HAUNTED PLACE: Historic Pottawattamie County Squirrel Cage Jail
226 Pearl Street, Council Bluffs, Iowa 51503.
Pottawattamie County Squirrel Cage Jail is now being preserved as a museum, and is open for tours:
(I-80, exit 3, north on South Expressway towards downtown Council Bluffs).
Pottawattamie County Squirrel Cage Jail can be found in the downtown area of Council Bluffs, on Pearl Street, which is a one way street, running south. It is near the corner of Pearl and Willow Avenue. The Squirrel Cage Jail is just south of Willow Avenue and north of 5th Avenue, and sits on a small park, located just right of the modern Council Bluffs police station and jail complex.
DESCRIPTION AND HISTORY:
This 1885 Victorian sturdy brick building is a three story, revolving "human rotary or lazy Susan" jail, one of three revolving jails left in the United States. Known as squirrel cages, the 30 cells were like pieces of pie in a circular jail structure. Each floor of this kind of jail had one door for each floor. A hand crank on each floor would turn the ten cells until the one in question would line up with the door on its respective floor. Today, the cells no longer rotate. It would cost $10,000.00 to get in working order again. Many cells haven't been turned for around 30 plus years!
After the morgue for the Episcopalian Church was torn down on this parcel of land to make room for the jail, the first superintendent, J. M. Carter, oversaw the building of this jail, and spent the longest time working as jailer in charge than any other superintendent. The jail was occupied by guests of the county continuously from 1884 until 1969, for 85 years! The superintendent and his family lived in the apartment which was located on the fourth floor, allowing J.M. Carter and other superintendents who followed, to live at their workplace, which was the custom in the 19th, early 20th century.
In its early days, the hardened criminals and killers waiting execution were locked up here, according to the free info card one can get from their outside box when they are closed. The last two men hung in Iowa spent their last hours in this facility. The chore of holding "dead men walking/hardened, violent criminals was later passed onto full blown prisons. This jail probably became the holding cells for defendants awaiting trial at the Criminal Court building and a place to put men and women who were serving county time for various less serious offenses than first degree murder.
An older man was sitting on the bench, in the grass which was right in front of the Squirrel Cage Jail, when Tom and I visited, he told me, with a rueful grin that he had spent some time in "The Squirrel Cage" when he was a young man, caught doing stupid stuff.
After it closed for good in 1969, it was bought in 1971 by the Council Bluffs Park Board for preservation, who did all the right things in a timely manner to ensure that this building would be protected and saved from the fate of many older buildings in the 1970s and '80s; having a date with the wrecking ball. First thing they did was to work on getting this building on the list of National Register of Historic Places, which happened in 1972, making it really hard to tear the building down.
Another problem remained though. Having cost $30,000 dollars to build in 1884-'85, the price tag must have been way too big for the Council Bluffs Park Board's budget to restore this historic jail. They sought help from the professionals who know how to raise money for such a cause.
In 1977, The Historical Society of Pottawattamie County raised the funds needed to save and renovate the building for future generations. Historical Society of Pottawattamie County in 1979, bought this gorgeous building and turned it into a museum, and have been in charge ever since.
HISTORY OF MANIFESTATIONS:
Jails and prisons are notoriously known to be haunted. Because of the stress of captivity in small, depressing, uncomfortable cells, and as a result of the suffering, drama, and death which sometimes happens in such an unpleasant place of confinement, prisoners have been unable to let go of their captivity and hang around their jail in their after-life: (Alcatraz * The Crown Point Sheriff's House and Jail Building * Burlington County Historic Prison Museum * Ohio State Reformatory * Allegan Jail * Idaho State Penitentiary)
Four People died here: 3 guests of the county jail system and a police officer.
One inmate died of a heart attack. One inmate committed suicide by hanging himself/herself in his/her cell. One death was caused by a dumb prisoner stunt. He died after falling from the third level of the jail cage, when he was trying to write his name on the ceiling.
