No visit to Council Bluffs, Iowa would be complete without a tour of the old Pottawattamie County Squirrel Cage Jail. The jail was constructed in 1885 and was in continuous use until 1969. In 1971, it was acquired by the Council Bluffs Park Board for preservation and added to the National Register of Historic Places in I972. The local Historical Society owns and operates the facility today.
The design and size of the ‘Squirrel Cage Jail’ is what makes this facility so unique. It is one of 18 revolving (squirrel cage/human rotary/lazy Susan) jails built. This is the only three-story facility ever constructed. The jail has three floors of revolving pie-shaped cells inside a cage. The front part of the brick building held offices for the jailer, kitchen, trustee cells, and housing for the women prisoners. Visitors today have the opportunity to experience a unique piece of cultural and architectural history and to grasp an understanding of the jails place in cultural and nationals history. Some visitors come for the spirits who still linger in their cells. Investigators believe the jail is one of the most haunted locations in the State of Iowa.
The Historical Society told Cindi Jackson and Debe Branning tales of unseen spirits that had been reported long before the structure was turned into a museum. A jailer in the 1950’s decided not to use the fourth floor as his live-in apartment. He noted hearing people walking around on a floor that had no prisoners on it. This encouraged him to sleep on the second level prisoner floor instead. The fourth floor was also the scene of a full body apparition of one of the former jailers who resided there. The museum staff has witnessed a door opening on its own, strange lights and sounds, and say they were relieved to say they have never felt any danger.
In its long history, only four deaths are known to have happened in the Squirrel Cage Jail. One prisoner died of a heart attack, one in a three-story fall as he tried to carve his name on the ceiling, and one prisoner hanged himself in his cell. A fourth death was the result of an accident. The officer in charge accidentally shot himself in a moment of confusion when an angry mob stormed the jail in 1932.
Local paranormal investigative teams have spent the night in the old historic building hoping to encounter spirit activity. The Squirrel Cage Museum web page suggests you visit these paranormal sites and read some of the unexplained happenings in the jail…and then, you be the judge!
Paranormal Research and Investigative Studies Midwest (PRISM) www.DoYouSeeDeadPeople.com
ORBS – Omaha Research Beyond the Supernatural www.OrbsOmaha.com
South Central Iowa Paranormal Investigative Team www.scipit.com/squirrel_cage_jail
Iowa Paranormal www.iaparanormal.com
Omaha Paranormal Research www.omahaparanormal.com
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Squirrel Cage Jail
226 Pearl Street
Council Bluffs, IA