Tales of a Traveling SPIRIT

Des Moines, Iowa | May 2024

I have been to Iowa exactly two times in my life:  last year and this year.  Both times were for the same reason:  I was invited to be a guest speaker at Demi-con, a local fan convention for all things science, sci fi, gamers, anime, and fandoms.  It is very much like our own local convention, Necronomicon.

This convention takes place over the first weekend in May.  Due to my own circumstances – a grumble of pugs, mischief of rats, bearded dragons, and an elderly mother, it is hard for me to travel.  Last year I was there for just one day.  This year, I was there for the better part of the convention.  

My life is studying ghost stories.  Last year and this year, my research resulted in the same few locations mentioned over and over again:  the Woodlawn Cemetery and the Cloud Room at the airport, as well as a few hauntings at local schools (which I’m not able to get in, of course), and then more remote hauntings in Iowa that, without a car, make it hard to get to.  I was dismayed to have gathered no stories last year and had little hope for this year.

Was I wrong!  The hotel staff were so excited to learn of my interest that they supplied me with a few ghostly leads AND their own ghost stories.  I was one happy camper this year, especially since my first day there was World Paranormal Day!  (As an aside, I brought an EMF meter with me in case I went out investigating.  It triggered TIA security and I had to explain it to security.  The meter and I, happily, passed the screening but that was a first for me!)

Personal stories include the following; 

“When I was about 6 years old, my grandmother died.  I didn’t know her very well, but when I was 10 years old something happened.  I woke up one night to find her standing in my room.  I could see her hair color and cut, the clothes that she was wearing.  It was like she was right there and solid.  She was trying to tell me something but I couldn’t make it out.  I told my mother about it, but she didn’t believe me.  Years later, my cousin was going through some family photos and found a picture of my grandmother with her siblings.  I had never seen the photo, but when I looked at it, I realized that was the exact look – hair and outfit – that she had when I saw here in my room.”

“I had a friend who had a NDE years about 6 years ago due to heart issues.  He recovered and, after he got out of the hospital, he moved to a new apartment.  He had something with him there – but if he told anyone they thought he was crazy.  I believed him.  I saw two things that happened there that I can’t explain.  The first time, she watched the TV cable box/antenna fly off (like someone shoved it) the table.  There was no way to explain that.  The second time, I was in his apartment sitting with him in the living room.  He had a Bluetooth speaker that was not hooked up to anything.  All of a sudden, a burst of static came out of it and we could hear this woman’s voice speaking.  It was like she was speaking in tongues – we couldn’t make out the language or the words.  This lasted for about 12 to 15 seconds.  He has moved out of the apartment and into a new place; nothing happens there.”

“I went over this bridge.  There is a story that a husband and wife had an argument there and she got out of the car with their baby.  The husband tried to run her down in the car.  Trying to save the baby, she threw it over the bridge into the water.  She was killed by the car and the baby drowned.  They say that you can still hear the baby crying; it comes up from the river. 

Well, I went over that bridge twice.  The first time, I heard the baby crying.  I was so freaked out that I went back and told my friends.  They didn’t believe me.  We all went over the bridge again and the car stalled.  This time, all four of us heard the baby crying.  I’ve never crossed that bridge since.’

Needville High School:

“A friend and I were on the grounds after the school closed.  My mom was a teacher there.  As we stood there, we saw this shadowy figure.  It was all black with no features – like it was wearing a ski mask over its face.  It stared back at us.  It moved very quickly – we saw it on the first floor, then it went up to the third floor, and then down to the basement. [I am presuming that they were outside to see this].  We tried to see if anyone could move that fast taking the stairs, but were unable to repeat that speed.”

Woodlawn Cemetery:

“My grandmother had a haunted house.  She lived next to the Woodlawn Cemetery – like right next to it – and she started taking pictures in her house.  When she got up to the attic, she got all of these orb images.  She had me go up with her, and I was a girl at the time, and took a picture of me.  The photo showed an orb curled up right next to me.  Later, she had a ghost hunting team come out and they had me go up into the attic with them to see if they could replicate the image.  When they took the picture, I suddenly felt like I couldn’t breathe – like I had fallen over the handlebars of my bicycle.”  (She didn’t remember the name of the team and that was all of the story that I got).

During my panel, one couple asked questions about what to do if they think that there house is haunted.  They also live right near the cemetery.  (No details offered).

One person mentioned that when they moved into that house, there was a sensation that happened at night of a cat lying on one’s stomach.  It happened so much that the decided to get a real cat.  (Results unknown).  They do not know where the cat spirit came from because they did not have a cat before this house.

Merle Hay Mall:

 “When I was a kid, my mom worked at the mall.  I was there waiting for her to finish up work.  I was in the basement area when I heard singing coming from the conference room.  I poked my head in and saw a circle of nuns standing there singing.  I went and got my mom and told her what was happening.  when we went back, no one was there and she told me that the room had not been signed out that day.  I think that there is a bowling alley there now.”

 “My husband owns a security firm and when we were working the mall, the men would call up my husband and tell him that there was something strange going on there.  They would see these shadowy figures in the distance but if they got close, the shadows would slip around a corner and disappear, or just vanish.”

Mall Directory

 The mall, it turns out, was just about a mile down the road from the hotel.  I was able to take the shuttle out to explore for a bit, though it was only for a limited time. I had been told that there was once a nunnery there, then the old mall and then the new mall.  There was also a fire on the property at one point.  (See research below for the proper timeline of historic events.  This is what I was given to start with).