During a farmer's strike in 1932, 84 people were arrested. The police became heavily armed with machine guns, to assure there would be no forced jail breaks from the angry crowd. No officers were killed by the crowds, but one died in a stupid accident, when he accidentally shot himself with a gun.
Sometimes people in charge of a jail or hotel, airplane or other structure are heavily invested in their work, and have a tough time letting go when their time on earth has ended, and stick around to help the living do things right! Examples: (Allegan Jail * Bullock Hotel * Dayton United States Air Force Museum * J. B. Speed Art Museum)
Entity of a female spirit: (This could've been a woman who wanted to be seen as a little girl, or an actual little girl who did something horrendous in the 1900s!)
A woman working on a project in the building was startled to see an entity of a sad little girl, dressed in gray, sitting in one of the cells, with unavailable access to the living.
Visitors have felt an unseen presence tugging on their clothes, like a child would do.
Feelings of depression and sadness radiate from the various cells.
There are two candidates for what supervisor is haunting the jail, though it seems that both are in residence! The paranormal activity which happens outside the cell areas, in the hallways, especially in the fourth floor apartment, is thought to be caused by either or both of these restless entities.
In the late 1950s, when Bill Foster became the new superintendent, he experienced enough paranormal activity to realize that the former occupants in the fourth floor apartment were still existing there, despite being dead! He chose to bunk on the second floor instead!
1) The entity of the first superintendent, J.M. Carter is thought to some as being the restless, intense spirit who never gave up his position, and hung around checking up on jailers and prisoners a like over the years that this building was a jail.
2) The spirit of Otto Gudath: He was a superintendent at the Squirrel Cage Jail from 1949 to 1958.
A full body apparition of Otto was seen by witnesses on the fourth floor. He may also keep an eye on the living.
These two entities have perhaps teamed up in their after-life retirement years!
Though deemed to be friendly and cordial, these presences are still supervising the museum staff, perhaps looking over the shoulders of the staff to see their progress in their activities in running the museum.
Needless to say, they follow the living around the third and fourth floor. keeping a close eye on visitors.
Doors have opened and closed by themselves, as they go about their business.
Paranormal Activity witnessed in the fourth floor apartment.
A picture of a male apparition, taken by a PRISM investigator, was caught on film from outside a window on the fourth floor, where the superintendent lived.
The walking of an unseen presence in the fourth floor apartment has been heard by the living.
Odd light balls have been noticed there as well.
Cabinet doors have opened by themselves.
Yes Indeed! PRISM AND CAPT paranormal investigation groups found that they suspected that the Squirrel Cage Jail was haunted.
PRISM conducted an initial daytime investigation on June 8, 2005. Overnight Investigation: July 1, 2005
They were able to record some scientific evidence which suggests that although The Squirrel Cage Jail closed its doors long ago, some inmates and jailers are still there, unable to let go.
Most evidence gathered by Paranormal Research and Investigative Studies Midwest (PRISM) investigators was gathered on the third and fourth floors. There may be a whole group of entities still staying in the building.
Auditory evidence: EVPs have been recorded.
Great sadness was felt by psychics inside the cages.
About 25-30 orbs were caught on film inside the cell area by PRISM paranormal investigators. These orbs corresponded to electromagnetic spikes on special meters, and also to abnormal temperature fluctuations on infrared thermometers
Two investigators felt tugs on their clothes by unseen hands.
Carroll Area Paranormal Team (CAPT) did a preliminary investigation of The Squirrel Cage Jail in 2008, and came to the conclusion that there is enough evidence to suggest that this building is haunted. They are planning a more in depth investigation of The Squirrel Cage Jail.
Interestingly they also found, unexplained light, and unusual sounds in the infirmary.
Historic Pottawattamie County Squirrel Cage Jail handout.
thehistoricalsociety.org * doyouseedeadpeople.org
doyouseedeadpeople.org * CarrollAreaParanormalTeam.com
Haunted Places, The New Directory, by Dennis William Hauck, pg. 175, Penguin Books, 2002