(Selections from the on-going journal. Entire booklets may be purchased at the Mason House.)
People always ask me, "Is your place really haunted?" I have to say "Yes" but....it's not a scary, Hollywood, zombie kind of haunting. The spirits, or ghosts, who are here, have been here a long time. They are here because they are happy here. They don't want to scare anybody or hurt anybody. Three of them are previous owners or proprietors who loved the old hotel in life and don't want to leave. Two are Civil War soldiers who died here when the building was a hospital. Some died here when it was a TB hospital in the early 1900s. Several others are adults and children who died here because a doctor lived here when the building was a boarding house. The doctor used to bring his sick and dying patients here because there was no other place in town to take them. The spirits usually just go about their business like they did when they were alive....opening and closing doors, turning lights on and off, walking around the rooms and up and down the hallway and stairs. The children like to jump on the beds, play with things in the rooms, and knock on doors as a prank. Sometimes the guests see the child or person for a moment before they disappear. Sometimes there is only the sound of someone, but nothing is sighted. Sometimes there is a tapping or knocking sound on the walls of the room, the guest assumes it is the people next door until they find out there was no one next door. Please don't be afraid to stay here. If you tell the spirits to leave you alone, they will. We also have non-haunted rooms in the General Store building and Caboose Cottage. Just coming here will not guarantee you will see a ghost. You have to be already sensitive or have psychic ability to see or sense the spirits. Many people don't see or feel anything. Ghosts don't perform on command, so we don't guarantee anything. So come and stay, relax and enjoy what we have.
Things we know about people who have died at the Mason House Inn:
There is a book called “The Ghost Dog” that talks about a girl being shot by her estranged husband. The girl died in the Mason House parlor in 1883. The man died on the front steps after being mauled by the dog. The dog died several days after the girl died, when he mourned himself to death. It is the dog that can still be seen sometimes, still waiting outside the parlor window for the girl to get better. The title page has a note that this is a true story dictated to the author by an elderly gentleman who lived in Bentonsport.
Lewis James Mason bought the Ashland House hotel in 1857. He died in 1867 of cholera. His wife, Nancy, continued to work here until she moved to Des Moines in 1875. Lewis died here at the Inn. Their bedroom was where Room 5 is now, and that is their bedroom set.
Mary Mason Clark was the second daughter of Lewis and Nancy Mason. Mary and her husband, Francis Otis Clark (Frank), helped Nancy and Rebecca run the Inn after Lewis’s death. When Fannie, Mary’s niece, took over the Inn, they moved to Washington D.C. where Frank worked for William, Mary’s youngest brother. Frank died in Washington D.C., but Mary brought Frank back here to Bentonsport for the wake and to be buried. Then Mary helped her niece, Mary Frances Mason Kurtz (Fannie) run the Inn until she died here, New Years Day, 1911. We have been told Mary died on the third floor in the front bedroom. Both Mary and Frank have been seen by several people over the years. Mary appears in either a long black dress or a white nightgown. Frank has been seen wearing a black suit and he has white hair and a short white beard. Mary and Frank have been heard arguing in Rooms 5 and 6. Guests think it is Chuck and me or other guests, until they look and no one is there.
Mary Frances Mason Kurtz (Fannie) was the oldest daughter of George Mason, the son that inherited the Inn from Lewis and Nancy. When Lewis died, the property of the father went to the oldest living son, George. His wife, Rebecca, and his two daughters, Fannie and Nellie, ran the Inn until George and Rebecca moved to Des Moines in 1891. Fannie and her husband, Schiller Kurtz, ran the Inn mostly as a boarding house. Fannie died here on May 24, 1951. She had been missed in town and the Greef Store owner, Henry Blount, came over to check on her. He could see her through the window, sitting in a chair by the fireplace in the dining room. All the doors were locked, so he broke a window to get in. She was dead and had been so for 2 or 3 days. (As a side note, Fannie was born in the Inn in 1867, 10 days before Lewis died. Fannie and Schiller were married in the Inn’s parlor in 1887. And Fannie died in the Inn dining room in 1951.) Fannie has been seen mostly in the dining room and parlor. She wears a grey skirt and white blouse. She smiles and nods to the guests. Guests think she's my mother or aunt helping out, until they realize nobody else can see her.
We read a newspaper account about the Inn being used as a hospital during the Civil War. The train station was just down the street, and the steamboat dock was just across the street. The injured soldiers were often brought here to wait for the train or a boat to take them to the hospital in Keokuk. We can only assume some of those injured men died here. One, a Confederate Soldier, is named Markie and he was 15 years old when he died here of a “cough”, probably pertussis or pneumonia or shrapnel wounds in his lungs. He didn't know he was dead, just having a long, strange dream. We have since sent him to the "Light", and he has returned to stay here by choice. Another man is named Harold and he was 34 years old when he died here. He was “seriously wounded” and was brought to the hospital here. He walks around the Inn in boots and he knocks on the walls in Morse Code. He likes to lay on the beds.
We found another newspaper article, dated 1913, talking about a Tuberculosis hospital that had set up business in the Mason House. It was not a sanitarium, but was using an experimental drug, penicillin, to 'cure' the patients. The townspeople were not happy about it. One child spirit here has admitted to dying of "consumption".