There are quite a few areas around the mall that also host the Merle Hay name.  He was a historic figure, the first Iowan serviceman, and perhaps the first American military, to die in World War I.  (See:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merle_Hay).  

I walked through the mall from top to bottom.  I understood that most activity was in the lower part of the mall.  It took me a moment to figure out how to get there as the mall had two sections:  a top area, a recessed area, and then a basement.  The basement was only under part of the mall.  

Merle Hay Mall

My EMF meter picked up low to no EMF until I got to the basement area which was, indeed, a full fledged bowling alley complete with billiards room.  There were video game machines and claw machines, blinking lights, and a lot of noise.  I walked through with my EMF meter but really could not take any of the readings seriously.  I did find what I hoped would be the quietest part of the area to try for an EVP (no luck), an EMF and compass reading, and even brought my light sensor/cat toy.  Nothing happened.  I had to abandon my efforts when families started to walk through.  

However, I went into the billiards room to see what that was like.  There was a bar and bartender there, so I went over and asked her if she had head that the mall was haunted.  She said that, yes, she heard that.  When I asked if she had anything happen, she answered that she often feels as if there is someone standing behind her.  She will turn around to find no one there.  It happens all over the mall for her, but it’s the strongest in the basement area.

She also told me that the mechanics who work on the bowling alley after it closes down hear conversations going on.  They can never find the source of the conversations, and no one responds to them. 

I did try for an EVP/EMF session in a quieter part of the mall but had no real success, and it was time for me to return to make my presentations.  However, the next day I did a bit of research and found several articles about the property.  It has a sad history.

The property had once housed St. Gabriel’s Monastery but by 1959 the building was razed to make way for an open air mall.  The mall was upgraded in the late 70s.  One of the department stores there, Younkers, exploded and caught on fire.  It was 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 5, 1978.  Ten people died from inhalation of toxic chemicals, smoke, and fire. 

The best article is here:  https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/2014/03/29/younkers-fire-1978-merle-hall-mall-deadly/7056287/

Here is an excerpt from the article: 

Firefighters headed for the escalators, but the heat was intolerable. Employees were rescued from the roof as the fire raged. Fire crews that ran low on oxygen would back out and be replaced by others, then return to attack again.

“It was almost like the building was alive,” Little said. “It was like it was breathing.”

One man was able to get a group of 4 others out by breaking a window that allowed them to escape to the roof.  However, a mix of chemicals on flame-consumed wiring produced a gas that disoriented and choked everyone.  Some came close to the exits but passed out before they reached them.  Others never made it that far.  The devastation was so bad that the bodies had to be identified by jewelry taken from them by the medical examiner.  The article concludes with a list of the fatalities: 

Those who died

Larry Armstrong, 27, maintenance worker

Amelia Curran, 69, office employee

Pamela Floren, 28, office worker

Elvera Frueh, 51, bookkeeper

Robert Gamboa, 42, electrician

Melanie Hollister, 29, office worker

Edward H. Parr, 67, maintenance worker

Robert G. Reinertson, 62, stockroom worker

Helen Rossiter, 67, office worker

Corinne Rose Steele, 60, payroll worker

The Cloud Room, Des Moines International Airport:

This is one site that I have checked two years in a row since it’s a site that is available to me literally on the way out.  Granted, I did not spend much time there but the room was unlocked with signs pointing out the way to the conference room. 

The legend, as taken from the Des Moines Register (https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/local/2022/10/24/170-iowa-ghost-stories-and-haunted-places-to-explore/69552812007/): 

In offices that were originally a restaurant named the Cloud Room during the ’60s and ’70s. Supposedly haunted by a deceased young flight attendant who materializes usually in the Autumn walking empty halls with a bag as if confused looking for her flight. The occasional noise of laughing and glasses clinking at the bar early and late when the offices are quiet. Many cold spots and unexplained noises in and outside the Cloud Room.

The airport, too, acknowledges the hauntings: 


I have been there twice in May, obviously the wrong time of year, and had no encounters of cold spots, odd noises, or the stewardess.  EMF and EVP sessions turned up nothing. 

Cloud Room 2024
Cloud Room 2023

However, this year I also learned that the original airstrip was allegedly built of Native American burial grounds.  This area would be by the airport hotel, which at least one person described as sometimes being very creepy, especially at night. 

My hotel:

I also learned that the hotel where I was staying might have a few things that go bump in the night.  One person said that she sometimes felt very creepy working the night shift, as if there was something or someone else out there.  One of the desk clerks reported that two other employees mentioned seeing shadowy figures moving down a hallway.  One other mentioned that the elevators sometimes opened for her before she even got there to push the button.

There was a shooting on property in 2016 when a man tried to rob the hotel’s night auditor at 4 a.m. The thief was armed and ultimately ended up being shot to death.  He died on the property.  However, I did not dig into that too much as the research that I found showed that the robber had a long and extensive record.  If he was there, I didn’t want to rile him up.

Other: Pet Cemetery

This was told to me and I am a bit hazy about the details.  Apparently, there is a pet cemetery in the city that can sometimes feel creepy.  The location is somewhat isolated and near a hill.  That’s about all I know about it.

So, special shout out to the folks from Des Moines for being kind enough to tell me their spooky tails, and for allowing me to poke around their history just a bit.  You never know – I may just be back to flesh out more of these stories and check out a few other areas of paranormal repute in the city!

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