Emma Harvey had lived a good life, but now it had come to an end.
Born in New York, she and her parents had moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, during her childhood. In 1874, Emma had married Edward Shaw, a Davenport, Iowa, man who worked as a carpenter with his father, George.
About a year after their marriage, George Shaw became a partner in a sawmill and lumber company, an interest that Edward shared. After learning some of the basics of the trade from his father, Edward and Emma moved to southwest Iowa to pursue their own fortunes in the lumber industry.
A little over twenty years later, they returned to Davenport. After working for a few more years, Edward retired to a large Queen Anne-style home that he had built in 1901. For another two decades, Edward and Anna lived there, enjoying their well-earned retirement years.
Edward passed away in 1921, after which Emma continued as she had been for a while, entertaining members of her family and society. After she passed away in 1936, her body was taken to the Hill and Fredericks mortuary in Davenport.
Adolph Christian Schmidt had come to America from Germany in about 1911. A native of Germany, he immigrated to America and made his way to Davenport. He must have felt at home in its thriving German community.
He spent some time working as a gym teacher, and married Anna Haussman in 1925. At some point, he decided to better his lot in life and began attending classes at Palmer College of Chiropractic. Adolph became a licensed chiropractor, and the couple moved to St. Louis to open a practice there.
In 1932, Adolph suffered a debilitating stroke. Returning to Davenport, the couple seemed to be able to live fairly comfortably for a time. However, Adolph had begun to suffer health issues after his stroke and started to enter into bouts of deep depression.
In the early morning hours of October 5, 1936, the same day that Emma Shaw passed away at her home across the city, Adolph woke up, dressed, and walked out of his bedroom. He left Anna sleeping peacefully in bed.
Later that morning, Anna woke up and started her day. As she went into the living room and kitchen, she was surprised that she didn’t see her husband. Curious, she began looking through the house for him. When she couldn’t find him there, she went out to the garage.
As she approached, Anna could hear the car motor running. An uncomfortable feeling crept up her spine as she started to open the garage door. Clouds of blue fumes came rolling out from the building.
Anna instinctively brought her hand to her nose and mouth, coughing as the fumes temporarily engulfed her on their way out to the open air. Squinting, she could make out the outline of Adolph, sitting in a chair near the car exhaust.
Crying out, Anna went to him, but it was already too late. Adolph was gone.
In the depths of his depression, he had gone into the garage, closed all the windows and doors tight, and then turned on the car. Taking a chair, he sat down near the car exhaust, and waited.
The coroner came and examined Adolph’s body, and quickly determined that the cause of death was suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning. Although Adolph would be buried in St. Louis, he was first removed to Hill and Fredericks Mortuary for the funeral.
On the night of January 7, 1950, hospital workers at Mercy Hospital in Davenport saw flames shooting from the St. Elizabeth’s Hospital building near their main facility.
Built in 1874, St. Elizabeth’s was designated as a mental health facility for women. Some residents there were only temporary, while others with chronic issues were housed there on a more permanent basis.
While some people called the city’s fire department, others bravely ran toward the burning building to rescue the residents within. Between these individuals and the fireman and policeman that responded to the blaze, a little over twenty were rescued.
Sadly, there were forty-one people that would lose their lives either in the fire itself or later from injuries sustained in it. An initial thirty-eight bodies would be taken from the burning structure the night of the fire. They were taken to the main building of Mercy Hospital and stored in one room.
The county coroner, knowing that this wasn’t a long-term solution, put out an emergency call to all of the city’s undertakers that night. The undertakers at Hill and Fredericks were among them.
Although they certainly didn’t take all of the bodies, some of them were undoubtedly taken to their mortuary.
After the coroner’s inquest and examinations, the bodies were either released to their families or, for those that couldn’t be identified, buried in a large plot of their own on the grounds of Mercy Hospital.
Although all of these stories are unrelated, they do have one common thread: Hill and Fredericks mortuary.
The mortuary was the bond that they all shared, although not in life, but in death. They had all come together in that place to await departure for what would very likely be their last destination in this world. Each of them had a story of their own to tell, a story that they had lived, from birth unto death.
Their stories all intertwined with that of the mortuary, starting with one man: Oswald C. Hill.
Oswald C. Hill, or “Ossie” as he was more commonly known, had been born in Davenport in 1870, the son of Charles Hill, the owner of a local furniture store. He was educated in St. Louis, and then had returned to Davenport to become part of his father’s thriving furniture business.
