Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Vengeful Pirate of Ham House

The mighty Mississippi River has been of major importance to the settlement of the Midwest by transporting food, goods, livestock and materials from Louisiana in the south to Minnesota in the north; thereby, playing a major role in the expansion of the American frontier. Fortunes where made using these major rivers, but many criminals also found ways to exploit these early settlements, which lacked proper protection of civil authorities and institutions. River pirates terrorized the two major rivers in the Midwest; the Mississippi and the Ohio. During the eighteenth and mid-nineteenth century river pirates, often robbed, captured or murdered river travelers to gain access to cargo, slaves and or livestock, to be later sold down river. Many river pirates where known to enter homes along rivers to steal food, weapons and valuables.
Mansions built along these rivers often incorporated a belvedere as a look out for marauding pirates. Home owners in smaller communities often needed to be armed to keep their family and valuables safe since these early establishments lacked proper law enforcement.
One legend from this dangerous time is of Ham House, a large stone mansion that sits on top of a bluff overlooking the turbulent waters of the Mississippi River in Northern Iowa. The mansion became the setting for love, loss, death, revenge, murder and where phantoms of the past refuse to remain as history. Built by one of the earliest settlers of the area, Mathias Ham used his fortune from lead mining, lumber, agriculture and his shipping fleet to build his house in 1856 for his wife Margaret and their six children. Ham became one of the most socially prominent families in Dubuque at the time. The house was designed by architect John F. Rague who also designed other well-known buildings in the Midwest from the original state capitol buildings in Springfield, Illinois to the old state capital building in Iowa City, Iowa.
Ham adored his three-story home and decorated it in the most opulent way; from plaster rosettes and moldings, to ornate walnut staircases. He furnished his home with Victorian furniture. Ham would often watch boat traffic move along the Mississippi river from the belvedere perched at the top of the house. However, one seemly normal day of river watching would change the course of his family and leave their souls to haunt the beloved home forever.
Ham spotted river pirates harassing his cargo ships. He quickly contacted the authorities and the pirates were arrested. The pirates knew Ham was reasonable for their capture and vowed to take revenge on him and his family.
That event seemed to be a turning point for the family. During the next few years, Mathias Ham began to lose his fortune in several bad real estate deals and from the financial crash of 1857. Mathias and Margaret died within a few years of each another. By the 1890’s, most of the family died off; leaving his last surviving daughter, Sarah, to inherit the house and what was left of the remaining fortune.  
Living alone in the empty mansion, Sarah began to have problems with prowlers late at night. Speaking to her neighbors about this, they suggested she put a light in her window to signal to them if she needed help. A few nights later, Sarah was reading in her bedroom on the third floor when she heard an intruder inside the house. Sarah locked her bedroom door, put the lit lantern in the window, and grabbed a gun. As Sarah waited in silence, straining to notice the slightest sound, she faintly began to hear footsteps slowly creeping up the staircase and moving slowly along the creaking floor. Footsteps shuffled in front of her bedroom door. Sarah nervously called out to ask who was there, silence. She raised her gun and shot twice at the door. Hearing the gunshots, the neighbors peered out toward Sarah’s house to see the lantern glowing in the window. They rushed over to the house and up the stairs to find her bedroom full of smoke, the scent of gunpowder hung heavy in the air and Sarah still holding the gun and upset from the event tried to explain what had happened. As they began to investigate what had happened, Sarah and her neighbors saw among the splinters of wood that lay scattered on the floor in front of the damaged bedroom door, a trail of blood was leading down the stairs, out the front door, towards to the banks of the Mississippi. At the end of the blood trail and  laying in the thick mud of the river's edge was the lifeless body of a river pirate, who had recently been released from prison and returned to seek his revenge on Ham.
As the years went on, Sarah found it more difficult to maintain her home financially and was forced to sell the mansion in 1912 to the city of Dubuque. Sarah died in 1921. The Dubuque County Historical Society converted the mansion into a museum in 1964.
Over the years, the mansion has developed a reputation for being haunted. Victors as well as employees at the museum have seen several phantoms throughout the house and have experienced several unsettling events that have been difficult to explain. The ghost of the vengeful pirate is said to haunt the main staircase and third floor where he is still trying to seek his revenge. From the belvedere, Mathias Ham can still be seen watching the boats move along river. Hushed sounds of footsteps, whispered voices, crying and faint screams have been heard throughout the house. Locked doors and windows have been found wide open for no reason. Doors will open and close by themselves. Lights flicker on and off and the nonfunctioning organ has been heard playing on its own at night prompting workers to leave the house as soon as possible when tour hours are over. Unusual cold spots have been felt. Objects have been known to vanish and later reappear in a different location. Ghost lights have been seen to drift throughout the house and have even been spotted floating outside at night. Many museum workers and visitors have had uncomfortable feelings of being watched.
As for the reason why the spirits of the dead choose to remain at certain places and not others are not fully known. Many investigators in the field of the paranormal often think when someone has a deep love for a place or has experienced a traumatic event that has led to their death, a spirit may remain earthbound; not realizing they have died or has unfinished business. Those spirits can’t pass over till they come to terms of its previous actions or their mortality. I find it ironic that the only true way to know how the spirit realm works is when we pass through the thin vail of death and into the spirit world, by then it’s often too late.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Illinois' Haunted Insane Asylum

