The Pottawattamie County Jail in Council Bluffs is also known as the Squirrel Cage Jail, due to its unique structure of 3 floors of 18 revolving, circular, or lazy Susan, jail cells. It was built in 1885 and was in use until 1969. It’s now preserved as a museum and is part of the National Register of Historic Places, as it is one of only three remaining squirrel cage style jails. The cells were rotated and accessed by turning a hand crank. The structure of the cells made the jailhouse, in general, a dark and depressing place to spend time.

While the structure of the jail is fascinating in and of itself, its dark past brings even more intrigue and mystery. The building was originally built on the site of a morgue for the old St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. During its operational years, there were several deaths in the jail. One prisoner had a heart attack. Another was found hanged in his jail cell. Yet another fell to his death when he tried to climb up the the cage to the ceiling to try to write his name. The final death happened during the Farmer’s Holiday Association strike of 1932, when 84 protestors were arrested and put in the jail. The police department armed themselves with machine guns because they were afraid that angry farmers would storm the jail to free the prisoners, and an officer shot himself amongst the confusion.

If you want to learn more about Iowa’s dark past, read about 10 Creepy and Disturbing Urban Legends in Iowa.

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