Dubuque Area Myths, Legends, and Ghost Stories
Dubuque is Iowa's oldest city and one of the oldest settlements west of the Mississippi. Many urban myths and legends have been tossed around in our little city over the years. Let's take a look at some!
Heritage Pond, located between Dubuque and Sageville, has been the source of a few urban legends. In an article published in the Telegraph Herald on Jan 5, 2011, Brian Preston, executive director of the Dubuque County Conservation Board, stated that there was actually very little information about the pond's development. It is located in the Couler Valley, which was once a channel of the Little Maquoketa River. The most common story is that it was the location of a gravel pit that suddenly flooded, trapping a crane. It was said that fishermen in boats frequently snagged their lines on the machine's tip.
The 7 Hills/Bluffs
The continual myth that Dubuque formed on seven large hills led to the city being dubbed the "Rome of the Midwest" or "Little Rome." Scientifically speaking, however, these were not hills. The “hills” were discovered to actually be a stretch of steep slopes twisting back and forth to form valley rims. Ridgelines or crestlines are actually the proper names for these peaks.
And now - the ghost stories of Dubuque!
Mathias Ham House
The house was built in 1856 by Mathias Ham, a prosperous entrepreneur. It’s been said for years that the house is haunted. One of the most common stories workers hear is that Mathias Ham still haunts the house. Another is that occasionally a pirate, shot by Sarah Ham during a break-in, might be seen wandering the corridors. Do you have the courage to check it out for yourself?
Grand Opera House
The Grand Opera Dubuque is a historic treasure that the community truly adores. The theater’s doors opened in 1890 and since then several ghostly tales have been shared, and these ghosts seem to like to play tricks! Several cleaning women who worked there in the 1930s called the police numerous times, reporting hearing voices coming from the stage area, even though they were the only ones in the building! Those who spend a lot of time at the theater have also shared that light switches frequently tend to go on and off by themselves. Doors also seem to like to open and close at their own will. One story says a cameraman's camera began to behave strangely, zooming in and out on its own. He was surprised to see a strange glow on tape, just before the camera went haywire. Another woman who was taping the show claimed to have had the same camera problem!
To learn more about the ghosts of The Grand, check out these videos they have provided!
The Redstone Inn
Augustin Cooper built the Redstone Inn as a wedding gift for his daughter in 1894. Since then, the inn has become a destination for visitors seeking ghostly sightings. According to legend, Mr. Augustin can still be found at the Inn. Some guests have reported seeing a well-dressed ghost wandering through the halls during their stay!
Mary Frances Hall, Clarke University
This hall was built in 1924 and is called Mary Fran by students. It’s said to be haunted by the school founder, Mary Frances Clarke. Over the years students have reported hearing mysterious footsteps in the hall, a creepy feeling of being watched, and seeing an obscure figure near the chapel. In other accounts, the fourth floor, which is used for storage, is thought to be haunted by a ghostly nun who hanged herself. Students have also claimed to see an etching on the window that reads "Help Me." However, it’s said that as more students move in for the year and occupy the dorms, paranormal activity tends to decrease. Good news for students scared of the ghosts!
Be warned, the story behind this legend is rather dark. From what I can find about its origins, this story began in the 60s with a man committing kidnappings and murders. Just down the road from what was his house is an old railway bridge with a tunnel. Supposedly someone walking in the woods came upon evidence of the mans crimes and called police to investigate. When officers arrived at the man's house they discovered no one was home, but they searched the house and found gruesome evidence. Upon leaving, two of the officers went toward the tunnel and found the man hanging. According to legend, if you drive into the tunnel, turn off your car, and sit in the darkness for 10 minutes, your car will not start right away. When it finally starts and the lights come on, you'll see multiple tiny hand prints covering your windows. Talk about creepy!
Mt. Carmel, one of the town's earliest nunneries, founded in 1889, is another ghostly site in the Dubuque area. A number of sisters supposedly still roam the buildings, move things around to keep the place in order, and turn lights on and off as they see fit. This nunnery has been the site of two fires. One of which was said to have been so devastating that it took an entire classroom full of schoolchildren. The hall has been rebuilt, but some claim they can still hear the crackling of flames on certain nights.
Do you know of any other myths or urban legends in the area? If so, we’d love to hear from you!