By Jay Jones, Special to Tribune Newspapers
9:07 PM EDT, October 10, 2013
BENTONSPORT, Iowa — There was one nonbeliever among the seven people seated at the dining room table in the Mason House Inn, a supposedly haunted bed-and-breakfast tucked away in the remote southeastern corner of Iowa, five hours southwest of Chicago.
The skeptic was Jason Haldiman, a patient and obliging husband. Time and again, he has indulged his wife, Louise, by traveling from their suburban St. Louis home to various places across the Midwest in search of ghosts.
"I want to be touched!" she exclaimed, almost pleadingly, after another guest, Dean Craig, told of spirits repeatedly brushing up against him.
After all, she had brought her husband to tiny Bentonsport in search of such a phenomenon.
It is just that kind of encounter with the other side that draws visitors from across the country to this inn, built in 1846 on the banks of the scenic Des Moines River, and they come not just in the Halloween season but year-round. According to the owners, Chuck and Joy Hanson, the nearby water provides the energy on which their home's supernatural residents thrive.
"About 75 percent of our guests know the place is haunted and are hoping to have some kind of an experience," Joy Hanson said. "More than 50 percent, maybe 60 percent, actually have something happen."
"They (guests) will say, 'You have got to check that light because it went off and on all night long.' Yet there's nothing wrong with the light," she explained.
Others have told of being awakened by kids running in the halls in the middle of the night, only to discover at breakfast that there were no children in the building. Such tales are common.
"I heard footsteps around 3:45 and heard the rocking chair move," Dean Craig shared of his experience the previous evening.
Nonchalantly, Chuck Hanson told everyone, "We have three different spirits who've been seen sitting in that chair."
The Craigs then added that they have had supernatural experiences during each of their seven stays at the Mason House. It explains why they come back, even though they live less than an hour away.
Chuck Hanson said his and his wife's experiences began shortly after they bought the rambling three-story brick building in 2001. That's when alarm clocks randomly began to chime.
"We'd run through the house turning off alarm clocks. After running around for about three days, we got tired and said, 'That's enough.' And it quit."
"Then they started playing with the fire alarms and setting those off randomly," he recalled. Once again, he said, out loud he told the building's ghostly residents to cut it out.
"They're very respectful," he noted. "If you say 'That's enough,' that's the end of it."
For both believers and doubters, Hanson is happy to grab his laptop and pull up photographs that he claims document the presence of spirits. The first image was taken during a school field trip in 2004.
"A group from Van Buren High School came here," he explained. "The teacher took a picture, and there was one more person in the picture than there were kids in the class. It turned out to be Marky, a Civil War soldier who died here while this was a hospital."
That may seem far-fetched, but when software is used to enhance the image and reduce the glare, the apparition clearly seems to be wearing a Union soldier's cap.
The Hansons said they communicate with the dead in various ways, learning about their lives and afterlives.
"I've heard their voices. I've been touched. I used to sit here in the dining room and see dark shadows go across the room," Chuck Hanson said. His experiences were nurtured by his wife, who said she has a gift for communicating with the spirits.
"We call it Paranormal Disneyland because it's fun," he said. Still, he admitted that there are plenty of people who doubt. "They say the cheese has fallen off our cracker."
While being respectful to the others, his wife included, guest Jason Haldiman remained unconvinced about ghosts.
"I don't believe it to be true, because I haven't experienced it," he explained. "I consider it a leap of faith, similar to religion."
If you go
The Mason House Inn (800-592-3133, masonhouseinn.com) is at 21982 Hawk Drive in Bentonsport. Not all GPS units recognize this address, which is one block off County Road J40 about 4 miles west of the village of Bonaparte. Room rates run $74 to $89.
Many guests visit when professional paranormal researchers are conducting ghost hunts at the B&B. An all-night hunt Nov. 2 will be led by Darcie McGrath. Participants will share their findings over breakfast the next morning. The price is $63 and doesn't include accommodations.
Psychic Chris Moon will demonstrate his "telephone to the dead," a device first envisioned by Thomas Edison, during classes Nov. 9 and 10. The $75 fee includes an afternoon communing with the spirits, plus dinner. Overnight lodging is extra.
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC