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Mason House Inn

By Carolyn Noon

The Mason House Inn in Bentonsport was built in 1846, and has been a hotel and Civil War hospital. It is reportedly haunted by a number of ghosts.


Feb. 2, 2007

           This weekend I’m going to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’m going to spend a night in the reportedly haunted Mason House Inn in Bentonsport. I’m also going to take part in a little ghost hunting exercise that afternoon and evening at the invitation of the innkeepers, Chuck and Joy Hanson.

            Friday and Saturday Christopher Moon, ghost hunter and editor of “Haunted Times Magazine”, will conduct two ghost hunting sessions: Ghost Hunting 101, an 8-hour class that will introduce about 30 participants to the techniques and equipment used during ghost hunting, and provide background information on the Mason House Inn and the unexplainable phenomenon that has occurred there, followed by a ghost hunting expedition to a nearby cemetery; and Ghost Hunting 102, a class for those who have already taken the 101 class and are ready to experiment with night vision cameras and other ghost hunting tools.

            I’ll be in the 101 class, along with my 18-year-old daughter Amy. We share a fascination with all things ghostly, even though neither one of us has ever seen a ghost or personally experienced any other type of paranormal activity. We’ll also be spending the night in one of the rooms where a ghost by the name of John supposedly sits in a chair, and the sound of children can be heard laughing and running up and down the back stairs. Joy Hanson writes on her Web site, www.MasonHouseInn, that one man who once stayed in our room saw orbs of light flying around a reading light after hearing the children during the night. 

            I’m not a skeptic; in fact, I’m very open to the whole idea that there may be some spirits that prefer to remain earthly-bound for some reason. I’d welcome an encounter with a ghost, if only to say it happened to me. But, I imagine the main experience will be one of camaraderie with the other participants, and a rare chance for a mother/daughter bonding experience, as together we explore this old bed and breakfast and its rich history.

            The Mason House Inn was originally called the Ashland House and was built as a hotel by Mormon craftsmen in 1846. Lewis and Nancy Mason purchased it in 1857. They called it the Phoenix Hotel, but locals began calling it the Mason House. The inn was used as a “holding hospital” for wounded soldiers waiting for transportation to the hospital in Keokuk during the Civil War. It was also a station on the Underground Railroad.

            The Masons owned and operated the inn for 99 years, after that it changed hands several times before being purchased by its current owners in 2001. Many of the original furnishings purchased by the Masons in New York are still in use today, as well as the Nancy Mason tradition of “a cookie jar in every room.”

            With so much history in its past, it’s little wonder that a few personalities might remain, like the Confederate soldier named Markie who says he’s from Macon, Ga. and a Union soldier named Harold who taps on the walls in Morse code. This information was acquired during last February’s ghost hunt through the use of something called an EVP Maker and the psychic abilities of Chris Moon. I’m not sure how all this works.  I’ll have to let you know when I get back.

            To top it all off, there’s going to be a full moon this weekend. Now if that doesn’t get the spirits stirred up, I don’t know what will.

Feb. 9, 2007 

By Carolyn Noon

Staff Writer

In the far right-hand corner of this photo is my first encounter with an “orb,” a circle of light that’s believed to be a spirit. This one couldn’t be seen with the naked eye, but it did show up on my digital camera. My daughter took the picture of me while I was in the dining room. When I later enlarged the photo on my home computer a man’s face could be seen in the orb.


            (This is the first in a two-part series about my personal experience this past weekend at the Mason House Inn in Bentonsport. I took all the photos myself on my own camera. The lens was cleaned each time, and the photos have not been retouched.)

            Do ghosts exist?

Can and do they haunt an old hotel and former Civil War hospital in southeast Iowa?

Some people say yes, some say no, others prefer to keep their minds open to the possibilities.

A group of about 30 people gathered last weekend at the Mason House Inn in Bentonsport to try and find answers to these questions. There were a couple of skeptics in our group, but most had never experienced a ghost and were curious and open-minded. A few had stories to tell about what they believed to be ghostly encounters.

I was one of those who came with an open mind, willing to see what this experience could teach me.

I left at the end of my experience with a greater understanding of the nature of ghost hunting, and even more questions about whether or not there are spirits that live among us.

Did I leave entirely convinced?


Were there strange, unexplainable occurrences during my visit?

Most definitely.

Will I ever return to this haunted hotel?

            You bet. I plan to take the session for more advanced ghost hunters when the class is held again in May and, hopefully, spend another night in one of the eight haunted bedrooms.

Saturday, 2 p.m.

My visit began on Feb. 3 in the early afternoon. My 18-year-old daughter Amy and I were to check in at the hotel for a ghost hunting class conducted by the inn’s owners, Chuck and Joy Hanson, and Chris Moon, a professional ghost hunter from Colorado and editor of “Haunted Times” magazine.

