Historical Society of Pottawttamie County, Iowa

Historical Society tour guides routinely tell visitors nobody has called the Squirrel Cage Jail home since 1969. Some folks may disagree with that wording: "no BODY" may call it home, but as for spirits, that's a different matter.

The feelings of goings on at the jail that are other than mortal dates back to well before the 1885 structure's use as a museum. Bill Foster, who worked as the jailer in 1950's, opted not to use the fourth floor as his apartment, "because of the strange goings-on up there." He reported hearing people walking around on a floor that had nobody on it, a sensation sufficiently concerning to motivate him to bunk on the second level prisoner floor instead.

The spirit may actually date back to the jail's origin. A former jail tour guide claimed she believed the ghost to be that of J.M. Carter, the man who oversaw the building's construction. Mr. Carter was the first resident of the top floor apartment and, according to her theory, has never left, continuing to watch over the one-of-a-kind building to this day.

There have also been reports of a full body apparition on the fourth floor identified as Otto Gufath, also a former jailer. Museum staff add whatever spirit is present, it is friendly; despite an occasional door that opens by itself, strange lights, or peculiar noises, no one has ever felt frightened or in any danger.

There has been some evidence of a female spirit as well. A few years ago a woman working on a project in the building after hours had been experiencing peculiar sensations. She walked through the building and was shocked to see a little girl with a very mournful expression dressed entirely in gray... inside a cell whose bars were locked with no way in or out. Occasionally, visitors have reported feeling that something was tugging at them, reported a great feeling of sadness in some of the cells, or simply felt that there was a presence there beyond those visible.

The feelings or being watched of followed have been most frequently noted on the third and fourth floors though the voice of a little girl has been picked up in various places throughout the building, as has the presence of two ghost cats.

In most literature ghosts are associated with grizzly or at least multiple deaths. In its long history only four deaths are known to have occurred in the Squirrel Cage Jail. One prisoner died of a heart attack, one in a three-story fall when trying to carve his name on the ceiling, and one prisoner hanged himself in his cell. The fourth death followed an accident in which an officer shot himself in the confusion of fortifying the facility from an angry mob threatening to storm the jail during the Farmer's Holiday Strike of 1932.

If the deaths aren’t enough to justify a haunting, some point to the fact that the building is on the site of the old St. Paul's Episcopal Church morgue. Additionally, though actual prisoner deaths were few, the cold, damp, dark, tiny pie-shaped cells were likely a very depressing place to spend time. That in itself may be worthy of a ghost or two.

But all of this is speculation. Is there any science to support any paranormal activity within our jail?  Dozens of paranormal teams from all over the United States conduct investigations at the jail every year, and the evidence that something beyond the ordinary is going on continues to mount.  

Click here to listen hear paranormal investigators answer questions about the jail and its ghosts.

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