Tag Archives: Mason House Inn

I was a (pretend) landscape painter for a day



John Preston is a full-time painter and wonderful teacher. Phil Roberts photo.

Villages Folk School manager Ken Burns drops in on each class. Phil Roberts photo.

John thoroughly explained everything he did. Phil Roberts photo.

John demonstrates a technique to Sue Burns. Phil Roberts photo.

John works with Jeanette Corley as I try to look like I know what I'm doing. Ken Burns photo.

Jeanette Corley is obviously not a novice. Phil Roberts photo.

Carroll Michalek is an experienced painter, too. Phil Roberts photo.

If painting is like riding a bike, here I am without training wheels. Ken Burns photo.

My first effort. Thanks, John, for your help with the trees or I'd still be there doing leaves one by one. Phil Roberts photo.

My various jobs over the years — particularly in public relations and news reporting and as a freelance writer — have allowed me to meet some interesting people and do some interesting things.

I’ve been a modern day Walter Mitty at times.

Mitty, should you have forgotten your school literature class, is a dreamer who imagines himself working in a number of occupations. He was a character in a short story, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” by James Thurber, first published by The New Yorker in 1939.

I’ll admit it: There’s some Walter Mitty in me. And I suspect there’s some in lots of reporters and writers. Maybe in you, too.

Take last weekend, for example. Mrs. Mitty….er, I mean my best friend and my wife, Sherry….and I signed up for classes in the Villages Folk School ( of Van Buren County, in southeast Iowa.

Classes there run from January through November in everything from candle making and beginning knitting to blacksmithing, poetry and basket weaving. They are taught by local artisans.

“Our campus is 485 square miles,” says school manager Ken Burns. (No, not that Ken Burns.) “It’s the villages of Van Buren County.”

More than 100 students from five states have taken classes this year from 27 instructors. Burns hopes to double that number and offer continuing education credits in 2011.

On Saturday (Oct. 16), Sherry took an all-day fall bird-watching course ($69 fee, lunch and transportation included) taught by Raymond and Connie Morris. I took an all-day painting-the-landscape course ($55) taught by John Preston. I intend to write a freelance story about the experience and sell it for publication.

Sherry’s only need for her class was binoculars, which she already owned.

My materials list, on the other hand, was longer. Little by little beginning in July, I gathered an easel, palette, brushes, canvas panels and paints from eBay, Amazon and other sources.

We stayed last Friday night (Oct. 15) at our favorite B&B, Chuck and Joy Hanson’s Mason House Inn in Bentonsport.

After one of Joy’s delicious breakfasts on the next morning, it was off to class. Sherry dropped me at the site of an old mill on the riverfront in Bentonsport for my painting class. Then she headed to Mt. Sterling, a wetlands area and the starting point for her bird-watching adventure.

At the end of the day, Sherry raved about her class and all she’d learned. My class was worthwhile, too — although I decided not to quit any of my day jobs. John, a talented, full-time landscape painter, was an easy-going, patient teacher who dealt professionally with my obvious lack of experience and, perhaps, talent.

The class had four students — three women and myself. I wasn’t in class long before it became obvious to me the women had painted before. But, like John, they were kind to this rookie. Translation: They didn’t laugh at the colored splotches I dabbed on my canvas.

John and I had exchanged some e-mails in the weeks before the class, and I had expressed some concern as to what I had gotten myself into.

His answer put me at ease: “Don’t worry, it’s like riding a bike, just messier!”

He was right about that. At least the messier part. When it was over, I had many colors of paint on my hands, jacket, T-shirt and shorts. There was some on the canvas, too.

What ended up on my clothes may actually have been my best work.

Copyright 2010 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.

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Posted by on October 18, 2010 in Uncategorized


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Bentonsport, Iowa, B&B offers ghostly fun

The haunted Mason House Inn in Bentonsport, Iowa. Photo by Phil Roberts

The haunted Mason House Inn in Bentonsport, Iowa. Photo by Phil Roberts

Chuck and Joy Hanson say their ghosts are happy residents who cause no harm. Photo by Phil Roberts

Chuck and Joy Hanson say their ghosts are happy residents who cause no harm. Photo by Phil Roberts

An old bridge across the Des Moines River connects small Bentonsport, Iowa, with smaller Vernon, Iowa. The Mason House Inn can be seen in the background. Photo by Phil Roberts

An old bridge across the Des Moines River connects small Bentonsport, Iowa, with smaller Vernon, Iowa. The Mason House Inn can be seen in the background. Photo by Phil Roberts

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 — — 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:

Copyright 2009 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This article appeared in The Dispatch, Moline, Ill., and The Rock Island (Ill.) Argus.

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Posted by on October 8, 2009 in Uncategorized


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