The Ghosts of West Liberty Past

Stephanie Vallez · Wednesday, November 1, 2017
Saturday night offered more than the usual weekend fun, Oct. 28, as the Ghost Tour passed through the downtown stirring up the paranormal history of West Liberty.

In preparation for Halloween, the spooky walking tour was set up by West Liberty’s own Downtown Task Force (DTF).

Ticket sales supported the CDBG grant application that the city is hoping to complete, which would grant the city $500,000 to restore several building facades in the downtown.

While many of the old buildings have already been restored, this grant could finish as many as 10 or 12 more buildings.

Muscatine County Historic Preservation Commission Commission Chair Lisa Wertzbaugher told the tourists that “100 percent of the ticket money is going toward this grant application.”

She’s working hand-in-hand with the DTF in order to secure the CDBG grant, as well as organizing downtown events such as the Ghost Tour.

She noted that the idea to have a tour of West Liberty’s haunted history is not a new idea at all.

Many other old cities offer tours of haunted places, such as New Orleans, Boston, and Gettysburg, where Ghost Tours of historic buildings promote tourism.

West Liberty’s downtown area is a Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. With such a long and rich history on the rail line, it wasn’t hard to find our own ghosts.

The tour was limited to 35 people, mainly due to certain building capacity requirements. Tickets sold quickly and the tour was full.

The tourists were led by Lisa Wertzbaugher and Cliff McFerren, who told local ghost stories as tourists wandered between the 400 block of 3rd Street and Railroad Park.

The tour was joined by the Iowa City Ghost Hunters, a paranormal investigation group, as well as special guests Eli Portugal, who gave a presentation on Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, and Gretchen Little, a local psychic medium.

It began in the home of Cliff and Cara McFerren, which was used as a boarding house during the prohibition era.

The McFerren family has often had spooky experiences in the home, as have their guests, which they attribute to a ghost they call Jim.

After some research into the home’s history they believe their house contains not only beautiful old woodwork and a happy family, but the ghost of a former rum-runner as well.

The Iowa City Ghost Hunters used their scientific equipment and a very sensitive schnauzer to find hot spots of paranormal activity in the 19th century home.

The group has explored many allegedly haunted places in the area, a service they provide entirely free of charge, and agreed that Cliff and Cara’s home has some unexplained phenomena.

From there the tour walked downtown to the New Strand, the historic theater dating back to the days of Vaudeville performers.

The New Strand has been the site of many strange occurrences, and tourists heard the eyewitness accounts of strange objects half-buried in the dirt floor beneath the antique cinema.

The tour then ambled toward the Eulenspiegel Puppet Theater where Eli Portugal gave a musical presentation on the history and traditions of Dia De Los Muertos.

The tourists were offered a piece of delicious Pan De Muerto, a citrusy sweet bread which is traditionally eaten this time of year as part of the celebration of lives of our dearly departed loved ones.

A few more ghost stories were shared in the area of Railroad Park, where a haunted house on the corner has spooked several generations of residents and an old cabin seems to be borrowed by the ghost of a tired hobo, one of many people who came here on the train and never left.

Residents have reported more than once that the little locked cabin, which is part of the Depot Museum, has been found in disarray while the lock appeared to be undisturbed.

The tour finished with a visit to the Liberty Social Club where Gretchen Little, a local psychic medium and 7th generation resident of West Liberty, gave a reading to the crowd.

The Liberty Social Club sits in our town’s oldest building, which was built in 1867 or 1868, although the abstract for the property goes all the way back to 1838.

Tourists were not disappointed as Little found many spirits to engage with in the short time that was left.

Since the tour was such a success, Wertzbaugher says the Task Force is considering expanding the tour to “maybe a couple times a year and not just at Halloween.
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