Located west of Peoria in the small town of Bartonville, the Illinois Asylum for the Incurable Insane was originally built in 1897 in the style of a medieval castle, but was never used. Legend says the building was constructed on top of an abandoned coal mine that compromised the integrity of the building. The official explanation that was given was that having a castle like structure didn't fit the modern sensibilities of treating the "insane," and they wanted to use a cottage like design instead of having one large building. The building was demolished and rebuilt, and by 1902, the Asylum reopened and began treatment of the "incurably insane" under the direction of Dr. George Zeller.
Well respected, Dr. Zeller treated his patients using therapeutic methods for "curing the insane," instead of more experimental treatments that were popular at the time, like electro-shock therapy, lobotomies and hydro-shock therapy. He also used newspapers to educate the public about mental illness and offered training programs to nursing students. In the 1920s, Dr. Zeller published a book Befriending the Bereft, The Autobiography of George Zeller, which chronicled his daily experiences at the asylum, many of them strange and mysterious.
One such popular story took place in the asylum's nearby cemetery. Funerals were held for those whose bodies were never claimed by the family. The staff didn't know most of the patients, but out of respect, they would gather around as the coffin was lowered into a grave that was marked only by a numbered headstone. A gravedigger named Manuel A. Bookbinder often stood next to a large elm tree as the service took place. Sobbing and moaning loudly with his hat removed, Bookbinder attended every service and always displayed his mournful cries even though he never knew most of those who were being buried.
When Bookbinder finally passed, a service was held, and as his coffin was being lowered into his grave, sobbing and moaning was allegedly heard by the staff coming from the elm where he always stood. As they turned to see where the noise was coming from, they allegedly saw Bookbinder standing there, sobbing and moaning loudly as he always did. Shocked by the experience, many of the staff ran from the site; Dr. Zeller ordered his men to remove the lid of the coffin to see if it was empty, but when they did, Bookbinder's body was still in his coffin. When they turned back towards the elm, the figure reportedly vanished.
Within a few days, the elm tree that Bookbinder stood next to began to wither. Attempts were made to save the tree, but as it finally died, Dr. Zeller ordered the elm to be removed. As the ax man swung into the tree, sobbing and moaning could reportedly be heard. Unnerved by the experience, the ax man left and when another attempt was made to remove the tree, this time by fire. Once again, as a fire was started at the base of the tree, sobbing and moaning was reportedly heard. All attempts to remove the tree where halted from then on. 
By the 1950s the asylum reached its peak with a population of 2,800. Then, over the course twenty years, the asylum's population began to decline, and eventually closed its doors for good in 1972. Many of the thirty three buildings were abandoned, and most were demolished; only the hospital buildings remain, and attempts to renovate those structures has been difficult.
Paranormal investigators over the years have reported seeing apparitions, shadow people, disembodied voices and doors that open and close by themselves. It's uncertain who would haunt the building -- maybe the patients, the staff or even Bookbinder himself? Maybe the patients have never left because the time they stayed there were of good memories.
When I visited the asylum one humid summer day, I definitely felt intimidated by the size of the structure. Under a gloomy sky the gray imposing building stood out from the surrounding neighborhood, void of any trees; it felt like nature itself was keeping it distance. The black windows stared down on me as I walked around taking my pictures trying to gain my courage to get closer to the building, to maybe find a window low enough to see inside. Unfortunately, at the time I was unable to see inside, but I'm hopeful I will soon return and contact the owner to get a chance to explore the inside of such a historic and legendary building.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Two Sentence Chills

