The rotary-style Jail was built in 1885 and was in continuous use until 1969. It was acquired by the Council Bluffs Park Board in 1971 for preservation, and was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 by the United States Government. The Historical Society led an effort in 1977 to save the jail, and today owns and operates the facility. (Historical Society of Pottawattamie County – Squirrel Cage Jail: Background).
The feelings of goings on at the jail that are other than mortal dates back to well before the 123-year-old 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.
In most literature ghosts are associated with grizzly or at least multiple deaths. In its 123 years 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? (Historical Society of Pottawattamie County – The HAUNTED Squirrel Cage Jail).
This historic information was provided by the Historical Society of Pottawattamie County. They can be found online at http://thehistoricalsociety.org/jail paranormal.html
Investigators: John, Nan, Patti, Mark, Greta
Note this was a daytime investigation in a museum that is open to the public. There were other people talking and walking through some areas while we were there.
We started our investigation after a short tour by Ed the tour guide. John, Greta and Mark started in the youth section while Nan and Patti started in the main section of the jail. Mark took a seat in the youth section of the jail in a cell as Greta went to the shower section. Greta had stated she was hearing voices next to her as John was telling the prisoners that he was the new Warden and things were going to change now and be tougher for them. (the Oilus and the K-II meters were very active at these times.)
Afterwards, John joined Patti and Nan in the main section of the Jail and felt a very heavy feeling while provoking a few of the prisoners. One of the most notable Inmates “Jake Bird” was convicted of killing 44 people with an ax and was sentenced to death by hanging (it took 14 minutes to pronounce him dead).
John believed he encountered the spirit of Jake Bird who actually latched onto John until he returned home to Michigan and was smudged by Rebecca and Chass, cleansing his home and himself from the spirit of the inmate.
For over 1 month John experienced massive migraine headaches and feelings of rage and anger after leaving the Jail.
While at the jail, John entered solitary confinement and noticed that there was a strong feeling of a black man whose spirit still resides in the jail. The solitary confinement area was set up to hold 1 prisoner at a time (standing up with their back against the wall while both shoulders would be touching each wall and the cell door would have touched their chest).
John believes that’s where Jake Bird actually latched onto him in the Jail.
John’s thoughts: You could feel the spirits still lingering even after so many years. There are many souls that still cannot find peace even in death at this location. This was a true highlight of the MCGH experience in Iowa.
Video Evidence obtained during Paranormal Investigation
Motor City Ghost Hunters visited the Squirrel Cage Jail during a short side trip on June 11, 2011. Because it was open to the public, it was more of a visit than an investigation. But we did have some experiences & evidence worth sharing. Here is a short (about 3 min) tour of the jail. There’s no evidence in the video… it’s just a fun overview.
In the video to the right, John and Greta are in the jail. Greta is about to knock her knuckle on the wall, but “someone” knocks first. See her reaction.
While you can hear voices in the distance, the whispered “no” is clearly close to the camera.