Tales from the neighborhood: spook sightings in Floyd County

Riverside Cemetery. Press photo by Thomas Nelson
Riverside Cemetery. Press photo by Thomas Nelson
Stories collected by Thomas Nelson, tnelson@charlescitypress.com

Charles City is an old town. Many people have lived and died in town, and some of those that died may still occupy parts of it — if you believe the tales.

The Press asked citizens to share their ghost stories or sightings, and there was an overwhelming response.

Many of those that submitted their stories asked that they be allowed to remain anonymous, some out of fear of what the information might do to their property values. These stories have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

The first story takes place in a rented home in Floyd County, that could still be in use today.

  • • •

Late-night visitor

“I rented a house in Floyd County and lived there with my fiancé. About a month into living at this home, I was studying for an exam in the living room with no TV or radio on — it was very quiet.  After a while I started hearing someone talking. It was a mumbling noise.

“I could not hear what they were saying so assumed it was someone outside. I went around the house looking out the windows and did not see anyone. I did not hear the person talking again so assumed that it was someone walking by and returned to studying.

“About a week later I was in bed sleeping facing away from my fiancé when I felt him put his arm around me and hold my hand. I am a very light sleeper and it does not take much to wake me up. I rolled over only to see he was facing the other way and sleeping. I immediately woke him up told him to turn on the light and told him about it.

“He looked a little freaked out. I asked him why. He said that a few days earlier he had seen someone walk by the computer room while he was working in there. He did not say anything because he did not want to scare me.

“Needless to say, we moved out that next day.

“After talking to others, we found out that an older gentleman had died there. I do not know anything other than that about the house or death of this man. But I do know that others who have lived there have also had experiences with this ghost.”  

  • • •

‘You could tell by their eyes’

Jeff Bergstrom worked at Riverside Cemetery for 36 years and has come to know many Charles City residents, both alive and dead.

“While working at Riverside Cemetery, and this was in 1970, we had to check on the Bunsen burners that heated the graves with a grave heater. That was an insulated metal heater that fit over the grave, length- and width-wise, with a ⅜ pipe or 1½-inch stock at the other end of it. This heated and thawed the dirt to where you could easily dig it with a backhoe in about one hour, compared to shoveling by hand for four hours or more.

“Now, we check those burners at one, two or three o’clock in the morning — to make sure the wind didn’t blow them out and to relight them if we had to. We usually had bottle gas tanks there to keep it burning all night or for 12 hours.

“Well, on a real cold Thanksgiving Eve in 1970, my dad and I went out to Riverside at 2 a.m. to check it in my 1957 Chevy and while doing so near the main gate off of Hart Street and Boulevard, we saw a bearded ghost man walking by my car on the cemetery road and walking north and he waved hello and kept walking for another 10 to 15 seconds and disappeared right in front of us in the dark part of the street light that shined light to the main cemetery gate.

“My dad said, ‘God, that’s a real ghost and I’m getting the hell out of here,’ and went over to my 57 Chevy and took off in it and didn’t come back for 30 minutes or so, while I stayed there and got the burner going again and readjusted the plywood planks that were all around the grave heater  — to help keep the wind out — with no incident or sight of the ghost man again.

“Then my dad came back and got out of the car and said, ‘Come on, let’s get out of here.’ I said, ‘Get on the passenger side and I’ll drive my car and calm your ass down, you scaredy pants.’

Riverside Cemetery. Press photo by Thomas Nelson
Riverside Cemetery. Press photo by Thomas Nelson

“From then on my dad made me go out there at one, two or three in the morning to check the burner, for almost a year, before he got brave enough to go out there with me again. I clearly saw the man’s face and did some research on it and found out it was James Cullen, who murdered his wife and son on Clark Street here in Charles City, two houses down to the east where I live on. He was hanged on the old Main Street bridge by a mob of people at night shortly after he murdered his wife and son.

“In the spring of 1971, I saw James Cullen again, riding a bike in Riverside Cemetery where he’s buried in [the northwest section of it], again he waved and gave me a thumbs up as he walked away.

“I’ve seen the ghosts of dead local residents including Hubert Duncan, who hung himself in 1963 at the Ox-Bulk Plant off of Hildreth Street; Dale Hickock, a local farmer, and others.

“What I’m telling you here is true, as Riverside Cemetery has been haunted for years. Mainly around the chapel and down on the range near the Cedar River. These ghosts come and go so quick, within 30 seconds to a minute and they never bothered me or harmed me. They look like normal people, except for their eyes. Their eyes are odd colored and kind of shiny sometimes. You could tell they were ghosts by their eyes.

“Over many years I got used to it.

  • • •

Strange noises

Not all ghost are thought to be bad, and they may just be spirits lost in world they don’t understand anymore. Sometimes doing something as simple as fixing a chimney can help silence spirits.

“My family and I moved to a house, several years ago, in Charles City, built in 1920.

“I was a stay-at-home mom for the first year we lived there. The kids were all school-aged and my husband worked days.

“I first noticed strange noises when I would do laundry in the basement. It sounded like someone walking around upstairs. Having wood floors throughout the house, footsteps were something you could hear.

“The first couple times I heard them, I rushed upstairs to see if someone had come home, but no one ever was. I tried to chalk it up to old house noises, but each time it really did sound like footsteps — not just creaking or house settling.

“After getting used to the footsteps, I was in my daughter’s room, putting things away in her mirror dresser. I had shut one drawer and was moving to another on the other side when I glanced in the mirror. In it I saw a little girl — maybe 4 or 5 — with a flowered dress on, looking at me.

“I stopped moving. I was very afraid to look again, but I needed to know if she was actually standing on that bed. I looked again and nothing was in the mirror. I turned and no one was on the bed.

“Shortly after the girl sighting, I was finishing up my nightly routine in the bathroom when I heard a little girl’s voice in the hallway say “hello?” like it was a question. I was frozen. It wasn’t my daughter’s voice for sure. She isn’t that timid. And she would have just walked in the room. I called out to my husband to look and no one was there. My daughter was sleeping.

“That night I told my husband about my experiences. He didn’t believe me. I didn’t blame him. It was all feeling unreal to me, too!

“The next incident was also at night. I was leaving the bathroom and in the hallway were several floating balls of light. I couldn’t believe they looked just like ones in the movies! I was a little afraid of what they would do but they floated away and disappeared.

“As I’ve said, my husband didn’t believe any of the things I’d been telling him, but that was about to change.

“We were in bed, reading and we heard footsteps outside our room. The footsteps stopped at our door which was shut. We thought maybe it was one of the kids. When no one knocked, we said, “hello?” The footsteps went in the other direction, toward the stairs and then just faded away.

“Our kids sleep with their doors shut. We didn’t hear any doors open or close, nor the sound of anyone climbing back in bed. Neither of us wanted to go in that hallway to check it out. We asked the kids the next morning to walk to our door and then to their beds, but nothing sounded like those steps the night before.

“My husband believes me now.

“A little while later we took down the chimney when renovating our house and neither of us saw or heard anything again.”