The 10 Best Myths and Urban Legends in Iowa

Did you feel that? The feeling of your hair rising on the back of your neck? If you find a thrill in being a little frightened, buckle up your seat belts and check the batteries in your flashlight, because the state of Iowa has enough urban legends to explore until your hair turns white! Whether you believe in them or not, all fiction stems from something truthful. Here are our 10 favorite myths and urban legends in Iowa.

1. The Black Angel of Oakland Cemetery

Located in the historic Oakland Cemetery on the north side of Iowa City, the Black Angel monument has bred rumors of fear and hauntings in the community ever since it was erected in 1912. What really started to turn attention towards the Black Angel is that it wasn’t always such a dismal color, and in fact was originally a golden bronze. Somewhere down the line in its history, perhaps caused by some evil acts of the bodies it stands above, the Black Angel became just that, blackened, and effectively memorialized itself as one of the most known urban legends in Iowa.

2. Stony Hollow Road

As the story goes, a young woman by the name of Lucinda waited by the cliffs that line Stony Hollow Road in Burlington. When her lover failed to show up to run away with her, Lucinda took her own life by jumping off the cliffs, and her ghostly spirit remains on this roadway to this day. Whether you believe the urban legend or not, it still takes a moment of courage to say her name three times in a row while visiting Stony Hollow Road, and even more courage to ignore that sudden feeling of someone watching you while visiting this haunted place in Iowa.

3. Vegors Cemetery

While Vegors Cemetery in Webster may seem like it’s inhabited by ordinary headstones, the ghoulish history behind these historical grave markers can give you trouble sleeping at night. Before public records were ever kept, Vegors Cemetery was a sacred burial site for four different Native American tribes in the region. When pioneers moved into the area, they moved and effectively desecrated the burial sites to make room for their own dead, setting up the pieces for a truly haunted location. Keep your eyes open when visiting Vegors Cemetery, for not all spirits might be happy to see you, and whatever you do, don’t venture alone into this historic home of the dead.

4. Villisca Ax Murder House

The 1912 mass-murder and bludgeoning deaths of the Josiah Moore Family and guests is no urban legend. This eerie and incredibly morbid crime did in fact take place in the residence that today is known as the Villisca Ax Murder House, and to this day the gruesome murders have not been solved. While those are the facts, the legend remains in what you can still find in this house today, and with guided tours available, plus overnight accommodations for the truly brave, perhaps with the help of the murdered family speaking out from the walls, you can help solve one of Iowa’s most famous atrocities. 

5. Lover’s Leap

Take in the beautiful view of the Mississippi River atop Lover’s Leap outlook in Elkader, just don’t get any ideas. This scenic view gets its eerie name from an incident that occurred there in 1831 that involved settlers, Native American tribes and a forbidden love. Reminiscent of Romeo & Juliet, the story doesn’t have a happy ending, and it is here at Lover’s Leap where you cannot only see for miles down the Mississippi, but can also feel a certain breath in the air that speaks of darker times past.  

6. The Exorcism in Earling

While some of the facts and figures of the exorcism in Earling are hard to nail down to respectable sources, perhaps purposefully, it is well known as one of the last sanctioned exorcisms to ever occur, and would later become partial inspiration to the blockbuster novel and movie, “The Exorcist.” Whatever the truth is, the story goes that the young woman in Earling recovered after three weeks of grueling exorcism rituals, effectively removing the multiple demonic spirits that inhabited her body, all of which can be recounted in the controversial pamphlet “Begone Satan,” written by Reverend Celestine Kapsner.

7. The Jordan House

While the Jordan House in West Des Moines has a prominent place in the city’s history as not only one of the area’s earliest settlements, but also as a prominent stop on the Underground Railroad, the Jordan House’s history and age also supports a pretty healthy urban legend. The haunting that you might find in the Jordan House comes from the owner’s daughter, Eda Jordan, who perished at a young age reportedly by a fall from a staircase banister, and visitors to this historic homestead still say you can see or hear the child playing throughout the renovated halls to this day.

8. “Helen” at Voorhees Hall of at Coe College

Perhaps one of the most famous premonitions in Iowa, Helen can be seen roaming throughout Voorhees Hall at Coe College in Cedar Rapids morning and night. Once a student, Helen reportedly died of the Spanish Influenza in 1918 during her freshman year, and current students are known to report sightings of this supernatural student still trying to live out the college years that she was denied so many years past.  

9. Ghosts of Iron Hill

Just outside of Charles City in northeast Iowa, a train allegedly had some sort of accident in the 1920s, catching itself on fire, effectively trapping and killing a handful of the orphan passengers inside the burning locomotive. Iron Hill today is a hill near the tracks where not only the accident is said to have occurred, but visitors to this area have reported hearing ghostly cries accompanied by the faint smell of smoldering wood. Few have even reported seeing small children scampering through the woods or finding small toys charred with fire burns. 

10. Mental Health Institute

First constructed in 1873 after a noted uptick in a need for mental hospitals at the Civil War, the Mental Health Institute was first known as the Independence Hospital for the Insane. With nearly 150 years of history within these prairie granite walls, suffice it to say urban legends about the facility come and go alongside the 1,000’s of patients that have resided in the hospital. Today, the Mental Health Institute is a progressive treatment center still aimed to help those with mental illness, and tours are available that can give you a look at the history of this health institution, haunted or not.

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