincoln Street,
Dubuque, Iowa 52001.


Matthias Ham chose to build his home on a "wind-wracked" bluff above the Mississippi River, which was located in the northern part of the city of Dubuque, Iowa. Since 1964, The Matthias Ham House, has been a museum, run by the Dubuque County Riverboat Historical Society. Tours are given to the public. Tom and I enjoyed the tour of the basement and first floor, and grounds!



In 1837, Ham built a small, two story, five room block home for his family of then 5 children and his wife. After his first wife died, in 1856, he made a grand addition of 3 more floors, made of limestone, and created a magnificent mansion of 23 rooms, beautifully decorated in the Antebellum, Victorian and Gothic style. On the top floor, there is a staircase that leads up into a tall cupola, that covers the whole top of the mansion, and has a glorious view of the Mississippi River. This mansion was decorated inside with plaster rosettes and moldings, 14 foot ceilings, intricate window casings, and burnished, walnut staircases. High quality furnishings could be found throughout the mansion. Mr. Ham thought of everything. When he married his second wife, who gave him two more children, there was plenty of room for his large family, who lived in style in the grandest mansion in town. In fact, the mansion was the pride of Dubuque, and it was a great honor to be invited to come there.



Matthias Ham was a high energy personality, who made his fortune from his successful businesses in lead mining, lumber, agriculture and shipping fleet, which sent his products up and down the Mississippi River. From the cupola of his mansion, where he could see clearly what was happening on the river, he liked to watch his ships. One time, he was able to alert the authorities about the pirates harassing the ships on the river, and the pirates were captured. Knowing that Ham was responsible for their arrest, they vowed to one day come back and get their revenge.

Though Matthias Ham made a fortune from his various enterprises, he made the mistake of putting most of his money into real estate, betting that the town of Dubuque would develop on the land just north of where the city actually was established, leaving his bank accounts very empty indeed when he died, leaving his widow just the mansion to live in. Mrs. Ham made lemonade out of lemons, and pulled through financially by renting out rooms in the spacious mansion.

By the 1890s all of the family had died off, except Ham's daughter, Sara, who lived alone in the big mansion. One evening, while she was reading in her third floor bedroom, she heard someone prowling around downstairs, but whoever it was went away, as she was very quiet, and didn't make a sound. The next day she told her neighbors about her unwelcome visitor, and told them she would put a lamp in her window if she needed help. That evening, again while reading in her bedroom, she heard someone moving around the first floor. She received no answer after calling out in her hallway in a loud voice, "Who's there?" She quickly locked her door, put her lamp in the window, readied her gun, and waited . She heard heavy footsteps quickly cross the front hall, as if this intruder now knew where she was. The heavy footsteps aggressively climbed the long staircase to her third floor hallway, and stopped right outside her bedroom door. Sarah kept her fear under control, and shot her gun twice through the door. Neighbors who saw her signal came quickly to help her. They followed a blood trail that started from outside her bedroom door and led them down to the river, where they found the then dead pirate captain.



It is thought that at least 2 ghosts haunt the mansion.

* At night, for many years, mysterious lights have been seen, moving throughout the mansion's dark hallways and staircases. Some speculate that it is the ghost of the pirate still trying to find Sarah in order to get revenge, as he was killed by Sarah before he could carry out his planned, dastardly deed. As he wasn't a very nice person in real life, the ghost is restless, perhaps because he has unfinished business with the Ham family.

* It could also be Mr. Ham, keeping an eye on his mansion, a home that he loved while alive, a place where he had many happy memories. Sometimes entities have a hard time letting go of earthly havens. He could also still be upset that he lost all his money by buying real estate in the wrong place for his time. Today, the land he bought is now filled with upscale homes. Mr. Ham was simply ahead of his time!

Employees of the Dubuque County Historical Society have had the following experiences.

* Many parts of the mansion make the living feel "ill at ease". On the third floor, unexplained icy winds, and strange chills have enveloped many people in this area. The atmosphere is uncomfortable. (It is theorized that the pirate captain haunts the stairs and the third floor where he met his end.)

* While standing near the stairway to the tower, unexplained, odd noises can be heard coming from other parts of the mansion. ( A man is said to have hung himself in the tower, in the early 1900s.)

* One summer night at closing time, the assistant curator was unscrewing the light fuse, in order to turn off the lights in the front rooms. As she was unscrewing the fuse, she was startled by hearing the loud sound of a pump organ. When she quickly screwed the fuse back in, the loud sound stopped. Some unseen presence wanted the lights on that evening. The mansion's pump organ isn't working, and is closed up.

* The head curator, Ms. Griesinger, got a call from the police, that a light had been left on in an older section of the mansion. After arriving at the mansion, she went down the pitch black hallway to the fuse box, with the idea of screwing in the light fuse, so she could see her way to the area where the light was on. In the pitch black hallway, she became aware of, then felt a strong unseen presence, that followed her around, like an unseen escort, as she went about the task at hand. Feeling unnerved, "ill at ease," she did what she had to do as quickly as possible. Was this Matthias Ham himself supervising this employee's efforts in his house?

* One night, in 1978, a tour guide by the name of John, spent the night at the mansion. He immediately felt a strong presence in the house as well. John wasn't the kind to be easily scared, so he stayed where he was supposed to be.

About 3:00 am, the unseen entities made their presence known to their young guest, John. He awoke to hear women's voices in the yard outside his window. When he went outside to investigate, there was no one living there.

Inside the mansion, he heard distinct footsteps on the second floor of the original part of the mansion. Again, no one visible was there.

He heard soft, shuffling noises in the basement, as if someone was leaving or entering through a tunnel. ( There is a tunnel about twenty feet beyond the basement wall, that collapsed many years ago.)

* A spring-locked window in an upper hall has occasionally been found open in the morning by museum personnel after being spring-locked the night before. Some entity likes fresh air once in a while, despite the living's wishes to have a secure museum. In this same upper hallway, a well-repaired light only works part of the time, much to the puzzlement of the electrician.


Still Haunted?


While no psychic research has been done, the evidence suggests that perhaps a variety of ghosts inhabit Ham House, adding to the brooding atmosphere of this grand mansion. Current suspected entities are the pirate captain, Matthias Ham, perhaps members of his family, and/or the man who committed suicide.