Davenport is an old city. Old cities have seen a lot of people, a lot of events. Every single one of those individuals and events left a mark, whether good or bad. The city has a lot of memories. It would stand to reason that some of those memories…linger on.
This week, I would like to share with you an unusual story that I happened upon while doing some research. Whether you, the reader, believe it or not, the story is there. I am only here to tell the tale, not to make a convincing argument for the existence or non-existence of the supernatural. I leave that up to you.
Main Street is one of the oldest streets in town. As such, it runs through some of the original parts of the city, and has many historic buildings and houses along its length.
The road begins at the Mississippi River, then winds northward through the downtown area. Main Street was one of the primary roads through the original part of Davenport, and early pioneers such as Antoine LeClaire, Colonel George Davenport, Ebenezer Cook, and J.M.D. Burroughs strode along it. They built their businesses there, along with hotels and mercantile.
As time passed, the city began to grow. Like an ink blot on parchment paper, it spread it all directions. Main Street was extended northward up the bluff, and then beyond. Old businesses were replaced with new ones, such as the Putnam Building and the Davenport Bank.
Along the bluff, houses were built. Some of them were relatively modest, but others were not. Perhaps chief amongst the latter is the Ficke Mansion.
The mansion was originally built in 1884 by ultra-wealthy Davenport financier James Monroe Parker. The brick home boasted three stories and thirty-eight rooms, done in the Second Empire style. The mansard roof featured colored roofing tiles and a widow’s walk.
Inside, the rooms were gigantic, featuring twelve and a half foot ceilings. They were filled with lavish woodwork, and had such features as sliding doors and a wine cellar. There was even a form of primitive air conditioning that allowed fresh air to travel through the house via ducts in the foundation.
When Parker died in 1892, Charles August Ficke bought the home from Parker’s widow the following year.
Born in Germany, he immigrated to America with his family as a small boy. His father, who had been very wealthy, eventually bought a farm in northern Scott County, around the Long Grove area. Unfortunately, the elder Ficke’s talents did not extend to farming, and he did very poorly his first year.
Still, he never gave up and strived to learn his newfound trade. After several mistakes and bad harvest years, Mr. Ficke eventually became a successful farmer. Young Charles, however, was determined that he would never again face those lean years.
He left home at the age of thirteen, moving to Davenport to begin his life’s journey. Charles would eventually learn the banking trade, and then give it up to attend law school and become a successful lawyer. Charles served two terms as the mayor of Davenport, but gave it up to pursue a quiet life with his family.
In 1882, he had married Frances Davison. The daughter of a prominent Davenport man, Fannie, as she was more commonly known, was attractive and well-educated. She bore Charles three children, and loved her family dearly.
C.A. Ficke and his family would travel extensively all over the world, and he brought back several pieces of art to his home. Fannie was both encouraging and supportive of his hobby. Ficke eventually collected so much that he converted the entire third floor of his huge mansion into a private art gallery. It was this enormous collection that would eventually form the core collection for the Davenport Museum of Art, later named the Figge Art Museum.
Ficke died at the age of 81 in 1931. He and Fannie had been married for almost five decades.
Frances continued to live in the home at 1208 Main Street.
Fannie had been no less a leader in the community than her late husband, and continued doing so after his death. She was a leader on the Davenport Public Library Board and the Ladies Industrial Relief Society. During World War I, she had also been actively involved with the Red Cross.
Fannie was a quiet woman, and humble in her demeanor. However, she had a keen intelligence, and strove to make the world her lived in a better place through volunteering and monetary donations.
In 1945, she passed away at her home in late 1945.
The mansion passed through several different people, until it was purchased by Delta Sigma Cha chiropractic fraternity from nearby Palmer College of Chiropractic. They have strived to both renovate and maintain the historic property, and have done an outstanding job for the past several years. But there is at least one person who claims that they are not the only one who occupies the house.
In 2003, one of Charles’s and Fannies relatives contacted the Quad City Times, a newspaper based in Davenport. She talked about her father, who had spent time in the Ficke Mansion as a youth. But, she also related something else – that she believed the house was haunted.
She claimed that Fanny still walked the halls of the old mansion, and was known to stare out the widows walk that features so prominently on the upper floors. Whether the current occupants of the home have seen her or heard footsteps walking down the hardwood floors is uncertain, and they’re not saying.
However, at least some of the family believed that she did. The relative who wrote the times jokingly implied that Fanny was watching out the window for another art delivery for her husband Charles.
But, for such an intelligent and open-minded woman as Fanny, who, along with her beloved husband, had invested so much into Davenport, Fanny just wanted to watch out the window and see what was becoming of the city of her birth. Perhaps her spirit wanted to watch Davenport grow and develop, to see what new wondrous inventions the minds of men would make and change the world with.
Does Fanny Ficke really walk the halls of her former home? Who can say? If she does, she is seemingly as quiet and polite as she was in life.
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