Mysteries at the museum Carter House focus is murder, mayhem

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Mary Lammers, LaVonne Auguston and David Burns are three Carter House Board Members responsible for this year’s Mysteries at the Museum theme. Burns is holding one of the props, a fake bloody knife.
Mary Lammers, LaVonne Auguston and David Burns are three Carter House Board Members responsible for this year’s Mysteries at the Museum theme. Burns is holding one of the props, a fake bloody knife.

By Pam Reinig
Register Editor

If you’re in the mood for a good mystery, the Carter House Museum in Elkader is the place to be. This year’s theme is “Mysteries at the Museum,” and it covers everything from unsolved murders to UFO sightings to a Wells Fargo heist
Board members credit their colleague Marge Costigan for inspiring this year’s special exibits. “She always has the most intriguing stories about Clayton County,” said Mary Lammers. “It just sort of grew from that.”

LaVonne Auguston gives a nod to Lammers, Barb Chandler and others for doing much of the research that was used to create storyboards about each mystery. The cards and a few props are placed in rooms throughout the 18-room Greek Revival mansion. Moving through the museum is both fun and informational.

An open house to celebrate the new season and the new theme will be held Friday, May 31, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Refreshments will be served; there is a $10 admission fee.

Among the spotlighted murders is one that took place in a town that straddled the Clayton and Allamakee county line. There were two taverns in town, Sodom and Gomorrah. The father of a young Native American was found dead in one of the taverns. The young man vowed to take revenge on his father’s murderer but ended up killing an innocent bystander.

Also retold is the story from 1889 of an 11-year-old who murdered his parents, an unsolved murder-suicide in 1932, and a jealous rage that ended in murder in McGregor in 1860.

One room of the mansion features a life-sized likeness of Jesse James. In 1872, his gang robbed the mail sack at the Garber Depot, which also doubled as a Wells Fargo office. They broke the lock off the sack and tossed it into a field where it was later discovered by a farmer. Many years later, George Meier purchased the lock for $5. It’s on loan for the season from the George Meier Rural Heritage Center.

“In 1969, there were lots of UFO sightings in this area and at one point, teams of researchers came here to investigate them,” LaVonne said. “We’ve incorporated a few into the exhibit but there were others we could have added.”

The featured sightings include two in August 1969, one over a Pony Hollow Farm and another just west of town. There was also a sighting near Osborne on September 28, 1969, and another near Monona on December 3, 1969. All of the sightings are painstakingly detailed in the exhibit.

Also featured this year is the sub-theme “What’s in a Name,” which discusses how area landmarks like Lover’s Leap got their name. There’s also an interesting display of steamboat traffic down the Turkey River.

Two other special rooms of interest are the “In Cold Blood” room, another murder mystery, and “Gold in Them Thar Hills” about a local case of gold fever.

The “Mysteries at the Museum” exhibits will remain in place through Labor Day weekend. Summer hours at the Carter House are Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. The Carter House Museum is operated by the Elkader Historical Society and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

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