If you lived in Sioux City, Iowa between the years of 1880-2010 you would have encountered bustling stockyards, packing plants, rendering plants, and their accompanying repugnant smells.
In the late 1800s nearly 100 acres of land was dedicated to these industries, crammed with cow and pig pens and various livestock buildings as one of the nation’s main meat suppliers. After devastating floods much of the industry was moved closer to the Lewis Boulevard location that most of my peers remember as children of the 70s and 80s.
Every Sunday, as my grandparents drove me to church, we cut through the stockyards. I would watch all the cows, amazed by their size and numbers. Seeing the cattle moving through the yards was mesmerizing. The stockyards exuded excitement and terror. As we passed I recalled stories from friends who had parents working there detailing how the animals were slaughtered. On our way home, sometimes we would be following behind one of several trucks destined for the rendering plant. I’d feel sad and disgusted when a flap would blow back from the the top of a trailer revealing bloodied bones and carcasses intended to become glue or gelatin. It is also likely that the stockyards scenes are why I refused to eat meat! Growing up in Iowa it was unheard of to be a vegetarian. The packing plants were the main employers in the region.
In fact, many immigrants were attracted to Siouxland because they were able to find work in the packing plants and stockyards. One of our beloved family members, Annie, worked at the local Swift plant for 30 plus years. She was a Russian immigrant ad she worked her fingers to the bone both on the job and in her home. She was quiet and thoughtful. Someone full of reverence and heart. She told us stories about how demanding the packing plant was, the mental games she had to play to avoid realizing what she was handling every day, and how treacherous the work could be, many fellow employees overworked and maimed. I could not fathom what she had seen or done. I used automatic machines and could buy ground beef at a large grocery store. Annie still used a ringer washer, pickled her prized garden cucumbers, and canned her own foods for winter.
Because of the livestock and packing plants, Sioux City was booming. It was a hub for the railroad and barges clogged the Missouri river. The city had its share of wealth. It was the place to be with amazing Corn Palaces, presidential visits, its reputation as “Little Chicago,” but it also saw poverty and natural disasters that crushed industries.
The Swift plant itself, with its massive 100 foot smokestack and colossal red brick exterior, also had its share of ups and downs. The business experienced several major strikes, in the winter of 1949 the Swift plant suffered a devastating explosion; and, as residents of Sioux City know all too well, floods ravaged the building until the company finally shut down in the early 70s. With the twenty some workers’ deaths and nearly one hundred more injured during the ’49 explosion, the building was scarred and chillingly imprinted until its demolition in 2010.
From the crumbling Swift and Company walls, in 1976, a new venture was born…KD Station. KD Station was a shopping mall with many businesses and activities. Residents could go miniature golfing, bowling, eat at restaurants, or wander the antique shops, galleries, and music stores. Its hallways led to an interesting assortment of products. Its interior was menacingly decorated with original packing equipment. Seeing the meat hooks was always frightening! Peering through windows that looked out over the production floor was eerie. And, riding the freight elevators from floor to floor was always a risk. People often shared stories of the elevators. Those cavernous conveyors were notorious for making operational sounds without moving, delivering patrons to the wrong floors, or even trapping people. The building creaked and groaned with decades of disrepair as it was, but the elevators were extremely suspect!
Families and individuals still loved going to KD Station despite the hazards. In fact, one favorite spot was a pizza place that had a whimsical server, an animated robot coyote named Wilbur, who would truck along on a track from the kitchen window to the tables. Every kid wanted to go there for birthdays, or to play arcade games while parents chatted at the tables. But, even more fun than a visit with Wilbur was trying to scare each other on the way in or out of KD Station. We would run ahead of friends, hide, and jump out of dark passages just to get a rise out of each other. KD Station preserved the past, while entertaining the present. And, as we all talked about its past, we became more convinced that it was haunted! I was more convinced because most my life I had horrible nightmares about the place and about the Floyd River basin next to it. That Sioux City location still invades my dreams to this day!
