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Gettin’ spooky in Villisca: Stay in a haunted house this Halloween season

Gettin spooky in Villisca: Stay in a haunted house this Halloween season

By Louise Carhart

June 10, 1912: eight people are found dead in a family home in Villisca, Iowa. Victims of a brutal crime, the dead included a family of six: parents Josiah and Sarah Moore and their four children Herman, Mary Katherine, Arthur and Paul. Two friends of the children, Ina Mae and Lena Gertrude Stillinger were staying the night and unfortunately lost their lives that night.

For the people of 2016, the house where the Moore and Stillingers were murdered is now a haunted attraction where visitors can tour the house and stay the night. The murders remain unsolved, adding to the mystery of the site.

“I think most people are curious about the crime, when you have an unsolved mystery/murder people like to become their own detective and solve the case in their own mind,” wrote Johnny Houser, media coordinator for the Villisca Axe Murder House in an email to The S&B. “Others are curious about life after death and the paranormal happenings.”

Six men were accused of committing the murders, with George Kelly going to trial twice. He was acquitted both times. The nature of the house, as a place of great tragedy combined with mystery, has attracted a large amount of paranormal speculation and exploration.

“I love the skeptics that look at me like I’m crazy for talking about ghosts, then end up running out the house claiming something paranormal happened to them,” Houser wrote. “I had a group of seven cops from MN, … one of the cops didn’t believe and was sort of making fun of the fact that his fellow officers did believe. The non-believer went upstairs searching for the origin of the sound and heard a sigh and literally felt the breath from the sigh on his neck! He ran out to their vehicle and stayed there the entire night.”

Memories like this one help draw more and more visitors to the house each year. The story’s prestige as one of the largest unsolved murder mysteries helps, especially as Halloween draws near. The house will unfortunately be closed on Halloween night, however.

“In prior years there were far too many people for the house and property to handle. So we give the spirits their house back and let them rest several days throughout the year,” Houser wrote.

The house has a good track record in terms of guests, as most nights someone stays over in hopes of connecting with the other side. After being featured on many paranormally focused TV shows, the house has achieved a degree of infamy in American popular culture. Along with Jeffrey Dahmer, Jonestown and the Charlie Manson murders, the house will live on as one of the most horrific events in American history. At the time, the death of six children in what seemed to be an unmotivated killing spree fascinated the country and drew large amounts of media attention.

Most recently, the house was voted one of the most haunted in America by the Travel Channel. Booked solid all year, the exploits of ghost hunters have certainly boosted the popularity of the house. For Houser, the house has a certain feel that is instantly distinguishable from a spiritually neutral space.

“The overall feeling that you get as soon as you step foot on the property [is what gets people]. The house has a certain feeling that is indescribable and eerie,” Houser wrote.

While many of the visitors to the house are ghost hunters and thrill seekers, Houser notes that there is a spiritual aspect to the curiosity. The allure of getting close to a dead spirit attracts some visitors more interested in the afterlife and the fragility of life. The Villisca House acts as a constant reminder of the brutality of humanity, especially now in a world that has normalized violence.

For Grinnell students wishing to visit, the tour season runs from March 26 to Oct. 31 and is open Tuesday through Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m..

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