Do suicides at a Brady Street home haunt the thoroughfare to this day? Were there hangings at the Davenport City Hall bell tower? Were aborted fetuses from pregnant nuns at The Villa in Rock Island buried in its walls?
Paranormal investigator Chad Lewis looked into these horrific tales and reveals his findings in new books about haunted places in Iowa and Illinois. "The Iowa Road Guide to Haunted Locations" was just released -- published by his company, Unexplained Research -- and his tome on the Land of Lincoln will come out in March.
"We never say whether we believe whether or not places are haunted," Mr. Lewis, of Eau Claire, Wis., said. "We try to give the reader accurate information, as much of the story as we can, and let the reader decide."
Mr. Lewis, 32, started his Web site, unexplainedresearch.com, in 2002, after working part-time on his obsession with ghost stories and UFOs. He encouraged the public to submit stories and they have, leading him to pen the state guides. It's now a full-time job.
"We love to hear people's stories," Mr. Lewis said. "They don't know who to tell stories to. Some people held on to their stories for 20 years. They didn't think people would believe them. In 2006, we've gotten reports from troops in Iraq, people from other countries contacting us. It's really a global site.
"People like a good ghost story," Mr. Lewis said. "We were pretty amazed by how these books have been received."
Mr. Lewis claims this is the first time tall tales have been investigated and put into an easy-to-follow format for individual states. For each location, he typically puts an address, phone number and directions. The books supply the history of each site, ghost lore, and the authors' investigation into the facts.
"We spent a lot of time in each town, talking to the historical society, the library, with seniors that have lived in the area," Mr. Lewis said.
He only chooses places open to the public and where "hauntings" have been alleged in the recent past (as opposed to 50 or 100 years ago).
For the Iowa book, he and co-author Terry Fisk visited more than 200 places and included 52 in the 246-page book.
The "Banshee of Brady Street" concerns an unknown Victorian house on Brady which no longer exists. Mr. Lewis writes that in 1918, according to the book "Oddball Iowa," the two children who lived there died, and then the parents committed suicide in the house.
It was a boarding house in the 1940s, and plagued by unexplained drafts and mysterious figures, the book says. Even after it was torn down for a parking lot, loud screams and strange whistling "are often reported." The book says "no one seems to know which exact house became cursed."
"Even though specifics are lost to history, hidden maybe, the overall picture, people remember. They have heard about weird things on Brady Street," Mr. Lewis said.
Davenport's police station was at city hall, 226 W. 4th St., until 1980. Local lore says that some prisoners were hanged in the bell tower, but the book notes they could not find any evidence of this.
Residents "will walk by the building and look up into the bell tower and are surprised to see the figure of a man hanging from a rope," the book says.
While again there is no proof, "the general public had heard of these stories," Mr. Lewis said. "Once people hear it enough, it becomes fact. People believe that it actually happened.
"We're not quite certain they didn't take place," he said of the hangings. "Just because we're not able to find reports, we never say that it didn't happen."
The story about The Villa -- a former Catholic girls school at 2000 16th Ave., Rock Island -- which opened in 1901 and was nearly completely destroyed by a 2005 fire -- seems more outrageous.
"If you venture into the old building, you will be followed by mysterious footsteps. The grounds are haunted by the spirits of the numerous students that have taken their own lives while attending the Villa," the forthcoming chapter says. Mr. Lewis did not find evidence of suicides.
Stories also revealed that some nuns became pregnant by priests "from the area" and sought abortions.
Unnamed "young residents" related rumors of the aborted fetuses. The books don't record sources because "we have found that when people find out you are writing a book and then you ask for their name, they do not want to tell their story," Mr. Lewis said.
"Rumors circulated that the fetuses were aborted and disposed of in the walls of the schools," the book will say. "We were unable to locate any solid evidence of nuns having babies while at the Villa," Mr. Lewis said.
"Those who are brave enough to venture to the old building report strange knocking and crying coming from the inside the walls. These eerie noises are said to be the spirits of babies left in the walls by the nuns."
The Rock Island library and historical society had never heard of these stories, Mr. Lewis said. In Davenport, the public library had no record of hangings at the old police station.
The library does have a small file on haunted houses, with newspaper stories covering tales Mr. Lewis's book did not, including a Palmer College fraternity house at 723 Main Street with a spooky reputation.