Even though it's located right in the heart of downtown Council Bluffs, it seems hidden in a way.

"It's off the beaten track," said Ed Ritchie. "We're definitely in the shadows."

Ritchie is a tour guide for the Squirrel Cage Jail Museum, located - maybe "squeezed" is a better word - between the Pottawattamie County Courthouse and the Union Pacific Railroad Museum. A part of the city's history since 1885, the jail, now a museum, is apparently unknown to many people, Ritchie said.

"It's amazing how many of the local population don't know it exists," he said.

Ghosts, and those who hunt for them, know it's there.

Paranormal groups - some from Kansas and Colorado - will periodically spend an evening inside the museum equipped with such machines as an EVP, electronic voice phenomenon, according to Ritchie.

"Just about all of them have experienced something," he said.

Four of these groups have already made arrangements to spend an evening there between now and July, Ritchie said, including March 20 and 21.

What voice might they hear? Maybe that of Jake Bird. After attacking a Carter Lake couple with an ax in 1925, Bird spent some time in the jail before being shipped to the state penitentiary in Fort Madison. In the late 1940s, Bird, a drifter from Indiana, would confess to killing 44 people around the country.

"He was one of the first registered serial killers in this country," Ritchie said.

Two other criminals who spent time there were Charles Brown and Charles Kelley, the "Mad Dog Killers," according to their hometown Minneapolis newspapers during a three-state killing spree in 1961 that included a murder in Council Bluffs.

Brown was hanged in 1962 at the Fort Madison penitentiary with Kelley joining him three years later. He became the last man executed by the state of Iowa, which abolished capital punishment soon after. A portion of the rope used in that last hanging is on display at the museum.

The "Squirrel Cage" jail served as the Pottawattamie County Jail from September 1885 until December 1969. Its unique characteristic was the three floors of rotating cells that a jail would turn with a hand lever. The purpose was to minimize personal contact for the jailers when bringing in or removing inmates from the cells. The tiny cells had just the basics, a bunk bed and a place to sit down in the back with a small opening that served as the toilet. Periodically during the day, water would be poured from the top floor to serve as the flusher.

"It was one of the first applications of running water in Council Bluffs," Ritchie said.

There was also a youth detention center in the jail where children could stay while their inmate parent was serving time.

"The county was making sure they were safe and fed," Ritchie said.

The museum, which is run by volunteers of the Pottawattamie County Historical Society, isn't immune from the tough economy, according to Ritchie, who believes that revenue this year will come "from a different direction" being large tour groups, instead of day-to-day visits.

"We'll survive it and adjust to it," he said of the economy.

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