It’s Halloween again! It’s time for stories of ghouls, dark deeds, and of course ghosts.
It seems that every village, town, and city across the county dig deep and find some local legend or ghost story to share.
My little corner of the world is no different. This Halloween I’d like to share some of the stories from my region.
Let me start with one of our local legends – the Banshee of Brady Street.
According to the story, in 1918, a man named Alfred Schadt moved his family into a grand Victorian house along Brady Street, one of Davenport, Iowa’s main streets.
Not long after they moved in, his young son died suddenly. Because this is a legend and it makes the story sound better, the son fell from an attic window and was impaled on a wrought-iron fence below. To make it even weirder, some telling’s of the story claim that he was pushed by a mysterious hobo that was somehow in the house at the time.
We don’t know who the hobo was or how the hell he got into the house, so don’t ask. This is a legend, and logic doesn’t apply here.
All you need to know is that they were mysterious, and, apparently murderous.
After the death of their young son, the Schadt’s were obviously heartbroken. However, life needed to move on, and they tried to get back to their lives as best as they could.
Unfortunately, their teenage daughter drowned in the bathtub soon after. While it’s tempting to speculate that the hobo might have done it, this was apparently an accident. They must have moved on, too.
But Mrs. Schadt could not move on, and, in a fit of uncontrollable, agonizing grief, hung herself in the basement of the house. Not long after, Alfred followed suit, hanging himself in the kitchen.
The Schadt family were all dead now, all gone within a year. But their house was still there, and any house like theirs would have been a hot commodity along Brady Street in those days.
Real estate brokers saw big dollar signs, and quickly tried to sell it. But no one wanted to buy it. With an entire family having died in the house in such a short amount of time, people concluded that the home must be cursed.
Seems logical to me. I mean, it’s a nice house, but what good is having a cool house if you’re dead?
The house sat empty for a long time until it was bought by none other than a Chicago gangster. He bought the house on the cheap, and, because he was a gangster, he promptly turned it into a brothel.
Because why else would a gangster buy a big Victorian house?
It was a popular place – for a time. Until strange things began to happen there.
People saw shadows move out of the corner of their eye, and objects moved by themselves.
We won’t talk about the strange moaning sounds they heard.
Before long the patrons began to find other things to do with their time, and the brothel closed.
The home was empty again for a while after that, but eventually someone bought it and re-opened it as a college rooming house.
Once again, the spirits of the house re-emerged to haunt the living. Shadows glided silently down the hall. Phantom footsteps walked across empty floors. Objects began to move by themselves, as if by unseen hands.
According to the story, this is the time the banshee made her first appearance.
Banshees are from Irish legend. They take the form of a wailing woman, and are said to be an omen of imminent death.
Soon the college students that lived there had enough and found other places to live.
The house stayed empty this time, falling further into disrepair and ruin year by year. Eventually, it was torn down.
Some say that the spirits that dwelled in the home were set free – including the banshee – to wander the city.
It’s a fun story, but, like so many story’s like this one, there’s a problem.
There is strong evidence that supports that none of this ever happened.
According to researchers at the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center in Davenport, there was never an Alfred Schadt – or anyone else by that name – living on Brady Street at the time these horrific deaths allegedly took place.
Nor are there records of anyone by that name dying in Davenport between 1917 and 1920.
To be completely fair, this doesn’t mean that something like this didn’t happen elsewhere in the city. Maybe the legend gets the name wrong, or maybe the wrong street.
However, the historical record doesn’t support the legend as it is told.
Is it fun to tell? Yes. Is it fun to listen to in the dark? Yes. Is it true? Probably not.
However, there is another legend that has…well, some…of it’s story based on a real place.
In the mid-1800’s, farmers in the American Midwest used plow blades made from cast iron to plow their fields. The rich black dirt was not only great for growing things, but was also very good at sticking to cast iron.
Can you imagine? Farmers – hot, sweaty, and tired from using a horse-drawn plow to drag a furrow through thick prairie sod – had to stop every so often and carefully scrape their plow share clean.
It was terrible! They would complain about it all the time, and one of the people who they complained to was a blacksmith in Grand Detour, Illinois by the name of John Deere.
They would go to his shop, put in an order for something, and tell him how much it sucked scraping their plow.
But instead of just nodding sympathetically, Deere listened, and, one day, he had an idea to do something about it.
Taking an old industrial sawblade, John Deere heated it and hammered it into a plow share and attached it to a hand-made plow. He theorized that the soil wouldn’t stick to a highly-polished steel plow blade, and he proved himself right in front of a huge crowd of local farmers.
While other blacksmiths had also made steel plows, they did them one by one, as was the standard of the time.
Deere was much more ambitious, and he began to find ways to mass produce and market his steel plow.
In 1848, Deere moved to Moline, Illinois and built a new manufacturing plant for his plows there. Before long, his company was producing 1,000 plows a year.
Nine years later, however, his empire almost came to a screeching halt.
In 1857, the United States faced a widespread economic crisis that became known as the Panic of 1857.
Bank collapses and a large overreach of the country’s economy helped lead to an economic depression that lasted three years.
