Who, as a kid, hadn’t heard about a spooky abandoned house in town that’s haunted? Stories of ghosts, spirits and hauntings have been told throughout the centuries and in all corners of the world.
Madison County isn’t exempt from its own share of ghost stories. There are some who believe there is supernatural activity surrounding the Roseman Covered Bridge, which was made famous in the movie and book, “The Bridges of Madison County.”
Some have heard muffled laughs, men yelling, a horse galloping across the bridge, wagon wheels rumbling over its boards and an unexplained cold spot in the middle of the structure.
“They say if you are walking your dog across the bridge,” said Winterset’s Bob Kaldenberg, “the hackles on the back of the dog will rise up, and the dog will sense something out of the ordinary.”
Kaldenberg is the expert on all things related to the covered bridges of Madison County. He volunteers his time as a tour guide to the bridges.
There are at least two stories behind the Roseman Bridge alleged haunting. One involves forbidden love, and the other deals with a jailbreak.
Years ago, there was a young couple in love. The problem was, legend has it, the father of the woman disapproved of his daughter’s suitor.
One night the young man came calling only to find the girl’s father and friend waiting for him. The young man turned his horse around and started galloping away with the young woman’s father and friends chasing him.
The claims are the chasers saw the young man enter the bridge on horseback and then saw the horse without a rider come out of the bridge. The young man was never seen again.
There is a variation of this particular story involving a young couple on their wedding day. The young groom got cold feet, jumped on his horse and rode away with the bride’s family and friends in pursuit.
The pursuing party saw the groom go through one end of the bridge, but saw only the rider-less horse come out the other end. The young man was never heard from or seen again.
That is the story Mike Sutton, founder and leader of Central Iowa Paranormal Investigators, has heard.
“It would have been hard for the guy to have jumped off the horse at the end of the bridge because there are deep drop offs,” says Sutton.
“He may have been able to grab one of the beams inside the bridge, pull himself up and then hide in the rafters, but where he went and why he was never seen again is the mystery.”
Yet Kaldenberg says he has never heard those particular stories. The account he has heard as to the haunting of the bridge deals with an escaped convict.
“The story goes that a man escaped from the Madison County Jail,” says Kaldenberg. “The sheriff’s posse gave chase and caught up with the man at the Roseman Bridge.
“They saw the escaped convict enter one end of the bridge, so the sheriff ordered half his posse to go on the other side. On the sheriff’s signal, the two sides entered both ends of the bridge at the same time.”
Kaldenberg says there were gunshots, and some members of the posse were injured.
“Then, according to the legend, the members of the posse heard the convict let out a terrible scream,” he says. “The convict was never to be found. It was like he vanished into thin air.”
That’s why, Kaldenberg says, if a person walks through the Roseman Bridge, he or she will feel a cold spot in the middle of it.
“If they come down and walk through it at night, and if the conditions are right,” he says, “they may be able to hear a man laughing. It is supposedly the convict laughing because he got away from his pursuers.”
Sutton says he has heard stories about the Roseman Bridge being haunted ever since he was a young boy. That’s why, after forming his paranormal investigation team in 2010, it was one of the first places his team investigated.
“It was over two years ago,” says Sutton. “There were storms to the west and north of us, and the lightning was getting closer. We had put an EMF (electromagnetic field) detector in the middle of the bridge. It was a pretty quiet night, and we weren’t getting anything.”
The theory is that spirits or ghosts are composed of a type of energy that, when present, can manipulate the Earth’s electromagnetic field.
The EMF detector can also measure free-floating EMF waves that are passing through a location. “Free-floating” describes energy that is no longer connected to an energy source but is still present in the atmosphere. For instance, electrical outlets, which leak power into their surroundings, can discharge an energy burst that can be picked up by an EMF detector.
If, for example, the EMF detector indicates a power source where there shouldn’t be one, it could be an indication of a spirit in the area.
Sutton says the group began talking amongst themselves about what they should do.
“Some of us wanted to pack it in, and others wanted to stay a little longer,” says Sutton. “That’s when we captured an EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) on audio. It said, ‘Just leave!’ ”
Digital recorders are used to try and capture EVPs. EVPs are sounds found on electronic recordings which resemble speech but are reportedly not the result of intentional recording.
Sutton says the group experienced other strange happenings but was unable to properly document the occurrences.
“We heard a sound that a horse would make — you know, that quick burst of breath horses do as they breathe out their nose. We also felt vibrations like someone was walking across the bridge,” Sutton claims.
He says while his team was doing the investigation, a friend of the couple living in the house near the bridge came out and began talking with members of the team.
“She claimed to have heard voices shouting, and there was no one around,” Sutton says.
She also claimed to have seen full body apparitions and shadow figures at the bridge.
Sutton says the goal at any investigation is to come away with some kind of proof of paranormal activity.
“I listen to what people say about their experiences without forming any opinion of the validity of it,” says Sutton. “We go into each investigation with an open mind.”
Sutton says the goal of the investigation is always the same — to get solid proof of a supernatural event.
“We do everything we can think of to debunk any sort of activity,” he says. “We want our findings to be untainted and true. We don’t want people to look at our evidence and discount it as the wind blowing or something like that. We want to be taken seriously, and we are very professional when it comes to gathering evidence.”
Kaldenberg says that while hearing and telling ghost stories about the Roseman Bridge is fun, he has never experienced any unusual activity in all the years he has given tours.
“I will say that if you walk through the bridges at night, it’s very dark right in the middle of the bridges,” he says. “Not only is it dark, but there are also bats up in the rafters of the bridges.
“With it being so dark, and the noise and movements of the bats, it’s no wonder that people’s minds play tricks on them.”
The Roseman Bridge, says Kaldenberg, is the only place he knows in Madison County where there are claims of spirits and paranormal activity.
Those interested in learning more about Sutton’s Central Iowa Paranormal Investigators can check out the team’s website at www.cipifounder2010.wix.com/cipi where they can see and hear evidence the team has gathered from other investigations.
“I personally have experienced some things, and that is why I began the team,” says Sutton. “I wanted to find out some answers, and I also want to help people who believe they have experienced some activity.”
Sutton says he would like nothing better than to go back to the Roseman Bridge and do another investigation.
“It was one of the first investigations when our group first formed,” says Sutton. “Since then, we have gotten better equipment, and we have gotten better as investigators. I think there is something going on with the Roseman Bridge. I just want better evidence to support my belief.”
Throughout the years, there have been people who believe they have seen and heard something that was not of this world at the Roseman Bridge. Skeptics, of course, will try to provide logical explanations to dismiss the notion of spirits or ghosts. “It was just the wind,” they will say, or it was the bridge settling, causing the floors to rumble or move. And it is only natural, the skeptics admit, that the mind will try to make familiar images out of random patterns — hence the reason people see full body apparitions or faces in dark or dimly-lit locations.
Maybe the right answer to all the unexplained activities associated with the Roseman Bridge can be found in “The Bard of Avon,” from William Shakespeare’s classic play, “Hamlet.”
Hamlet believes he has seen the spirit of his dead father, whom he believes was murdered so his uncle could become king. In the play, Hamlet utters these immortal words to friend and confidant, Horatio.
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”