I woke up to hear knocking on glass. At first, I thought it was the window until I heard it come from the mirror again.
The last thing I saw was my alarm clock flashing 12:07 before she pushed her long rotting nails through my chest, her other hand muffling my screams. I sat bolt upright, relieved it was only a dream, but as I saw my alarm clock read 12:06, I heard my closet door creak open.

Growing up with cats and dogs, I got used to the sounds of scratching at my door while I slept. Now that I live alone, it is much more unsettling.

 In all of the time that I've lived alone in this house, I swear to God I've closed more doors than I've opened.

A girl heard her mom yell her name from downstairs, so she got up and started to head down. As she got to the stairs, her mom pulled her into her room and said "I heard that, too."

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Lovely Legend of St. Valentine


Under the rule of Claudius the Cruel, Rome was involved in many unpopular and bloody campaigns. The emperor had to maintain a strong army, but was having a difficult time getting soldiers to join his military leagues. Claudius believed that Roman men were unwilling to join the army because of their strong attachment to their wives and families.

To get rid of the problem, Claudius banned all marriages and engagements in Rome. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret.

When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. Valentine was arrested and dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be beaten to death with clubs and to have his head cut off. The sentence was carried out on February 14, on or about the year 270.

Legend also has it that while in jail, St. Valentine left a farewell note for the jailer's daughter, who had become his friend, and signed it "From Your Valentine."

The flower-crowned skull of St. Valentine is exhibited in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome where it remains to this day.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

My Favorite Halloween Movies

My standard movie watch list during The months of September and October.

1) House on Haunted Hill (1959)

2) Hell Night (1981)

3) Halloween (1978)

4) Sleepy Hollow (1999)

5) Black Sunday (1960)

6) Cat and the Canary (1927)

7) Young Frankenstein (1974)

8) American Werewolf in London (1981) 

9) Trick 'r Treat (2007)

10) The Haunting (1963)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Haunted Iowa: Part 3

The drive home today was much better then expected. The weather was cool and partly cloudy and traffic was fairly decent. During my ride home it gave me a chance to reflect over the past week. 

Yesterday I shot the last two locations for this small trip. Originally there was three but one didn't work out the way I hoped. Both where cemeteries and both where named Oak Hill Cemetery but in two different cities. Thankfully they weren't to far apart. 

During my shooting I realized the way I shoot is different from my days as a newspaper photographer. The way I shot  assignments was, I allowed the event to dictate how I photographed it. But with my project I have a general idea how it should look and I try to capture every angle I can that will fit that idea. With the way I photograph for my project I'm free to capture everything I feel and anything that catches my eye. It's a very free and relaxing way to do my job. 

By the afternoon most of my shooting was completed and this allowed me some down time to spend time with old friends and edit some photos. 

This trip has reinspired me and renewed my desire to shoot more often. I'm hoping in the next few months I plan on a few day trips to add more stories and photos to my archives. 

One piece of advice that has always stuck with me is if you want to make art they you must make the time for it. It's easy to say I want to write that novel but it won't get made till you stop making excuses and just sit down and do it.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Haunted Iowa Road Trip: Part 2

Today I traveled to Des Moines to shoot photos of the stunning Terrace Hall. This house is gorgeous! The Second Empire architecture defiantly gives it a presence and what many may consider a classic haunted house look. 

This house was my first stop but I was frustrated by the lack of clouds during that time of day and to may people moving around. After I got some images I went and shot my second house, looked through a large cemetery and then grabbed lunch. While looking for a place to eat I noticed the clouds began to move in so I decided  to return and shoot some more images. I'm glad I did because the images where much better and no people around.

