Historic Pottawattamie County Squirrel Cage Jail
Date:1st May, 2010 Type:Business
Location Title:Historic Pottawattamie County Squirrel Cage Jail City/State:Council Bluffs, IA
Investigation Times:08:00 PM - 11:45 PM Status:Analysis
Sunrise:06:20 AM Sunset:08:20 PM
High Temperature:71 °F Low Temperature:46 °F
Sky Condition:Clear Wind:SW at 11 mph
Lunar Phase:Waning Gibbous % disk visible:80%
Solar X-Rays:Normal Geomagnetic Field:Storm
From the Historical Society of Pottawattomie County:
The Jail was built in 1885 and was in continuous use until 1969. It was acquired by the Council Bluffs Park Board in 1971 for preservation, and was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 by the United States Government. The Historical Society led an effort in 1977 to save the jail, and today owns and operates the facility.
The design and size of the Historic Pottawattamie County Squirrel Cage Jail make it a one-of-a-kind structure. It was one of 18 revolving (“squirrel cage”, "human rotary", or "lazy Susan") jails built. It is the only three-story one ever built.
Built at a cost of about $30,000, our unique jail has three floors of revolving pie-shaped cells inside a cage. The front part of the building had offices for the jailer, kitchen, trustee cells, and quarters for women.
The design was the invention of William H. Brown and Benjamin F. Haugh, both of Indianapolis, Indiana. A patent issued to them on July 12, 1881, declared, "The object of our invention is to produce a jail in which prisoners can be controlled without the necessity of personal contact between them and the jailer." It was to provide "maximum security with minimum jailer attention." As one deputy put it, "If a jailer could count... and he had a trusty he could trust... he could control the jail."
The cell section remains much as it did in 1969 when it was closed by the county. The signatures and dates of many of its infamous prisoners remain scratched in the cell walls. It remains a well restored snapshot of an interesting era of our society.
Today, only 3 revolving jails remain: a one-story structure in Gallatin, Missouri; a two-story jail in Crawfordsville, Indiana; and the unique three-story jail here. All three are preserved as museums.
The Squirrel Cage Jail provides students and adults the opportunity to experience first-hand a unique piece of cultural and architectural history and to gain an understanding of this building’s unique place in cultural and national history. Its one-of-a-kind structure is unlikely to be duplicated again.
Christina Anderson:Thank you to the Pottawatomie County Historical Society for allowing us to investigate this Victorian-Era jail. This was the second trip for me to the Squirrel Cage. I had gone a year prior, and had experienced some activity. However, this investigation was a quiet one. When we arrived, we were given a tour of the entire facility, including the jailer’s quarters on the fourth floor. Afterwards, we set up and began the investigation upstairs. A previous team that visited had recorded footage of an armoire door opening by itself on video recorded using night vision. We also experienced this, but it was able to be attributed to an uneven floorboard. If someone so much as shifted their weight from one foot to another, the door would open. There was one incident in the jailer’s quarters where two of us witnessed some shadow movement, but it was not repeated the rest of the evening. Overall, this was a very quiet night.
Becky Ray:I was completely fascinated with this location for the history alone. However we did have a few interesting things happen during the night.
Early in the investigation we all smelled a cherry tobacco type of smell and we could not trace its origin.
My cameras completely quit working for a large portion of the time we spent in the jail area, and Kevin's flash quit working.
Other than that it was a fairly standard investigation. I'm interested in what we may have on audio.
Kevin Simpson:On this investigation I used a Coolpix 10 megapixel digital camera and video camera. This was a quiet investigation. I loves the building and all of the past in and around the building had alot of potential. Did have a few things happen, but most could be explained. There was a smell early on that we couldnt find the source of. Saw a few shawdows throughout the night but got nothing on video or still camera