A winged visitor haunted Van Meter, Iowa, in 1903

Words, Photos and Audio Editing by Shelbie Malinski

One hundred fifteen years ago, the United States was a different place. Theodore Roosevelt was the 26th president of just 45 states. The Ford Model A was in production and the airplane hadn’t been invented. The first box of Crayola crayons was sold, and Coca-Cola removed the drug cocaine from their ingredient list.  

That same year, the small town of Van Meter, Iowa — home to about 407 people — received a very unexpected visitor. This a retelling of the five days that followed.

An abandoned shed near the old mine, which is now private property.

Tuesday, September 29, 1903:

U.G. Griffith was a salesman in the Midwest area. He had just returned home from a round of sales at around midnight when he noticed something strange on Main Street.

Wednesday, September 30, 1903:

News had spread of Mr. Griffith’s tale, but the town was merely curious about his incident. The town doctor, Dr. Alcott, went to sleep unbothered by the disturbance — until he was awoken by a bright light that shone through his window.

Thursday, October 1, 1903:

The tales of the winged creature spread further throughout the town. While Mr. Griffith and Dr. Alcott were respected members of the town, their stories weren’t enough to strike fear into the residents. But three more members of the community would have the fright of their lives tonight.

Friday, October 2, 1903:

The town was now seized by the fear that had spread throughout it. They were frightened of the visitor that lurked somewhere in the area. The townsfolk started to come up with theories, each more terrifying than the next.

Saturday, October 3, 1903:

The town mine had been shut down for a couple years, but next to the old mine was a working tile and brick factory. There, operations manager J.L. Platt, Jr. had been spending the night manning the grounds when he started to hear a strange sound.

A walk through the nearby woods brings you to this tunnel.

The town of Van Meter still doesn’t know what exactly visited them over the five days in 1903. I went to the town and asked what they thought the visitor was. One resident said she thought it was an Andean condor blown way off course.

The town closed off the mine in 1903, and because it’s on private property, there’s no way to explore the area to try and spot the visitor.

In the end, it remains a mystery.