The hardest part about doing this project is figuring out what the best time is to shoot these places. During season of operation or off season, morning or afternoon, spring, summer or fall. It can be very frustrating when you look forward  to shooting a place and to learn that it's under construction when you get there.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Haunted Iowa: Part 1

"Is the Heaven?" "No it's Iowa" what a thrill to be on the road again and shooting. It's been a long day and I just stopped for the first meal of the day. I have another two hour drive ahead of me to the hotel. 

I've been taking the back roads and have see some wonderful country. Iowa is hiller in the north east then was expecting. 

He are some images I've taken so far along my trip. These images are more work prints or experimental at best. When I get home and have time to edit I will post each place I've visited accompanied with the story. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

It’s wonderful to know in a few days I will be on my way to let my dark side run rampant and photograph some more haunted places. The state I chose was Iowa. It has some wonderful mansions and cemeteries and I’m also looking forward to catching up with some friends while I’m down there. I will be spending four days traveling to as many different locations as I can. The weather should be in my favor with high 70s-low 80s. Maybe a storm or two!

This will be the first major trip I’ve taken for this project in a few years. I’m looking forward to visiting these places with a renewed sense love and determination. Allowing very little distractions and leaving the stress behind me I want to concentrate on my subjects with the camera and allow myself to be immersed in the atmosphere of the place. Taking in the sights, sounds, feel and smell of each place.

During my journey which begins this Wednesday (July 24th) I will blog as often as I can posting photos and and info as I go. Thanks for the visit.

To be continued…

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Conquering Cancer and Life’s other Snares

Cameras Web
Needless to say the past two years have been a personal Hell for me. Last year I went through a divorce which left me depressed, near homeless, I lost a ton of weight, I lost my day job, I had to adjust to life as a single dad and I had a few financial issues as well. At the beginning of this year I was sick for about two months with a stubborn sinus infection and daily migraines. During treatment for that they discovered I have Kidney cancer and I went in for surgery for that about a month ago. After a seven hour surgery they got all the cancer and I’ve healed nicely and I’m ready to do what I love to do most which is explore.
At the end of this month I plan exploring some haunted mansions and cemeteries. This trip is much needed and I’m also looking forward to seeing some friends I haven’t seen in a very long time. This is the biggest trip I’ve taken in two years for my project. It feels so wonderful to plan and prepare for this trip. I have a few new ways of shooting I want to try. So, during my trip which will be between July 24th-28th. I plan on posting to my blog. The posts will also automatically appear on my Facebook page.
If anyone knows me I LOVE my iPhone and using the blogger app is perfect for what I want to do during my travels. I have various other Apps that I use and I’m looking forward to putting my photography, computer and navigation skills to work again.
I’ve felt so guilty for not posting more and shooting more places but you take what life gives you and you roll with the punches. A good friend of mine told me once that “you must always have something to look forward to” and that is so right. It feels great to look forward to this trip and I’m thankfully I’m still here to continue my work.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Winter’s Icy Grip

Gleson Church Exterior
For months I’ve been having a bad case of cabin fever. I’ve wanted desperately to get out and shoot some pictures. Since the winter weather has released its icy grip from my home allowing the snow to retreat to make way for the spring growth. I decided to shoot an abandoned building a friend of mine told me about.
I found the old church located at the end of a dead end road surrounded by trees. Water from the melting snow pooled in places along the front and sides of the structure. I was amazed how sturdy the church remained and years of neglect. From what I could see I loved how simple the architecture was and I wondered how it may have looked in its prime. It was truly wonderful to walk around photographing the old building, being in the moment with no distractions, taking in my surroundings.
I’ve been planning on doing a much more extended trip to a few haunted places this year but due to some medical issues I’ve had recently the date when I take my trip will be dependent on my recovery in the next few months. When I do make the trip I will defiantly blog about. Till then I hope you enjoy my recent photos.
Gleson Church Interior

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Ghost Story; The Lost Christmas Tradition

Xmas Ghost

The Christmas traditions we keep are mostly personal. The type of food we make or eat, the gifts we give or receive they way we decorate our homes. Many of the general traditions we observe come from the Victorian era, the Christmas tree, stockings, ornaments, fruitcake and a long list of other traditions. But one I’ve noticed that hasn't been kept is the telling or ghost stories. I began to wonder why and started to think of the reasons why they did in the first place and why don’t we now.

