Monday, July 4, 2011

Keokuk, IA: What's that noise?

Gate City (Keokuk): What's that noise?
Paranormal group explains what it found during investigation of Miller House Museum in Keokuk
By Celia Malm/Correspondent
Published: Saturday, July 2, 2011 10:28 AM CDT
On Thursday evening, the River City Paranormal Society gave a report about its investigations of paranormal activity in the historic Miller House Museum in Keokuk. The Lee County Historical Society sponsored the event, which took place in the Round Room at the Keokuk Public Library.

Natalie Porter of Keokuk and Jolene Kempker of Hamilton, Ill., organized the River City Paranormal Society about five years ago. The group, which has about seven members, investigates ghostly activity in the Tri-State Area.

Porter and Kempker explained that in the past, people often wouldn’t talk to anyone about their paranormal experiences. The popularity of ghost-hunting shows has changed that to some extent.

The development of technology designed to identify paranormal activity also has allowed ghost-hunters to find objective proof of ghostly phenomena. EMF (electromagnetic field) detectors can show electrical activity where none should be present, and non-contact temperature sensors can locate inexplicably cold areas that may indicate the presence of a ghost.

Other high-tech tools include digital voice recorders for capturing EVP (electronic voice phenomena); digital cameras for picking up images, such as orbs, that are invisible to the naked eye; and the “ghost box,” which scans rapidly through the radio wave spectrum, giving ghosts a source of electronic white noise that they can manipulate in order to communicate audibly with investigators.

Recently, the River City Paranormal Society had the opportunity to take their ghost-hunting equipment into the Miller House in Keokuk.


The Miller House was built in 1859 by Samuel F. Miller, who was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. It is now operated as a museum by the Lee County Historical Society.

Many people have reported paranormal incidents there over the years, such as cold spots and shutters opening and closing on their own.

On one occasion, a re-enactor who was using an upstairs bedroom in the Miller House as a dressing room returned after her presentation to find all the chairs in the room shoved up against the door from the inside.

“There are so many items in that house that belonged to so many different people,” said Kempker. “You have to wonder if their spirits are still connected.”

During the group’s evening at the Miller House, their instruments picked up a number of curious phenomena, including EMF energy around a desk owned by Mark Twain’s mother, and some strange drops in temperature.

Electrical malfunctions can also signal ghost activity, and the group experienced several such incidents. The lights in the upstairs hallway flickered off when no one was near the switch, and several members had inexplicably rapid battery depletion in their electronic devices.

Battery draining is common around ghosts, said Porter, who recommended bringing extra batteries for flashlights while ghost-hunting.

Another unexplained incident occurred when a video camera that had been left on unattended made an attempt to change the auto-focus, without anything moving in front of the lens.

The most interesting phenomenon that was captured, however, was the output from the “ghost box.” On a number of occasions, the box expressed words that were clearly in response to the conversation of the group members.

At one point, Kempker was talking about what time it was. The box piped up, “Late.” It also replied, “Thank you,” after Kempker thanked the ghosts in the house for their cooperation as the group was leaving.

In addition to their report about the Miller House, Porter and Kempker shared their experiences at two other locations: the Mason House Inn in Bentonsport, Ia., and the “Axe Murder House” in Villisca.

The Mason House Inn is a haunted bed and breakfast that periodically offers ghosthunting classes. Porter and Kempker recommended it as a good place to start looking for friendly ghosts, including a ghost cat that may have shown up in a photo as an orb near the floor after Kempker called, “Here, kitty, kitty!”

Villisca, in southwestern Iowa, was the scene of the grisly mass murder of a sleeping family in 1912, and the family’s home is believed to be one of the most haunted places in Iowa. Porter and Kemper collected much paranormal evidence there, including video of a closet door that mysteriously closed in response to their request.

River City Paranormal Society’s next project is an investigation of the Grand Theatre in Keokuk. Many ghostly incidents have been reported there over the years, such as the appearance in the balcony of a woman in white, the sound of voices when no one else is present in the building and the strange behavior of lights in the basement hallway.

Even Porter’s very skeptical husband experienced a strange encounter when he was alone backstage during a performance: He felt something brush past behind him and heard footsteps on the basement stairs. No one was there.

Porter and Kempker hope more people in the area will join their group.

“We don’t charge for our investigations,” said Kemper. “This is our hobby.”

Those who are are interested in ghost-hunting or have experienced a paranormal phenomenon in the Tri-State area and would like it investigated, can contact the group by email at or call Porter at 524-8042 or Kempker at 319-470-0774. The group also has a website at

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