There was a doctor who lived here at the Mason House in the 1940s when it was a boarding house. He stayed in what is now Room 5. He would often bring his sicker patients here so he could tend them, since there was no hospital in Bentonsport. We have heard that some of those patients died here. There was a lady who came for a tour of the Mason House and said her grandmother had died here, being a patient of the doctor who was living here. Both the spirit named Amanda and the spirit named Anna said they died here from an injury. Their parents had brought them here to the Doctor.
In the 1980s, there was an old man who lived here in town by the name of Elmer. He was mad at Mrs. B. R. (the owner of the Mason House from 1956 to 1989) quite often. One night he got himself drunk and climbed a tree in the backyard of the Inn. He had a shot gun and a rope. He was going to shoot B. when she got home. But when B. got home, she found him hanging from the tree with the rope around his neck, dead. The police decided he was so drunk he fell out of the tree, getting tangled in the rope and could not free himself. They found a note in one of his pockets explaining how he was going to shoot B. and then hang himself, and it was all her fault. For some reason this never made it to the newspapers. But the story has been told to me by several townspeople. Mr. R. told me he had to cut down the tree because it kept creaking so badly after that.
I began keeping this journal in May of 2003. When we bought the Inn in June 2001, we were told that the ghost of Mary Mason Clark inhabited the south, front bedroom on the third floor. But if we left her alone, she would leave us alone. We were also told that the ghost of George Greef likes to come from the house across the street to play tricks on people and to visit with Mary. Right away we started noticing things that were not quite right. Our guests would tell us things that happened to them during the night and also things that had happened to them during previous visits with previous owners. Our daughters, Cindi, Kristin, and Jinni, were experiencing things and I was also, but I did not think to write any of it down until my husband, Chuck, suggested I start keeping a journal to see if there was any pattern to it. At first (as you can see by the non-specific dates) I tried to remember things that happened and when they happened. But as the journal goes on you can see that the dates and experiences are specific. Some of the names of our guests have been changed to protect their identity. At first we blamed almost everything on either Mary or George, but as you will see, as we got more information on the spirits here, we learned that things were not as they seemed….. (By the way, we now know George is not a spirit here. It was probably Harold.)
June ‘02 - We had a customer who was checking in, and while he was filling out his registration form in the foyer, he looked up the stairs and said, “Is my room up there or over in the annex building?” I told him his room was in the annex building, Room 2. He said, “Good. ‘Cause you have a ghost up there and I just can’t deal with that tonight.” He requested no breakfast and he was gone the next morning when I got up.
Another customer, around the same time, was checking in. And as she was filling out her registration form in the foyer, kept looking up the stairs. She said, “Did you know you have a ghost up there?” I answered that we had been told that, but never saw anything ourselves. Was it male or female? She said, “I don’t get a sense of gender. Just that it is happy here and does not want to leave. It likes it here. It is a friendly spirit, it will not hurt you. It just likes it here. It may not have been someone who died here, it could have been someone who liked to come here when it was alive and has come back here. It does not want to leave.” That’s about all she could tell us. (We now know that was Curtis.)
Sept ‘02 - I had gone to the first floor laundry room, about 10am, and I heard an alarm buzzing in Room 3. I went into the room and turned off the alarm clock which had been set to ring at 8am. The little knob had been pulled out to set it. I pushed the knob in. No one had been using that room for about 4 days. I had been to the laundry room the day before and the alarm was not ringing then. Later that same day, I heard a buzzing coming from the second floor. I went up and the alarm in Room 5 was buzzing. Again the knob had been pulled out, and I pushed it in. Cindi came down from her room on the third floor and told me she had turned off the alarm in Room 4 earlier that morning. The next day, when I went to the first floor laundry again, the alarm in Room 4 was buzzing again. I pushed in the knob and called “Okay, George, that’s enough! Knock it off! Go home and leave us alone!” After that there was no more alarm clock pranks.
Nov ‘02 - Chuck, Kristin, and Jinni went to a basketball game, leaving me home alone. I was in the dining room sewing and watching TV. We had no guests in the house. I heard the floor creaking upstairs as if someone was walking around up there. The creaking went from Room 5 to Room 6 to Room 7, then back again. It did this several times. Then there was a THUMP in Room 6 like something heavy had dropped on the floor. I did not investigate. The next day, when it was light, I went into Room 6 to see what was out of place or on the floor, but there was nothing to explain the loud thump noise.
Dec ‘02 - I was in the parlor early in the morning playing Christmas music on my recorder. Chuck was still in bed, Kristin had left for school, and Jinni was at the dining room table eating her breakfast. I heard footsteps behind me and they stopped by the Christmas tree. I saw a shadow moving in a reflection in my glasses. I thought Chuck had come into the room to listen to me. When I turned around and looked, there was no one there. I left the parlor.
Sometimes, when I’m in the kitchen, I hear the floor creaking in room 7 which is right above the kitchen. When I go up there the bed is mussed and looks like someone had been laying in it. Cindi has seen this also.
Or...A little about what goes on around here...sometimes.