In the 1890’s, Charles Hill retired. Instead of continuing the family store, Oswald decided to seek his fortunes elsewhere. Over the next several years, he managed different furniture businesses in Chicago, Omaha, and Milwaukee.
In 1909, for whatever reasons, Oswald decided to change careers and become an undertaker.
After completing courses in embalming in Des Moines, Iowa, Oswald returned to Davenport and opened Hill Funeral Home. He was very successful, and in a few years, he had already moved into a larger location.
In 1919, he asked his nephew, George Fredricks, to join his business. George readily agreed, and the new firm of Hill and Fredricks was formed.
Over the next decade, the business continued to thrive. Through it all, the two men began to dream of a newer, state-of-the-art facility that would be able to provide everything that both grieving families and funeral directors could want out a funeral home.
By October of 1929, their years of dreaming became a reality.
Oswald and George were able to procure the funding for their dream mortuary, the one that they had always talked about. Costing about $60,000 at the time, it would be built at the corner of 13th and Brady Streets in Davenport, a little further north than their current facility and yet still more than close enough to service the needs of the growing city.
The facility would be made up of three separate parts, all consisting of a gray brick and stone exterior fronted by a carefully landscaped lawn.
The first part, the mortuary and administration building, would be two stories high with a basement underneath. The main floor would house the main business office, along with other private offices. There would also be an 18 x 20-foot reception room that could be utilized for smaller or private funerals. In addition, there would be an elevator that could take bodies to any floor in the building.
On the second story would be a full sales room, with funeral clothes and caskets on display. The preparation room would also be here, fully equipped with the best and latest technology. A live-in custodian for the property would also have a small apartment on this floor as well.
In the basement would be a display room for funeral vaults, a laundry, a utility room, and a storeroom. In addition, there would also be a holding room for bodies just in case their funeral was delayed for some reason.
The second part of the facility, the chapel, would be able to seat 150 people on the main floor and a balcony above that was able to seat an additional 50. Although the chapel could be accessed from the administration building, it would also have its own, separate entrance leading to Brady Street.
Underneath the balcony two reception rooms were to be built. In the front of the chapel, a room on the right would be available for the family to use during the funeral, and on the left front a music room would be installed with a large pipe organ.
An alcove would be installed front and center of the chapel, where the casket would be placed during the service. A curtain could be pulled across the area to keep the attendees from seeing the body being removed to the hearse at the conclusion of the funeral.
The hearse would be kept in the third part of the building: an enormous, ten-car garage on the back of the facility.
The plans were highly praised by the National Selected Morticians as “…one of the most unusual and advanced in the county.”
In spite of the Great Depression hitting almost two months later, the facility was completed in full by the summer of 1930. After the final inspections, the building was opened for business.
The brand-new Hill and Fredericks mortuary was very well-received and played host to the funerals of dozens of people over the first few years of its operation alone. Perhaps one of the most famous ones held there was that of jazz musician Bix Beiderbecke in 1931.
Unfortunately, Oswald was only able to enjoy the fruits of his labor for a short time. On March 10, 1933, Oswald died of complications from kidney and heart problems. His body was removed to his own mortuary, and then later cremated at a separate facility.
For the next several years, George Fredericks successfully ran the mortuary. Countless people passed through, both to be tended to and buried, and hundreds more mourners taking their loved ones to their final resting place. Men, women, and children all passed through the doors of the preparation room and chapel.
In 1955, George decided that it was time to retire. He sold the mortuary to Edward Weerts, who had run funeral homes around Peru, Illinois for the past several years. The Weerts family would continue the tradition of respect and dignity that had been the hallmark of Hill and Fredericks for almost forty years prior.
In the 1980’s, the mortuary at 13th and Brady was sold and turned into a radio station.
The chapel was converted into space for the recording studios, the sales room into offices. Even the preparation room, where so many people were prepared for their final journey, was turned into useable office space.
While there were many conversions and updates over the years, the management and employees at the station remained aware of the building’s past. That might be because that, according to many, the past refuses to leave them alone.
Now run by a division of Townsquare Media, the former Hill and Fredericks has become known as the Rock and Roll Mansion and is home to several local radio stations. Since its conversion in the 1980’s, multiple employees in the building have reported encounters with the unexplained.
Perhaps one of the most common stories is that of phantom footsteps in the building. When people go to see who’s making them, they never find anyone.