Many businessmen across the country were hurt by the crisis, and John Deere was no different. Getting the basic materials to manufacture his plows became very difficult, and production slowed. With that came reduced sales, and the bills began to mount.
But John had an ace up his sleeve. While he was a good businessman, he knew his son Charles was a much, much better one.
Charles Deere had received a business education in Chicago and he joined the family business as a bookkeeper when he was only 16.
He learned fast, and soon discovered that he had a knack for business, marketing, and sales. Charles quickly established a well-earned reputation in the company.
When the company began to spiral, John handed over the reins to his son. John would remain as the company’s president, but Charles would be the real power guiding the business.
Charles proved more than equal to the task.
He not only guided the company safely from the brink of financial ruin, but turned it into an international agricultural implement powerhouse.
When John died in 1886, Charles became the second president of the company.
In 1907, Charles died and was buried next to his daughter in Riverside Cemetery in Moline, only about forty feet from his father.
In that time, America’s Gilded Age, great men deserved great monuments in death, and Charles was no exception.
Charles and his daughter were the first internments in their own family plot. The area was marked by a twenty-foot tall stone cross, a large marker stone with the family name carved in it, and a beautiful metal statue of a female angel standing between the two.
After being exposed to the elements, the angel gradually turned black.
While the color change is a well-understood result of the oxidation of the metal, locals began to make up their own story for why the angel changed color, and the Black Angel of Riverside Cemetery was born.
Although there were a few variations, the story was that if you kissed the angel at midnight, then you would die.
Over the decades, the Charles Deere family plot became a popular spot for local teenagers and children to visit, daring each other to kiss the angel.
Most of it was harmless, and the Deere family turned a blind eye to it.
As the years passed, however, their attitude began to change.
Some visitors weren’t content to simply kiss the angel and decided to vandalize the monument instead. Perhaps most notably, in 1965 someone painted the statue bright orange.
By the early 1970’s, the family had enough. Their loved ones were buried underneath that angel. The legend was mostly harmless fun, but it was still a memorial to their family and they were tired of having people trying to damage it.
They decided to remove the angel and place it in storage. Eventually, the statue was moved to a facility in the desert southwest.
While that statue is long gone, the story lingers on.
Several local Quad Citians and others from around the region have their own stories where they braved the steep climb to the top of Riverside Cemetery and kissed the Black Angel.
It’s a fond memory for many, but ultimately one that they can tuck away someplace safe. They went to the cemetery, touched the cursed statue, and went back home. They sit down in a comfy chair in the middle of their warm living room, far from the October chill, and tell the story to their friends and family.
But what if the real ghost is already in your home?
There are some that claim that, in the comfort and safety of their own houses, strange things occur.
Several decades ago, a young man and his family lived on the west side of Davenport.
His father was a confident, strong man, unafraid and tough as nails. He wasn’t one to back down from a fight, and had settled more than one disagreement with his fists.
One morning, the man’s father was in the upstairs bathroom shaving.
As he guided the razor carefully across his face, he noticed something in the mirror. He squinted, and, with a start, realized what it was.
A man was standing in the bathroom right behind him.
The father turned quickly to confront the intruder, his hands already balled into fists. As soon as he did, the stranger sprinted down the stairs as fast as they could.
The father ran after, his heavy work boots thudding on the wooden stairs.
The intruder ran through the downstairs, then through the basement door. The father was right behind him, barely slowing down as he hurtled down into the basement.
When he got to the bottom, he stopped, panting, his chest heaving with the exertion of the chase.
There was no way out of the basement. The intruder had to be there.
There were no windows. The stairs leading to the doors outside had been removed several years prior and the doors themselves were chained shut.
There was no way out except through him. They had to be there.
Eventually, the father moved and began searching the basement. The entire time he kept glancing at the stairs, waiting for the intruder to come out from their hiding spot and try and sneak back out the way he had come.
But there was nothing. No one was there.
The father couldn’t figure it out. Where had the intruder gone? He had clearly seen the man, had seen him run down into the basement with his own eyes.
But the more he thought about it, the more something seemed off.
The father kept playing the incident back in his mind over and over again.
He had never heard any footsteps from the intruder as they ran down the stairs. He had heard his own footsteps, but never from them.
Suddenly, he realized what had been so off.
The intruder hadn’t had any legs.
Some stories are just stories, some legends are just legends.
There may be a hint of truth to them, or maybe they’re completely made up.
And sometimes, usually when we least expect it, we touch on something else, something that, no matter how much we want to, we just can’t fully explain.
Landers, Jackson. Did John Deere’s Best Invention Spark a Revolution or an Environmental Disaster? Smithsonian Magazine, 12/17/2015
Charles Deere. www.deere.co.uk
John Deere. www.deere.co.uk
Pohlen, Jerome. Oddball Iowa. Chicago Review Press, 2005; Chicago
Glass, Andrew. The Panic of 1857 is triggered in New York, Aug. 24, 1857. www.politico.com 8/24/2015
Booker, Roy. Moline’s Black Angel revisited. Quad City Times, 11/25/2003