I then came across this story that sort of explains a bit of what I was thinking.


While reading a list of all the modern Christmas traditions that were either borrowed from pagan winter festivals or invented by the English during the mid-19th century, it's remarkable to see how little Christmas has changed over the past 160 years.

People still send Christmas cards, decorate evergreen trees, go door-to-door caroling and stuff stockings with candy. Christmas, at least as most Americans celebrate it, really is a product of Victorian England.

In the last few decades, though, perhaps one of the most interesting Victorian Christmas traditions has been almost completely lost from memory.

“Whenever five or six English-speaking people meet round a fire on Christmas Eve, they start telling each other ghost stories,” wrote British humorist Jerome K. Jerome as part of his introduction to an anthology of Christmas ghost stories titled “Told After Supper“ in 1891. “Nothing satisfies us on Christmas Eve but to hear each other tell authentic anecdotes about specters.”

The practice of gathering around the fire on Christmas Eve to tell ghost stories was as much a part of Christmas for the Victorian English as Santa Claus is for us.

Traces of this now-forgotten tradition occasionally appear in noticeable places at Christmastime, although their significance is generally overlooked.

One verse of Andy Williams’ classic Christmas song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” for instance, clearly says, “There’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago.”

The most obvious example of how Victorian ghost stories have persisted to some degree in modern Christmas celebrations, however, is of course Charles Dickens’ own “ghostly little story” (as he calls it in the introduction) “A Christmas Carol.”

Some argue that Dickens’ Christmas ghost story single-handedly saved the winter holiday from dying out during the Industrial Revolution. At a time when England was no longer celebrating Christmas, Dickens reintroduced many centuries-old traditions with his instant holiday classic. It has become so much a part of Christmas in its various film adaptations and theatrical versions that people don't even wonder why Dickens chose, of all things, four spectral visitors to bring about Ebenezer Scrooge’s transformation from miserly curmudgeon to selfless philanthropist.

Isn’t there something inherently unseasonal about ghosts? Don’t ghosts belong with all the ghouls and goblins of Halloween? Not so for Victorian England.

“There must be something ghostly in the air of Christmas — something about the close, muggy atmosphere that draws up the ghosts, like the dampness of the summer rains brings out the frogs and snails… For ghost stories to be told on any other evening than the evening of the twenty-fourth of December would be impossible in English society as at present regulated,” Jerome wrote.

He continues, “So what is it about Christmas that goes so well with ghosts? Such a question inevitably brings up the issue of why we celebrate Christmas in December at all.”

As Lord Protector of England during the mid-17th century, Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell was perhaps not entirely without justification when he tried to abolish the celebration of Christmas. As he argued, nowhere in the Bible does it tell Christians to celebrate Christ’s birth on the 25th of December. Nor, in fact, does it mention any “holy day” other than the Lord’s Sabbath.

On top of that, the 25th of December was not an arbitrary choice for early Christians. Rather, it was selected because of its connection with pagan festivals like Yule and Sol Invictus (the birthday of the Unconquered Sun), both of which commemorated the winter solstice or the longest night of the year.

These festivals celebrated the death of light and its subsequent rebirth the following day. It was for the obvious symbolic connotations that early Christians adopted dates significant to pagan Romans and Northern Europeans.

In addition to being the longest night of the year, however, winter solstice was also traditionally held to be the most haunted due to its association with the death of the sun and light. It was the one night of the year when the barrier between the worlds of the living and the deceased was thinnest. On Christmas Eve, ghosts could walk the earth and finish unsettled business, as exemplified by the apparition of Marley in Charles Dickens' Christmas masterpiece.

In short, the Victorian Christmas celebration, which drew heavily on pagan symbols like yule logs, holly berries and Father Christmas himself, also embraced the winter holiday’s associations with the supernatural to create one of its most popular annual traditions.

