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Accidentally Historic

Historical Society of Pottawattamie County

Council Bluffs’ location has put the town into contact with a lot of history. Lewis and Clark and the Mormon pilgrims came through, as did the westbound pioneers on the Oregon and California Trails. Abraham Lincoln designated the town as milepost zero for the transcontinental railroad. The first coast-to-coast automobile trip passed through and later the first transcontinental highway. Council Bluffs was the birthplace of Omaha and first war-time mobile hospital. It also boasted the state’s first nursing school and FM radio station as well as the largest rotary cell jail ever built. This all created a lot of what we call history-- but at the time it wasn’t intended that way at all. It was just normal people finding innovative ways to solve problems, inventing the future one day at a time. And that has made for some really interesting tales that we intend to explore in this podcast series.

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Seasonal haunted houses appeared on the local scene about fifty years ago, initially fund raisers for a variety of groups and causes. Youth For Christ, Campus Life, March of Dimes, the Jaycees, and the Historical Society were early participants. From church basements and abandoned buildings to semi truck trailers in parking lots, haunted houses proliferated by the 1980s. Generally staffed by youthful volunteers intent on making their particular character and their venue as scary as possible, the endeavor brought together imagination, creativity and theatrics to become something of an art form in its own right.

Safety standards imposed following a 1980s tragedy in New Jersey escalated costs, forcing some small players out of the business, to be replaced by commercial operators. The better financial position of the latter allowed for investment in more elaborate displays and equipment. This, coupled with technology developments of the past decade, have made the modern haunted houses in many ways quite different from their predecessors, but some tried-and-true techniques can always be counted on for a scare.

Haunted House historians Doug Kabourek and Brian Corey reminisce about Council Bluffs and Omaha’s early haunted houses, describe what makes a haunted house work, and discuss the allure they have had for young people and why that age demographic is expanding. Doug has used what he has learned over the years to create a haunted house in his basement. Designed to simulate the experience of the houses of the 1980s, it is called “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” Find more information at

Doug Kabourek also maintains a website the chronicles the haunted houses of Council Bluffs and Omaha at

Brian Corey hosts a horror movie, paranormal, and spooky podcast call Necronomicast at


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Perched atop one of the highest hills, Council Bluffs' first high school building in 1870 reflected the city’s optimism as much as it did society’s expectations of education. The towering building had a chapel, but no facilities for practical training; there was no sports equipment, yet ample rifles and live ammunition to arm all students. In this episode Historical Society member Michael Winchester explores the city's first high school building and why it quickly fell out of use, the struggle over where to rebuild, how Abraham Lincoln High School’s first principal, Gerald W. Kirn, came to define the school he ruled for over a quarter century plus how changing societal expectations influenced design and remodeling of the new building while along the way creating a new stage in life called adolescence. Intriguing bits of trivia pop up along the way, including a football field that wasn’t quite long or wide enough, why the ROTC drill room was left with a dirt floor, the district's lack of concerned over a fifty percent dropout rate, and a system of secret tunnels discovered by students but unknown to the administration.

Michael Winchester has served as vice-president of the Council Bluffs school board. He and fellow school board member Michael O'Bradovich were subjects of a story on the television program “60 Minutes” in 1976 when host Mike Wallace interviewed them about their status as the youngest elected public officials in the United States and their interest in preserving the city’s old school buildings. A graduate of Creighton University’s law school, Mr. Winchester served nearly thirty years as an Omaha city prosecutor and is now semi-retired. He has been inducted into Abraham Lincoln High School’s Hall of Fame.

A short video except of this podcast can be found on the Historical Society's YouTube Channel at

Comments, questions and suggestions are welcome at

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The “squirrel cage” jail in Council Bluffs, Iowa is unique in many ways. The largest of a rare 19th century design that featured a cell block that rotated, the 1885 former Pottawattamie County jail has increasingly come under scrutiny as a site of robust paranormal activity. Occurrences that were difficult to explain date to its early days as a jail. In modern times, teams of paranormal investigators have conducted tests with positive results. The building was featured on Travel Channel's Ghost Adventures, Serial Killer Spiritsmini series in 2019.

In this episode, host Richard Warner talks with Historical Society vice-president J.W. LeMaster, Society Museums Director Kat Slaughter, and Sarah Stream, member of the Paranormal Research Institute and investigative team Paranormania. The trio discuss why the history of this building makes it particularly likely as site of activity, what types of evidence are being found, how investigations are undertaken, equipment needed, and tips for those new to the field that might want to participate in a paranormal event or investigation. For more information or to contact the Historical Society go to the website

You can view the jail’s segment of the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures, Serial Killer Spiritsmini series on the Travel Channel’s page or on IMDb at

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