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October 2007 issue of Des Moines Woman magazine, by Lori Erickson
I extended the invitation by e-mail. "Wanted: Ghost Busters," I wrote my five intrepid female friends, inviting them to participate with me in a Ghost Hunting 101 class offered at the Mason House Inn in Bentonsport, Iowa.
"It's supposed to be one of the most haunted houses in America," I enticed them. "You lucky women will get the chance to commune with the spirit world in a class taught by a professional ghost hunter."
One by one, my friends responded fearlessly. "Ghosts? If I can put up with my teenagers, I can handle a few spirits," wrote one. Luckily all were able to clear their calendars for the weekend when we were to rendezvous at the historic inn on the banks of the Des Moines River in southeast Iowa.
I planned our psychic safari both because I'm intrigued by the idea of ghosts and because I wanted the chance to spend a weekend with five of my favorite people, all from Des Moines or Iowa City.
After checking into the inn, we joined our 25 fellow students in the dining room for the opening session with Christopher Moon, a paranormal investigator from Colorado, who leads a number of periodic Ghost Hunting 101 classes each year at the Mason House. Said to be one of the most haunted houses in America, the 161-year-old bed and breakfast got its start as a hotel for steamboat travelers.
He began by emphasizing the most important rule of ghost hunting: be respectful. "You wouldn't like it if someone came into your house and started being rude, and neither do ghosts," said Moon.
There were plenty of ghosts at the Mason House Inn to potentially offend, we were told. Owners Chuck and Joy Hanson believe that more than 20 ghosts haunt the 1846-built inn, ranging from Harold, a Civil War soldier, to a long-dead cat who likes to curl up on people's legs as they sleep. The Hanson's shared dozens of ghostly encounters they had experienced, while Moon told of his work with the "telephone to the dead", a machine based on a design by Thomas Edison, who had an interest in communing with spirits.
Clearly ghost-hunting has entered the technological age. In addition to the telephone to the dead, Moon's equipment included digital cameras (spirits can appear as orbs of light, he explained), remote temperature sensors and EMF meters that detect electromagnetic changes.
With equipment in hand, we made a short trek to the Bentonsport cemetery, where Moon handed a white noise machine to my friend Brenda Nations, a geologist. "Ghosts tend to be attracted to the whooshing sound," he told her.
As Brenda held the buzzing machine in front of her, she told me, "My husband is never going to believe I did this."
"Don't worry - it's scientific," I reassured her. Soon the class was busy snapping pictures in hopes of recording any orbs that might be circling the area.
Later in the evening we took our investigative tools back to the inn, where we went from room to room searching for signs of the other world. It was close to midnight when we finally said goodnight to our fellow investigators.
Did we see any ghost on our weekend at the Mason House Inn? No, though a couple of my friends did get a few orbs in their photographs. Did we have fun? Oh, my, yes!
Sometime around two o'clock in the morning, as the six of us were gathered in our pajamas in one of the bedrooms, hoarse from laughter and talking, I reflected on the experience.
For an afternoon and evening we had completely forgotten our worries and cares as we entered a parallel universe, one in which ghosts are accessible just at the other end of a telephone line. "I'm not sure there are any ghosts here," said Rebecca Christian of Des Moines, "But I do know I haven't had this much fun in ages."
Contact the Mason House Inn at (319) 592-3133 or see their web site at www.MasonHouseInn.com for future Ghost Hunting 101 class dates.
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