Others have heard people talking or even singing in the building. Still others have heard the mournful tones of funeral music being played. When they go to investigate, people inevitably find that no one else is in the building and no studios are being used.
During a radio event, one local radio personality found themselves working in the studio during the early hours of the morning. As they sat in the relative quiet, they were startled by a loud, sharp banging sound from somewhere outside the studio.
Alarmed, they walked outside into the pitch-black area surrounding the studio to find out what had made the sound. As they stood there, eyes adjusting to the darkness, every overhead light turned on at exactly the same time. There was no one else with him at the time.
Unsettled, the DJ went back into the studio and didn’t leave again the rest of the night.
Another commonly told story is about the building’s elevator.
Once used to move bodies from one floor to another while the funeral home was still in use, the power to it was shut off in 1987. Without power, it shouldn’t have been able to move without some kind of mechanical assistance. And yet, it apparently did.
Over the years, several employees reported being able to hear the elevator moving behind the closed doors. Many more said that the elevator would be found on different floors at random times, as if someone was taking a body off of it like in the old days – or perhaps waiting for someone to get inside for one final ride.
Finally, the elevator’s unexplained behavior became too much for station employees to handle. The elevator doors were bolted firmly shut.
One night, Andrew Miller, a sales manager with McGrath Auto in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was brave enough to try and stay the night in the facility by himself.
Early in the evening, a companion went through the building with him, explaining what everything used to be. One of the stops that they made was in a bathroom where someone had allegedly had a paranormal encounter. The door was left open and unlocked.
Later that night, when Miller was in the building alone, he heard the sound of running water coming from that same bathroom. Going to take a look, he found the door was not only closed but firmly locked. Try as he might, he couldn’t get the door open.
Rattled by the event, Miller walked away for a few moments. Regaining his composure, he returned to the bathroom and tried the door again. This time the door was unlocked and swung inward with ease. Deciding that he had enough, Miller left.
Later, the bathroom door was examined. The door couldn’t be locked the outside. It could only be locked by physically turning a lock on the inside of the door.
While phantom sounds and objects manipulating themselves are disturbing enough, several people have reported seeing apparitions in the building.
Studio engineers have allegedly seen a lady in white moving through the recording studios. In the same area, people have seen the ghost of a grown woman and a child. Other apparitions have been seen in the offices.
One custodian quit after seeing a woman standing behind her in a bathroom mirror, only to fade away before her eyes.
For decades, the former Hill and Fredericks funeral home tended to the final needs of people from all walks of life. Some were rich, some were poor. Some died peacefully, while others died violently.
Hundreds of people came through their doors to pay their last respects; to give their final goodbyes to someone that meant something to them.
While the spirits of the deceased are supposed to move on, it would seem that some remain. Perhaps they are drawn to the energy left behind by all of the grief that once permeated the building. Maybe they just got lost along the way in their afterlife, and they remain.
Is the Rock and Roll Mansion haunted? A lot of people say yes. But ultimately, whether the spirits of the dearly departed still linger there is up to you to decide.
Entertains for House Guests. The Davenport Democrat and Leader, 10/13/1907
Entertains Bridge Whist Club. The Davenport Democrat and Leader, 10/15/1907
Entertains at Christmas Dinner. The Davenport Democrat and Leader, 12/27/1914
Long Illness Ends in Death of E.A. Shaw. The Davenport Democrat and Leader, 3/4/1921
Emma Harvey, Cedar Rapids, Iowa – Martha Bowers; Marlys Svendsen-Roesler. “National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form: E.A. Shaw House”. National Park Service.
Mrs. Shaw, 83, Widow Lumber Operator, Dies. The Davenport Democrat and Leader, 10/5/1936
Downer, Harry. History of Davenport and Scott County, Iowa, Volume 1. Chicago; S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1910.
Emma Shaw. State Historical Society of Iowa; Des Moines, Iowa; Iowa Death Records, 1888-1904
Oswald C. Hill. State Historical Society of Iowa; Des Moines, Iowa; Iowa Death Records, 1888-1904
Oswald C. Hill, 63, Local Undertaker, Dies at Home Following Short Illness. The Davenport Democrat and Leader, 3/10/1933
- Davenport’s Haunted Radio Station. Irock935.com.
Noe, Megan. Paranormal Investigators Planning Overnight Stay at Davenport Radio Station. Wqad.com
McGrath Auto. Sales Manager Stays in Haunted Davenport Mansion! 11/1/2018, youtube.com