Sherry was lying in the bed on her side when she felt a hand on her hip. When she turned to look, no one was there, and I was across the room.
Shortly before 11 p.m. that night, we were awakened by a tapping on our headboard. We know no one was in the room at the time because we had been sleeping with a light on.
Sherry, my wife, and I were spending a night at the Mason House Inn Bed & Breakfast in Bentonsport, Iowa. The town’s population is 35, not including the ghosts.
Joy Hanson said the B&B is haunted, but not in a scary way. Hanson and husband Chuck bought the inn in 2001 after he retired from the Air Force.
On the B&B’s Web site — http://www.masonhouse.com — Joy Hanson wrote that three of the spirits are former owners or proprietors who loved the old hotel and don’t want to leave.
“Two are Civil War soldiers who died here when the building was a hospital. Some died here when it was a TB hospital in the early 1900s,” she wrote.
She said some of the other ghosts are adults and children who died at the inn, which once was a boarding house where a doctor lived. The doctor used to take patients there because there was no other place in town to take them. There also was a murder at the inn.
Bentonsport is 150 miles from the Quad-Cities. It sits along the Des Moines River, just a dozen miles from the Missouri border.
The inn, built in 1846, has been a hotel that served steamboat travelers, a holding hospital for wounded Civil War soldiers, a station on the Underground Railroad and a bed and breakfast.
Joy Hanson said the previous owners told them they often saw the ghost of former owner Mary Mason Clark.
Once the Hansons moved in, other spirits appeared. “I started seeing an old man in a black suit with a white beard,” Joy Hanson said. “I”d see him over my shoulder as I was cleaning rooms. When I turned and looked, there was nothing there.”
The Hanson’s two daughters, who were teens at the time, talked of hearing footsteps and having their clothes pulled, but nobody was there.
Joy Hanson said a younger daughter, Jinni, began “having tea parties with some invisible playmate named Amanda.”
Guests also reported seeing people in their room who would just disappear. They heard running in the hall or doors opening and closing all night, although “they were the only people up there,” she said.
The Hansons kept quiet about their ghosts for fear of losing business. But after a school group toured the inn and the teacher took a group picture that suddenly included “one more kid in there than she had in her class,” the hauntings went public in 2004.
Chris Moon, a Denver ghost hunter and president and senior editor of Haunted Times Magazine, often has investigated the inn and given the Hansons more information on their ghosts. He also holds periodic ghost-hunting classes there. The next one will be in November.
Two ghosts the Hansons are familiar with are Harold, a Civil War Union soldier, and Markie, a Confederate soldier. Harold claims guest room 6, and Markie died in room 6.
The Hansons said Harold knows Morse Code and often taps on the wall of room 6.
Joy Hanson said the spirits go about their business as if they were alive — opening and closing doors, turning lights on and off, walking around. The ghost children jump on the beds, play with things and knock on the doors as a prank.
Unexplained orbs sometimes show up in guest photos.
Chuck Hanson said a lot of guests don’t know the Mason House Inn is haunted, and they don’t mention it.
“We have a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ kind of policy,” Joy Hanson said.
However, many people stay at the inn because it is haunted, she said, adding that about 75 percent of the people looking for an “experience” will get one.
She did say that some folks check out early.
If you go:
Guest rooms: Eight plus a railroad caboose cottage.
Rates: $59 and up plus tax.
Contact information: The Mason House Inn, 21982 Hawk Drive, Bentonsport, IA 52565. Phone: (319) 592-3133. Reservations: (800) 800-592-3133. E-mail: Stay@MasonHouseInn.com.
Copyright 2009 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This article appeared in The Dispatch, Moline, Ill., and The Rock Island (Ill.) Argus.