In college, my roommate, Liz, and I hosted a radio show, Radio LA, broadcast out of Morningside College. Our show was followed by Ugly American Radio. That show’s host, Mike, often took groups of us to local haunts. The railroad roundhouse out in Riverside. Abandoned houses in the middle of fields. Woods near War Eagle’s monument. We had a blast terrorizing one another as our senses and imaginations spiraled into a frenzy from stop to stop. At one such stop I was frozen with fear and stayed put in Mike’s Isuzu while the others investigated. It was a dilapidated small house that reminded me of the haunted house off Morningside Avenue near Memorial Park Cemetery. A house purported to have been the scene of a gruesome murder of a family by the family's father. That house was located down a narrow dirt road, full of grafitti, and supposedly wrought with Satanic rituals. And, since I had been in that house, I was not eager to step into another one! (Sioux City, in my opinion, has an inordinate amount of haunted locations. Unfortunately, many active spots have been paved over in recent years with housing and commercial businesses.) Because of the following of the radio show received, Liz and I were approached by a Chicago based company to work as MCs at a dance club they were building in KD Station. Neither of us was too inclined to enter that building daily, especially for a night gig! The club never did open, but I did see it in its early inception - not because I wanted to.
It was a crisp Fall evening. I had just gotten out of work at the Southern Hills Mall and my dad picked me up to take me home for dinner. When we arrived, my mom said that one of my friends had called and asked me to go bowling at KD Station. I begged my dad to let me use his car. He had a sweet Dallas Cowboys blue ’87 Mercury Cougar LS that loved to “tour.” He reluctantly handed me the keys and instructed me to return it first thing in the morning. Let’s just say, it was tucked away in the garage well before midnight! I finished dinner quickly and headed out. KD Station was ten minutes from our house so I wanted to get there at the same time as the group. I parked, but my friends’ cars were also parked. I had to go in alone. In those days, I was not a fan of going anywhere alone! Walking up to that gargantuan brick building and entering the dark echoing halls brought a pang of anxiety, but I knew exactly where I was going so I kept chugging along. It was a strange night. Some businesses were still open, but there were few patrons. With the opening of the Southern Hills Mall, KD Station was frequented less and less. As I followed the dank hall toward the elevator, lights flickered and my heart raced. Every step I took seemed to reverberate and announce my position. Something heavy was in the air! I felt it. I acknowledged it. I kept moving.
Growing up, I always had a sixth sense. My mom called me a “spook” because I was easily scared and because I could see and hear things that others could not. She would shake her head at me and tell me it was my own imagination. It was partially true, I did have an overactive imagination. And, being God fearing, I used to try to turn off or pray to God to remove the abilities. I successfully shut them out for many years until my late teens and twenties, then they burst in like a tsunami! Spirit realm does not like to be ignored! And, KD Station was a place where I was confronted with things that I was not prepared to experience.
As I got into the elevator and waited to arrive at the fourth floor, I was instead taken to another floor and the dance club! It looked like it was under construction, based on the tools and materials piled around, but no one was there. Lights were on. It seemed obvious that someone was there. I got off the elevator, curious about the space and wondering if I would run into the man who had made the job offer. No one was around. So I turned back toward the elevator. Just then, something tugged at my arm. I whipped around. No sound! No footsteps! No approach of a physical person! I jumped and scooted back into the elevator, desperately praying the damned thing would work. Every hair on my neck was raised. My stomach was in my throat. I could not get out of the building fast enough. As the elevator bucked and whirred, I could feel all the blood in my body rush to my feet. The elevator convulsed and slowly stopped. I panicked that I was between floors. But, thankfully, I was back to the ground floor where I raced for the exit. It was not the first time I had had an encounter in KD Station, but it was the most dramatic and the last.
To this day I like to ask friends from Sioux City to share any strange happenings they experienced at KD Station. We all have at least one unexplained event. We all pretended not to be afraid of the goings on in that building, but we also held a certain respectful sentiment for it. The building was, after all, on the Historic Registry, and it was full of vibrant history. Even after a fire and a leaky roof finally forced its closure, I dreamed of it. Throughout 2009 I followed the newspaper stories and city council meeting reports as the building’s fate was decided. In April 2010, the mighty structure was slowly dismantled by a single wrecking ball. I watched monotonous footage of the wrecking ball painfully bashing sections of the structure into pieces. As rooms were exposed, I imagined ghosts of its past looking out in bewilderment. All I could think of was the souls who haunted those walls. I felt the weight of the meat hooks as they fell to the ground with a rusty thud. With each frame of footage the shadows were freed by daylight. As each square foot was demolished, I prayed that those sacrificed to the building's belly would be released and no longer forced to linger on that lot.