Jun 6, 2018

The Gay Ghosts of Southern Iowa

Taking Interstate 80 through central Iowa is a straight shot of 300 miles from Rock Island to Omaha, five hours on an unbroken line of bright, glittering modern freeway passing through green rolling hills, with the occasional farmhouse or water tower of a distant town.  The stops are all familiar and homey:  West Branch (home of President Hoover); the Amana Colonies; Iowa City; Des Moines; Council Bluffs.

But if for some reason  you have business in southern Iowa, in Ottumwa or Osceola, you have to go south to Burlington and then take State Route 34 through some of the country's scariest cities.

1. On the way south to Burlington (80 miles south of Rock Island), you pass Stony Road Hollow, just north of town, where a police officer was killed and decapitated while making a traffic stop in the 1950s.  The murderer was never found.  He is still driving around, looking for head...I mean, looking for his missing head. 

2. Mount Pleasant (30 miles west) has no mountains (this is Iowa). But it does have Iowa Wesleyan College, high school wrestlers, and Giblin Bridge, which sounds a lot like "goblin."  It's a favored place in town for suicides.  People crossing the bridge report an inexplicable urge to throw themselves into the dark waters of the Skunk River.  Maybe there are goblins.

3. Fairfield (23 miles west), the site of Maharishi School of Management, formerly Maharishi University, run by the "drugged out cult" (according to my parents), Transcendental Meditation.  In the 1970s everyone was terrified of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

4. Ottumwa (25 miles)  The home of Tom Arnold, Edna Ferber, and Radar O'Reilly.  The Hotel Ottumwa is haunted by a man in a business suit who asks "Have you seen Charlie?" or "Where's Charlie?"  But when you answer, he vanishes.

I'm guessing that Charlie is a long-lost boyfriend.

Interesting Ottumwa High School wrestlers, but I'm not sure what we're supposed to be thinking.  Nice butt?

5. I've never gone past Ottumwa, but I understand that if you keep going, you hit Osceola (70 miles).  At Osceola High School, a boy died during a hazing incident, and still appears in the bathroom mirrors.  himself in the bathroom. 

Hazing? Maybe a long-ago homophobic hate crime.

6. Villisca (70 miles), where a family of four plus two overnight guests were murdered in 1912, is doing everything it can to capitalize on the tragedy.  The sign "Ax Murder House" is almost as big as the house itself (508 2nd Street).  Tours are $10 per person, and include a photograph of yourself carrying an ax. 

You can also stay overnight ($428 for up to 6 people; reservations fill up fast, so book early).

Sometimes the overnight visits have to be cut short when the guests run out of the house screaming.

7. Malvern (40 miles) is the site of Malvern Manor, a home for the disabled, insane, and others, doubtless a lot of LGBT people institutionalized under the old "psychopath" laws.  It's so haunted that it doesn't allow overnights; tours are held only during the daytime.

There's also a recreational haunted house in Malvern, the Gateway of Chaos.

And a prep school.

Next stop, Omaha.

1 comment:

  1. 3 To be fair, TM evolved into Aum Shinrikyo, so maybe we should be afraid?

    6 You know how it is: Tourism = tragedy * time.


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