            I had just stepped inside the door at the Mason House Inn when my cell phone started beeping. I had lost service. Chuck Hanson greeted me and explained that I wouldn’t have any service during my visit.

            “Bentonsport is a dead zone,” he explained. “And you’ll want to turn it off or ‘they’ll’ drain the battery.” The “they” he was referring to were the ghosts. He also warned all of us to keep our phones on us because “they” like to take them.

            We were all instructed to take a seat in a large dining room where we were introduced to one another and given a PowerPoint presentation on the Mason House Inn, information about various instruments used during a ghost hunt, and some common terminology.

            I learned that most of my fellow students were friends who had come to the inn from the Des Moines area. Some, like Nicole Wheeldon, had been here before.

            “I stayed here last February. I spent the night in one of the (haunted) rooms but I couldn’t sleep,” she confessed. “I just laid there looking at the ceiling all night. So this time, I’m staying in the caboose. I’m not really a ghost kind of person.”

            That seemed to be the case with several people who were only taking the class because their spouse or significant other had persuaded them to do so.

Evidence of the supernatural

            The Mason House Inn has six sleeping rooms in the main building. All are supposedly haunted. There is also a two-cabin general store building and an old caboose that’s been made into a private bedroom suite. To date, there has not been any paranormal activity in these structures, although during my visit, one guest took a photo that showed orbs.

            According to Moon, orbs are circular balls of light that appear in photographs when ghosts are present. It is also possible to see them with the naked eye when the spirits are particularly active.

            I have taken many photographs in my lifetime and I’ve never noticed any orbs, but when I started taking photos at this inn, I was getting plenty.

            While we were in the dining room, many of us took our personal, digital cameras and started taking pictures. Some photos showed orbs, others did not. Some of the orbs were floating near the ceiling; others appeared to be on the class participants. Moon showed us during his presentation that if these pictures are enlarged you could even make out human, or sometimes animal, faces in them.

            The Hansons showed us a photo taken during a tour they gave to some high school students a few years ago. They said when one of the teachers later looked at the photos she noticed there was an unidentified person in the picture. When enlarged, the photo clearly showed a dark, shadowy figure of a man wearing what appeared to be a Confederate soldier’s hat.

            “This was about a year before we met Chris Moon,” Chuck Hanson said. “At that time we didn’t want to publicize the fact that the inn was haunted. But once the news about this photo got out, everyone knew.”

Not long after that the Hansons were contacted by Moon, who said he wanted to come to the inn and assess the spiritual activity there. He also proposed holding ghost hunting classes several times a year.


Saturday, 8:30 p.m.

After an enjoyable evening meal, we were instructed to divide into two groups. One group would go with Moon, the rest would be led through the house by one of his assistants. We would use a number of special electronic devices to measure any supernatural activity, such as an Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) recorder and an Electro Magnetic Field (EMF) sensor. We would also use a regular digital recorder and a device for measuring air temperature.

            I was in the group with Moon’s assistant during my first tour of the inn in search of ghosts. We went to Room 7 and started the digital recorder while we each took turns asking the ghosts some standard questions, like “What is your name?”  and “Are you a man or a woman?” We didn’t get any audible responses, but we were told the recording would be analyzed later.

One unusual thing did happen while we were in the room. There was a loud clattering sound that came from the bathroom. It sounded like something had fallen over, but no one was in the bathroom at the time, we were all next to the bed. Someone asked the ghosts if they had made that sound. The answer we would receive later, and other experiences through the night would shed more light on this unexplained occurrence.

(In Monday’s article I’ll tell more about the things that go bump in the night at the Mason House Inn, and the special message I received from the spirits that reside there.)

Feb. 12, 2007

By Carolyn Noon

Staff Writer

Chris Moon, at right, speaks to a ghost named Harold using an Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP) box (Edison's Telephone to the Dead). An orb is seen in the photo on Moon’s shirt and directly above the dresser’s mirror. The owner of the Mason House Inn, Chuck Hanson, is seated at left. The photo shows an orb on his pants leg.


            (This is the second in a two-part series about my personal experience Feb. 3 at the Mason House Inn in Bentonsport. I took the photos myself on my own camera. The lens was clean, and the photos have not been retouched.)          

Saturday, 9:30 p.m.

            It was time for my group to join Chris Moon in the large suite that had once been the bedroom of Lewis and Nancy Mason. The Mason family owned and operated the inn for 99 years.

            Moon was seated at a dressing table next to a machine he called "Frank's Box" or "Edison's Telephone to the Dead".  It was battery-operated and appeared to work somewhat like a CB radio receiver. Moon said the spirits could communicate with him through the box. When he turned the box on and started asking the spirits questions, we could hear what sounded like a man’s voice coming through a constant barrage of static.

            I don’t have the best hearing and most of the time I couldn’t understand anything that was coming across the box, although there were some words I heard quite distinctly.

