By Katie Dahlstrom
Herald Sports Writer
Clinton Herald staff reporters Natalie Conrad and Katie Dahlstrom investigated legends and spooky stories involving the area’s history with Halloween.
For the next four issues of the Herald, those stories will focus on ghosts, homes and legends in the Gateway area. For today’s story, Dahlstrom spent the evening of Saturday, Oct. 13, in St. Irenaeus with the Quad Cities Paranormal Research Organization. This is her account of the evening.
The darkness of St. Irenaeus enveloped me as I nervously perched on one of the dozens of pews.
I’m not alone. In the pew behind me, Gavin called to whatever spirit might have been moving through the more than century-old church on this eerie Saturday night.
Beside me, Lisa Ricker watched her K2 EMF meter for blips of light indicating an increase in electric energy.
“It’s literally energy, that’s typically how we know if something’s going on,” Ricker said.
Ricker is the founder of the Quad Cities Paranormal Research Organization (QC PRO); Gavin, who wished to be referred to only by his first name, is the co-leader of the group.
They, along with three other investigators, ventured from the comfort of their homes to spend an evening coaxing spirits in the cold, black night.
The two have been in the former church that the Clinton County Historical Society now uses as a cultural center once before to investigate what, if any spirits have made their home in the former church.
“We’re pretty skeptical, but we believe,” Ricker said.
Gavin explained the group rules out ungrounded electrical outlets or animals infestations before determining if unnerving happenings are the result of a haunting. Throughout the course of the investigation they generously allowed me to observe, with Ricker and Gavin indicating on their continuously recording digital voice recorder and cameras that certain noises and sights were not to be mistaken for a paranormal occurrence.
In a move that inadvertently set the tone for the hours to follow for me, we started the evening by listening to the electionic voice phenomenon (EVP) captured during the group’s visit to the church on Labor Day weekend. To capture the voices, they use a recorder and a small instrument called the SB7 Spirit Box, which captures voices over a rapid sweep of radio frequencies.
“They talk on a different frequency than us,” Gavin said. “Most of the time we don’t hear the response with our ears. They could be yelling at us and we won’t hear it.”
Eager for a sample of what I might be getting into, I snatched a pair of headphones and fearfully listened to a recording of a man’s voice commanding “go out.”
Following the listening session and subsequent setup of eight cameras designed to capture any ghostly apparition throughout the former church, the investigation was on.
The spirits of St. Irenaeus did not disappoint.
As I sat on a pew in the center of the dark church ready to bolt in case of overwhelming fright, clearly audible thuds resembling the cadence of foot steps echoed from the stairs descending from the choir loft behind us.
After reviewing the recordings at home, Gavin confirmed to me the footsteps were captured on his recording device along with three voices. He said one of the spirits playfully responded to his request to let him capture it on camera with, “Hurry up, catch me on video.” Going through five to seven minutes of audio can take hours in order to ensure nothing is mistaken to be a ghost, when it could be otherwise rationalized, Gavin explained.
“It leads me to believe we have an intelligent haunting, not a residual one,” he said.
In an intelligent haunting, Gavin explained, the spirit is aware of the living world and responds to it.
The rest of my night produced comparable scares. In the small side room below the south steeple, voices over the SB7 Spirit Box told us 26 spirits inhabit St. Irenaeus, six of them priests.
One of them, possibly Father Frederick Cyrillus Jean, who was the founding priest of the massive structure in the 1860s. According to the “Five Catholic Churches of Clinton, Iowa,” which was written by Mary Ellen Eckelberg in 1999, Father Jean was removed from the church he loved by Bishop John Hennessy of Dubuque in 1872 amidst a cloud of tension. He died under mysterious circumstances in 1890 at age of 53. Some reports attributed his death to an alleged poisoning by the anti-catholic secret society, the American Protective Association, which was established in Clinton in 1887, Eckelberg wrote.
A number of the questions that night were asked to Father Jean.
“I’ve been in the presence of a holy person before,” Gavin said. “I feel like there’s a holy person here.”
In the room below the north steeple, Gavin asked the spirits to show me they exist. Seconds later, little rocks fell onto us from the ceiling. The mel meter (another paranormal investigator gadget) also showed a temperature drop in the already chilly room. I can’t explain why it happened; I only know that it did.
The investigation concluded by 10 p.m. As the group gathered equipment, my mind reeled trying to process the unexplained knocks on pews, footsteps in the darkness and priests’ spirits. Weeks later, I attribute some of the scares to my first-paranormal investigation jitters. Having never done a paranormal investigation before and being intrigued by the opportunity, my nerves were sensitive. To Gavin and Lisa, however, what happened that night in St. Irenaeus went beyond sensitive nerves.
“We really clearly had some things going on,” Gavin said.