AS SEEN ON TRAVEL CHANNEL’S GHOST ADVENTURES
Council Bluffs, Pottawattamie County, Iowa
Investigate one of the most unique and haunted jails in the country, then sleep in the very areas you’ve been investigating! It also includes breakfast and tour.
As notorious, murderer-housing and unique local jails go, the Squirrel Cage Jail is just about everything you might be looking for in a ghost hunt and sleepover. In fact, you might want to have alternative accommodation ready. Squirrel Cage Jail is not for the faint-hearted. Many visitors have been so spooked in the first few minutes, they’ve turned around and simply walked back out.
Are you brave enough to stay the night and see what criminals still haunt its empty cells?
About the Jail
The Squirrel Cage Jail is a rotary jail, one of eighteen made as technological advances of their day in the 1880s. Squirrel Cage is the largest and weighs around 45 tons empty. It’s been called a “19th-century marvel.”
The idea was that the giant, circular, three-floor, metal drum sat inside a building with steel-lined walls rotated on its base via a crank which the jailor used to move the cell he needed to a set position in order access to the only door. It was designed so that only a single jailor was required to watch a whole jail full of prisoners, with just one door that couldn’t be accessed unless the drum and cell were in the right position. Only one prisoner could ever exist at one time, the rest were simply trapped.
Council Bluffs, Iowa was a lawless place in the 1880s, and Pottawattamie County taxpayers went for the cheaper option of technology in the form of its “human rotary,” rather than expensive manpower to guard and imprison local criminals.
Squirrel Cage Jail was deemed a failure just a few years after it opened, it made a horrible noise as it moved, torturing all around it and its gears kept jamming, risking starving inmates when jailors just couldn’t get to them. And, all prisoners were kept in close confines in adjacent cells and not segregated, prostitutes were imprisoned next to ax murderers and petty fraudsters next to rapists.
Even worse, crazed residents would put their arms and legs out of the bars as the jail rotated, causing gruesome breaks and injuries.
The building was frequently condemned but taxpayers refused to pay for another and Squirrel Cage was kept going, year after year, until a Fire Marshall permanently disabled it in the 1960s when it took TWO DAYS to reach the body of a prisoner who died in his cell.
During its tenure, the Squirrel Cage Jail housed mass murderer Jake Byrd, a transient who may have killed up to 46 people using either an ax or a hatchet and who spent 31 years in jail in Michigan, Iowa, and Utah. At his trial he put the “Jake Byrd Hex” on those he saw as involved in punishing him, saying they would die before he did. As the story goes, allegedly six did including the judge who died within a month, the court’s chief clerk, two police officers who took confessions and the killer’s lawyer who died on the first anniversary of his sentencing. Byrd was hanged in 1949.
Squirrel Cage also imprisoned Charles Noel Brown who went on a three-day drunken murder spree and was eventually the last man hanged in Iowa in 1962. His noose is on display at the Squirrel Cage Jail.
Ghosts of the Squirrel Cage Jail
The jail’s paranormal history dates back to the 1900s and even jailors in the 1950s refused to sleep in certain parts of the prison. Kat Slaughter the Historical and Preservation Society of Pottawattamie County (HSPS) museum manager says staff and volunteers at the jail have heard footsteps, voices, whispers, and experienced doors moving and shadows moving across stairs and doorways.
She believes the Squirrel Cage Jail ghosts could have originated rom the four known deaths in the building. One prisoner fell three-stories to his death whilst trying to carve his name on the ceiling, another hung himself, one died of a heart attack, and a jail officer was shot and killed it
The Jail has appeared on the Travel Channel’s Most Terrifying Places and Ghost Adventures Serial Killer Spirits. Paranormal investigators have recorded voices and sounds that weren’t there and caught shadows in photos and video of the site.
This is just a little of the Squirrel Cage Jail’s story.
Do you dare discover the rest and spend a night in the jail investigating it for yourself?
Be sure to book now, as tickets are extremely limited for this event, and they are sure to be gone soon!