            At one point Moon asked if anyone had brought a spirit with them to the inn. The man’s voice supposedly said that Moon had.

            “I know I did. I always have a ghost with me,” Moon said into the box. Moon says that people can bring ghosts with them from other places, and ghosts can go home with someone from another location. “Did anyone else bring someone?”

            Now this is where it got a little strange for me. Moon said the ghost he was communicating with was named Harold. He was a Union soldier who died here during the Civil War.

            “What is the name you’re trying to say? Cara? Caralee?” Moon said, while suddenly getting my full attention since my name is Carolyn. “Did you say Georgia? Is there someone here who knows someone named Georgia?”

            I waited until no one else in the room had responded. Then I said, “Yes, my grandmother’s name was Georgia.” My grandmother has been dead for about 20 years.

            Then the voice on the machine definitely changed from a man to a woman.

            “Do you have a message from Georgia,” Moon said. I couldn’t make out what the woman was saying, but Moon translated her message.

            “What you thought was wrong, is right. Don’t listen to what other people say.”   Then Moon said that Georgia was draining the battery on the box because “this is her first time to do this.” That was the end of Georgia’s message for me, and I’m still not quite sure about the meaning of the message. Moon did continue talking with Harold. He asked him about the loud noise we had heard in the bathroom while we were in the other bedroom.

            “That was us,” Harold said to Moon. “We’re working in there.”

            Then Harold told Moon, “There’s a party going on in Room 6.”

            A few minutes later we rejoined the other group in the dining room and learned that several people saw orbs flying around Room 6 at about the same time Moon received the message from Harold.

            “There were four of us who saw it,” said Amy Haugh of Des Moines. “It was brighter than I thought it would be. It just went…” she said as she gestured in a zigzag motion with her hand. “And then it was gone.”

            Moon told us that sometimes its possible to see orbs if the spirits are particularly active.

            We also learned that while the other group was in Room 8 ­– the room where I would spend the night with my daughter – the door opened and closed by itself. On that happy note, we were all dismissed to retire to our rooms. Some decided to venture out into the cold night to visit a local cemetery. My daughter and I decided to see what else was going to happen in Room 8.

Things that go bump in the night

            It was for sure we weren’t going to get much sleep with all we’d been through, but we tried anyway. We turned down the lights and lay quietly on the big, full-sized antique bed facing each other.

            I had read on the inn’s Web site www.MasonHouseInn.com that there was a little girl ghost living here who had died around the turn of the century from tuberculosis. She reportedly enjoyed taking shiny coins, so I left several quarters, dimes and nickels on the dressing table. At three different times during the night, just when I was in that twilight period between being asleep and awake, I was awakened by the sound of coins jingling. The sound seemed to come from the dressing table, but the coins didn’t appear to be disturbed.

            I also heard a loud popping sound coming from the wall beside the bed on two different occasions. The wall is on the outside of the house. I thought, perhaps, it was just the house settling.

            My daughter woke up once in the night saying a cat had crawled onto the bed. She said it was lying on her feet and purring heavily. There was no “visible” cat in the room, although the same type of experience has happened to other people at the inn.

            We both were startled by loud sounds at various times throughout the night. I thought the sound seemed to come from the basement; my daughter thought it was coming from the room next door. We both agreed it sounded like someone was moving large, heavy pieces of furniture. At times it seemed to almost shake the house it was so loud.

Sunday, 8 a.m.

            The next morning most of us gathered again in the dining room for breakfast and to exchange stories of the night’s events. Surprisingly, almost everyone had heard things, like the sound of footsteps on the stairs when no one was there, knocking on the doors, and doors opening and closing when no one was around. No one reported hearing the loud thumping sounds my daughter and I had heard, not even the innkeepers who slept in a room directly below us.

            Nothing that happened was too terribly menacing, nor nearly as scary as previous reports of shirtsleeves or bedcovers being tugged, or one former guest’s report that she saw a little girl-ghost digging through her purse and making her keys rattle. But, then again, there’s always the next time.

            According to Chuck Hanson, many of the buildings in Bentonsport are reportedly haunted. There’s also an apparition of a man dressed in black who supposedly walks back and forth across the Vernon Bridge, and a large, black “ghost” dog who walks the streets late at night.

            Now, by this time in the story, some of you may be wondering if all this is just so much humbug. Is it all just a product of overactive imaginations, or perhaps the power of suggestion? I don’t know. But I do know I want another chance to further investigate the Mason House Inn, and the strange happenings that seem to occur at Bentonsport. 

            If you’d like to book a night’s stay at the Mason House Inn, call Chuck or Joy Hanson at (800) 592-3133. Be sure and call early if you’d like to take one of the ghost hunting classes, which are held on a Friday and Saturday in February, May, August and November.

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