Iowa's landscape is dotted with numerous unique or cozy bed and breakfast establishments. From our bigger cities to our smaller towns, we are fortunate to have places that offer up special experiences and memorable accommodations. A great example of this (memorable!) is in the small town of Chelsea in Tama County.
Chelsea is located along the historic Lincoln Highway, our nation's first transcontinental road. Long before our modern Interstate system, the Lincoln Highway was a popular route for people of all backgrounds, lifestyles, and incomes.
On a recent Friday evening, after receiving a very kind invite from the owner, I rolled into Chelsea to experience a stay at the historic Periwinkle Manor Bed and Breakfast - I mean...'Dead and Breakfast'.
The Periwinkle is a gorgeous old building that for most of it's life - served as a funeral home. Research indicates it is likely the oldest funeral home building that is still standing in Iowa and one of - if not the oldest - funeral home buildings still standing west of the Mississippi
It served as the Chelsea location of the Hrabak Funeral Home business until they closed it in 2003. They still operate a funeral home in nearby Belle Plaine.
After it closed, the building fell into severe disrepair and even experienced a damaging fire. It was a candidate to be demolished or burned down...that is...until Jodi Phillip and her husband John got their hands on it.
They went to work putting life (well, as much life as you can put into an old funeral home) back into the building. Some of the before and after pictures, documented in a book in the building and also online, are pretty stark.
The book is in a nook near a used (yes, used!) Periwinkle casket. The casket was found on the property and became the inspiration for the name of the business.
The attention to detail with the decor throughout the house (and really the whole property) is quite immaculate.
The place has a reputation for being home to paranormal activity and the owners definitely do not hide that fact in their advertising. In fact, there is a large constituency of consumers who actively seek out haunted experiences.
The decor is a nice mix of period furnishings and items that fit with what you would expect to find in an old funeral home that might (well, probably) also be haunted.
There is even a working body elevator.
The rooms are all aptly named. I arrived after some of the guests had already checked in, and thus didn't see all of the rooms. But honestly, who wouldn't be interested in staying in the coffin cove penthouse?
The grounds around the house are just as spooky and special. You probably cannot go anywhere else in Iowa and find coffin benches. In this case, they were situated around a fire pit.
There was even a coffin with some coolers in it and another one just sitting in the yard behind the house.
There's a variety of other furniture, structures, signs...and well...I guess you could call them lawn ornaments, too.
Next to the old funeral home is a large home that was recently purchased by the owners. They are turning it into more guest space. It's been dubbed the "Crazy Sister House".
It's not everyday that you find an old embalming table used as a kitchen island.
Like the main house, it is filled with a unique collection of assorted spooky, creepy, and period decor.
The rooms, both upstairs and downstairs, have themes and names as well.
Because the owners had a full main house of paying guests, I stayed in the sister house. I picked the downstairs "Country Charm" room.
I found that I slept very well.
Next door to Country Charm is a first floor bathroom.
Parked out front was an old camper and a stretch limousine.
As guests arrived, they checked in and enjoyed an array of complimentary hors d'oeuvres.
Because it was a nice evening, most of the guests congregated outside in some relaxing chairs...or took a seat on the infamous backyard coffin benches.
While a couple of the other guests were fellow Iowans, I was struck by the fact that nearly all of the rest were from out of state. There were guests from Minnesota, Illinois, and Nebraska as well.
After awhile, we were told to meet in the carriage house in the back yard.
As you can imagine, like the other elements of the business, no corners were cut in getting this place appropriately decorated.
Outside, there is a nice patio set up.
Inside, it's one of the coolest private party areas you'll find anywhere in Iowa.
Yes, behind those karaoke microphones is another casket.
We all introduced ourselves and Jodi, the owner, gave us a bit of history about the property.
Back inside the main house, we were seated for our evening meal and were assigned our roles for the murder mystery dinner. Each person was given a role, a bag with a couple of costume items in it, and an envelope which contained our lines to be read.
I played the role of Lowerwatha.
We sat down in the dining room back inside the main house.
Our three course meal, which was prepared by Jodi and served to us by her daughter, was quite elaborate and delicious.
The menu included homemade bread with butter, salad, roasted pork loin with baked potato, baked beans, and mixed vegetables.
Once we were done with our main course, the murder mystery part of the dinner got going. They do this particular event almost every Friday and Saturday night throughout the year.
There were fun props and signs inside and near the room that played into our old west themed story-line.
Everyone had fun getting into character.
Big John helped lead us through the more than one-hour long mystery. It was a lot of fun.
Afterwards, we headed back out to the carriage house for the after party, which included some epic karaoke. Yours truly even stumbled through a Bon Jovi song. Our dessert (some delicious cake) was also served.
Big John even got up there and did some singing.
A few of the couples even got up to dance.
Jodi sang and played on the keyboard - two of her many, many talents.
I enjoyed time near the coffin bench fire pit.
Eventually the fire died out and we all turned in or...simply returned to our rooms to wait for our ghostly visits.
In the morning, there was a full continental breakfast spread with coffee. Jodi made bacon and eggs to order. It was all of, course, quite scrumptious.
Beside the weekly weekend dinners, Periwinkle also hosts a lot of special events throughout the year. They have some fun things coming up in October. I mean, c'mon, it's Halloween season!
However, John and Jodi are always a little busier around Christmas time as they morph into their annual roles as Santa and Mrs. Claus. It's all complete with live reindeer that they have on their nearby acreage.
I was struck by their wall of thank you notes for all of the people who enjoyed their adventure at Periwinkle. Jodi and John know how to entertain!
If you are looking for a fun weekend away, you would be wise to consider a visit to Periwinkle or to take in one of their many special events. I promise, there will be no shortage of fun to be had.
Just a few years ago, this building was headed for the wrecking ball and now, instead, it is a flourishing business full of fun, creativity, and lasting memories. It's a good reminder not to give up on something - especially something with as much history and uniqueness as the Periwinkle. This area of Iowa is fortunate to have driven entrepreneurs like Jodi and John. They are making things happen. People from hundreds of miles away are willing to travel to little Chelsea, Iowa for an experience like nowhere else.
Perhaps, this will inspire you to make your own weekend reservations? Check out their website and give their Facebook page a like to learn more. Personally, I am already looking forward to getting back to Periwinkle again soon.
As always, I welcome your suggestions of places to visit and profile whether in Tama County or any of the other 98 counties in Iowa. If you have a good idea or would like to host the Iowa Adventurer, please drop me a note through this site.