Unfortunately, of all the traditions and rituals that have survived through the generations, the Victorian custom of recounting blood-curdling ghost stories with friends and family around the fire on Christmas Eve has been almost completely forgotten.

So if you decide to watch "The Others" or "The Sixth Sense" this Christmas Eve instead of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” or “Elf," you'll be keeping alive a Victorian Christmas Eve tradition.

By Jeffrey Peterson

For the Deseret News


The Victorians where very aware of their mortality they loved Spiritualism and often conducted séances or searched out mediums in hopes of communicating with the dead.  They honored loved ones recently past by photographing them and taking clips of their hair to produce hair woven lockets, bracelets and necklaces. It would seem fitting to tell a ghost story or two during the bleak month of December.

Todays sensibilities we focus more on getting the right gift, spending time with friends and family, food, shopping, church, decorating and trying to recapture the love and magic of Christmas from our youth. We no longer have time to dwell thinking about the supernatural. Ghost stories are a much apart of the season as in any other time of the year. They are perfect for the season because what a better way to demonstrate the moral tale then through a ghost story.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Creative Spaces and Far Away Places


There is something wonderful about having a creative place of your own. A place to daydream, a place to get your hands dirty, to think, a place to pursue the most  strange and bizarre ideas and a place to fall into the depths of your own thoughts and feelings, a place to allow your creative spirit to run free.

For me I’ve always needed such a place. A creative place to surround myself with things I love and give me inspiration to allow my dark side run uninhibited. I’ve always had a fascination with things of horror and macabre. This past year I began adding to my collection new items like a hypnosis machine, gas mask, vintage embalming bottles, Ouija Boards and a framed movie poster of the 1928 silent film “The Haunted House”.

Strangely enough these items have given me much needed distraction from such a very troubled year. This year has been a roller-coaster of emotions and experiences. As I look back I’ve noticed I’ve shot very little in the way of photography but I have remained busy exploring other projects and talents.

As this year winds down I’m making new plans for 2013 and I’m excited for what the future holds. Conventions, travel and new explorations of haunted places are just some of the items on the calendar.

This weekend I traveled to my hometown in Illinois for a funeral of a family member. Despite the bad circumstance for me leaving my home I was glad to venture past the borders of Wisconsin for the first time this year to see family and have dinner with a good friend. As I was driving I realized how much I’ve missed traveling and experiencing new things. Plus eating at places that are not available at home. I also remembered some of the “rules” I set for myself when I travel. They are not much but they add to the excitement and experience of what Traveling is all about.

(1) If I see something interesting along the side of the road, I take the time to stop and check it out. I’ve met and seen some of the most interesting things and people doing this.

(2) I NEVER eat at a restaurant that’s available in the town you live in. Part of traveling is the new experience. Eat somewhere that is normally not available to you. It keeps the trip fresh and exciting.

(3) I NEVER watch TV or the news during traveling (except for weather reports). The idea is to unplug a bit from the negativity and reality of life. I do plenty of TV watching at home I don’t need to spend allot of money on hotels, gas, airplane tickets and meals to go far away from home just to sit in a hotel to watch TV. To kill down time I like to sit in cafes, visit local book and antique stores, blog, read, write in my travel journal or just walk around the town or city taking pictures.

(4) I Travel light. I Don’t bog myself down with a ton of bags. When I travel I carry two bags my camera bag and travel bag. ALL the clothes I carry for a week is in one carry-on bag. If at all possible I never check a bag because I believe a checked bag is a lost bag. Traveling is stressful enough and I don’t need the added burden of locating a missing bag and being SOL with no clothes or personal items. I walked up the side of a mountain in Germany to my hotel carrying a backpack full of camera equipment and a travel bag around my shoulder. By the time I reached the top I was exhausted but if I was carrying anything more I don’t think I would have made it.

I try to keep my mind active and open minded constantly with inspiration and new experiences. Traveling and finding things that inspire me is truly rewarding. There is nothing more satisfying then finding an item or photographing something to add to my ever growing collection. In the end all my collections of items, photographs and written experiences are part of me and who I am.