Tuesday, September 2, 2014


Cover Story

Tales of Iowa hauntings

10/30/2013

Ever been called crazy? I mean, truly experienced the self shrink against the cold sincerity of someone’s towering accusation, the helplessness of possessing a powerless conviction that fails to move a doubter to your corner regardless of your disparity, your logic, your unwavering argument, your repeated swearing to God that it’s true?

That’s the feeling a person has when trying to tell someone he or she saw a ghost.

“In the ’80s I couldn’t tell anyone my house was haunted, or they’d say I was nuts. But nowadays, with the shows on TV and stuff, there is more awareness,” said construction engineer Will Conkel.

Conkel’s always been “a believer.” Since he was a kid living in what he says was a haunted house in Utah, he’s always had a sense about him. So when he found out his boss was bidding on a contracting job at the old Bondurant-Farrar Elementary School, an exciting shiver twinkled like a star from his tail bone to his brain stem.

“I heard the rumors that this place was haunted, so I looked forward to having some experiences here,” he said, standing in the school hallway. His eyes rolled upward, pushing his salt-and-pepper eyebrows into the shadows under the bill of his hat, as they scanned the corners of the room where the walls meet the ceiling, barely noticing the exhausted cobwebs weeping with dust.

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CVA_31PAGE 14The old school is ominous, I’ll give him that. Far enough out of the way to be rightfully left alone, they say the spirits lurk within the old walls, beckoned only by nosy paranormal enthusiasts who are no strangers to the aforementioned name-calling of non-believers. The swings on an overgrown playground subtly sway, either by am invisible breeze or by the echoing memory of a child whose spirit is confined in this all-but-forgotten Purgatory, sentenced to an eternity of boredom and futility foraging for a playmate.

Once a week, a few will arrive. But they always leave again. No one stays. No one but the scary old man who ne’er leaves the shadows of the boiler room — an accused pedophile janitor whose post-mortem curse vexes the grounds with the sickness and sins that have been filed away in the building’s vaulted secrets. And there’s Will Conkel, the whistling fix-it man who volunteers for weekly rendezvous with the stirring spirits rumored to be haunting the Farrar Elementary School, tortured by time.

“It’s my opinion that, if horrific things happen, they can never leave,” Conkel cavalierly explained. “There have been stories of abuse when it was a school (1922-2004).”

Watch live footage of Will Conkel’s telling of the Farrar Elementary School’s “shadow mom.”

Watch live footage of Will Conkel’s telling of the Farrar Elementary School’s “shadow man.”

Conkel volunteers his time one day a week for the building’s current owners, Jim and Nancy Oliver, who capitalize on the ghostly rumors by holding paranormal parties and events and are turning the relic into a for-rent event location. “I love this building with all my heart. I love the history,” Conkel said. “The only bad thing about restoring it is taking the creepy out of it.”

“The creepy” whispers from every traffic-worn floor, every creaking wooden step up to where the principal’s office once overlooked a lively playground and the narrow gravel driveway leading from the road to the school, every flickering light buzzing overhead, every locker door left eerily open. And especially in the basement boiler room where Conkel first saw the “shadow person” that has become a celebrity among local paranormal investigators.

“I believe it to be the janitor,” Conkel said, a hypothesis he gathered from the claims of various visiting psychics. “He hangs out in the boiler room most of the time. I was working down there, and I saw a shadow back in the tunnel with deep, dark-red eyes, staring me down. I just stood there and looked straight at him for about two minutes, then it flew up on the ceiling and its face materialized for a split second, and I saw he was just an old, frail feeble man who was disguising himself as a 6-foot-9 shadow figure, and other people have described it the same way.”

At least once a week the owners open the old building up to visiting paranormal investigators, and all record similar experiences: the shadow figure in the boiler room; a menacing male voice saying “Get out!”; sounds of children laughing or playing; disembodied voices; a lady (presumably a deceased school cook) singing from the kitchen.

“I was a skeptic,” Jim Oliver said. “But that kitchen in particular, three different groups came up with the same name from that kitchen and say they saw a cook in there.”

Des Moines Area Paranormal Society leaders Kim and Brian Perry couldn’t be more convinced — even Kim, who after investigating more than 100 different sites with her husband and their team, says she always remained a skeptic until the Farrar School.

“I have to have something specifically happen to me in order for me to believe it, and this is the only place where I feel something happening,” she said.

Brian and Kim Perry, of Ankeny, lead the Des Moines Area Paranormal Society.

Brian and Kim Perry, of Ankeny, lead the Des Moines Area Paranormal Society.

Bondurant-Farrar isn’t the only school district that harbors haunting rumors. In fact, it seems schools are common places for paranormal activity, according to legend, rumor and local ghost hunters. It’s been said that a little girl has been heard singing while haunting the Saydel High School hallways at night, and more than once people have claimed to have spotted a purple orb in Dowling High School.

Others have reportedly witnessed a glowing blue light in a restroom at the 150-year-old East High School, which allegedly flashed right behind two students who caught the reflection in the mirror before it disappeared. Before the flash, a spark of electricity was reportedly on the faucet when one of the students reached for it.

Odd blue lights and shadows have supposedly been showing up in the balcony at Lincoln High School Auditorium, too, witnessed by people who find nobody is up there when they go to investigate. According to Yahoo writer Courtney McGarry, who penned “Top 10 Haunted Places in Iowa: A Ghost Hunt in Iowa,” some people have also reported walking through cold spots and seeing the seats fold down on their own.

CVA_31PAGE 142“The Drama and Choir departments hold the most stories of this place,” McGarry writes. “The wings are a place where costumes move and where the curtains and ropes seem to swing by themselves, and some even claimed to have felt fingers running up their back.”

Could it be just their over-active imaginations? Are the paranormal investigators of the world really just capturing their own delusions on infrared cameras, audio recordings and ghost meters? Or are restless souls lingering in the air we breathe?

Could it be that we’re all, perhaps, just a little bit crazy? CV

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