Entombed in Cement at the Keokuk Dam and the Big Four Bridge

Entombed in Cement at the Keokuk Dam and the Big Four Bridge The Keokuk Dam. Source: http://www.usgwarchives.net/ia/lee/postcards/pcs-lee.html

Entombed in Cement at the Keokuk Dam and the Big Four Bridge The Keokuk Dam. Source: http://www.usgwarchives.net/ia/lee/postcards/pcs-lee.html

A quick story of ostension today. This is one of those classic folklore stories that always sound like a legend. Apparently it is not as legendary as we would like to believe, although the anonymity of the victim and “The following news story has been sent out from Keokuk, Ia.:”. might give us pause.   


Member, Protruding From Immense Cement Block, Tells of Grewsome Tragedy.

          The following news story has been sent out from Keokuk, Ia.:

          A human hand protruding from amidst tons of cement of one of the big blocks that go to form the Keokuk Dam, the greatest engineering feat of the present century outside of the Panama Canal, is mute evidence of at least one tragedy during the construction of the great dam, and “Keokuk Ghost” may yet become a byword before many years have passed.

          The hand is that of a workman who was buried in a puddle of cement. The discovery was made when the frames were removed.

          One night, at the conclusion of a day’s work, one of the laborers was missed as the roll was given. Diligent search was made for the missing man, but he was nowhere to be found.

          A number of days passed and his named slipped from the memory of the army of workers who were engaged in the undertaking.

          A few days ago, when the planks of one of the great frames were removed the grewsome sight of a human hand protruding from the mammoth pile of cement met the gaze of the workmen.

          The man’s body was thoroughly imbedded in the artificial rock. To blast him out would have torn the man to pieces and would have necessitated the destruction of a greater part of the dam. Such a step would have been useless to get the man from his uncanny resting place and he was allowed to remain in his cement grave.

          Thus a human form forms a part of the big dam.

          His spirit may haunt the dam, and at night, when a lone watchman casts his eye over the dam, he may see the ghost playing hide and seek along the piers or dancing in the moonbeams as they play upon falling waters.

          Already the superstitious and nervous people cannot look at the hand without a feeling of dread and a consciousness of the tragedy it recalls.

          The Keokuk Dam will be dedicated in April, and by that time will be in working order. It has the largest turbine in the world and power will be manufactured cheaper there than in any other place in the world.

          It will supply electricity as light and power for scores of cities along the Mississippi River and will revolutionize the electric power business in the valley of that great stream.

Moberly [MO] Weekly Monitor 20 December 1912: p. 3 

A strange transition from ghastly “anonymous worker is entombed” story to a kind of bright, public-relations department bulletin about the wonderfully cheap electricity that will be generated. This article appeared in some dozen newspapers—most of which had the decency to print the gruesome facts and skip the Chamber of Commerce speech. 

In Sidney, Ohio, the massive “Big-Four” railroad bridge spanning the valley of the Great Miami River was built in the early 1920s. It had a checkered career with various accidents, deaths, and even an attempt to dynamite the bridge. It is said that there is at least one man entombed within the structure, according to the recollections of a young boy, who said he witnessed the fatal event. I also recall being told that a horse and cart were said to have fallen into one of the massive pillars of the structure and that imaging, done during an engineering survey, confirmed that they were still there in the 1990s. If you know any hidden details, please get in touch at chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com. And did a ghost ever come to haunt the Keokuk Dam?


Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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