While many area haunted houses guarantee a bone-chilling scare (or dozens), you can actually learn something with your chill at a QC Haunts & History tour.

Launched in 2019 by cemetery and ghost expert Minda Powers-Douglas, this weekend will offer QC Haunts tours of downtown Rock Island, in their popular “Gangsters and Ghosts” program. She does tours throughout the year, but they’re most popular in October.

“Gangsters and Ghosts” is mostly about the notorious mob boss John Looney (1865-1942). On the tour, you’ll learn about the past and experience the hauntings happening now. QC Haunts tours usually feature one or more mediums who tell you what they’re seeing and sensing now.

 Plus, on the tours you’ll find out: 

  • Who haunts the Rock Island Brewing Co. (RIBCO)
  • About the ghosts who haunt downtown theaters
  • Why back in 1846 there were three men but four hangings
  • About why a well-respected businessman took a forced dive out a fifth-story window
  • Why so many ghosts think “it’s fun to stay” at the Haunted YMCA (and those that know it’s not)
  • Why gangster John Looney’s henchmen still hang around 

If you think all the big-time gangsters of Illinois were in Chicago, then you haven’t heard about Looney – a man even the notorious Al Capone thought was scary, says the QC Haunts website. In the early 1900s, Looney ruled an empire of booze, bribery, extortion, gambling, and prostitution, and he was responsible for at least six murders.

You can see Looney’s old haunts and some actual haunts along the way – including the old YMCA building where paranormal activity is the norm. There is adult content including tales of violence, drinking, and brothels. If it was a movie, it’d be PG-13. Tours are for ages 13+. Tour length is about 90 minutes, and the length is 1.2 miles round trip. The cost per person is $20.

“Even if you think the whole thing is bonkers, it’s still interesting because you’re hearing about all this stuff,” Powers-Douglas said Tuesday. “I love it. I think it’s a real fun time. I’d love to expand at some point.”

“Any time Looney’s name is mentioned, his henchmen come out, because they did that in life,” Powers-Douglas said. “Guys, get a retirement fund. You’ve got to move on. They follow us around all the time now.”

Looney’s offices were at what is the 2nd Ave. club building next to RIBCO, including the Rock Island News, a law office, gambling den and brothel.

Investigating old buildings

QC Haunts also does private paranormal investigations of historic sites.

The Vinar Furniture building, 500 20th St., Rock Island, was built in 1912 and is considered haunted.

Powers-Douglas first attended a paranormal investigation at the famous Vinar Furniture building (500 20th St., Rock Island), an old YMCA built in 1912. In 2020, it was designated as a local landmark by the Rock Island Preservation Commission.

“Tons of history there, tons of ghosts there,” she said. “It is fun to stay at the YMCA, for a long, long time. Those Village People knew what they were talking about.”

What the investigations do use tools (including K2 meters and dowsing rods) that detect and measure electromagnetic frequencies. They do those as fundraisers, for Vinar, the Hauberg Estate, and their first one at Skylark (recording studio and event space), 4401 7th Ave., Rock Island, on Dec. 9.

Skylark is in a former church at 4401 7th St., Rock Island.

“That’s gotta be haunted,” Powers-Douglas said of Skylark (a former church). QC Haunts focuses on entertaining, educating and community. They want to promote and help local businesses.

“The investigations are perfect, because we’re gonna get people in them,” she said, noting they did one last year at Igor’s Bistro, Rock Island, first having dinner there.

“With the pandemic hitting, plowing people down, I want to do whatever we can do,” she said. “The whole team, we all feel strongly about that. We do our best to keep ticket prices not crazy.”

QC Haunts has a team of 16 people, including mediums who go on investigations.

One of the volunteers for QC Haunts & History.

“I’m learning all the time; I’m not the expert,” Powers-Douglas said. “I’m the tour guide, the writer. I’m excited about learning about this stuff.”

QC Haunts does sell some of these tools for paranormal investigations, at a reasonable price.

“Any time I travel with my family, I’m always looking for, where’s the ghost tour?” Powers-Douglas said. “You’re gonna get spooky tales and you’re also gonna get the history, legends. You’re gonna learn a lot on these tours.”

She said there’s a spirit in RIBCO, a former bartender named Alan.

“When I’m there, I feel very protective over him and his story,” Powers-Douglas said. “He died in the mid-‘80s and stays there because he loves it there. He worked there.”

“He’s my favorite on the tour because he’s interactive,” she said. “I tell a story one of the bartenders told me, that his limes disappeared, and he wouldn’t fess up to the lime thing.” One of her mediums recently said Alan told him it was just one lime, not a whole bag.

Fascinated by cemeteries

Powers-Douglas’ first book on cemeteries (“Cemetery Walk”) came out in 2005, which discussed cemeteries across the country. That featured the former Museum of Funeral Customs, which was in Springfield, Ill., near the cemetery where Abraham Lincoln is buried.

Minda Powers-Douglas runs QC Haunts (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“I’ve loved cemeteries since I was a kid, and I decided I wanted to write a book,” she said. “That’s how it started.”

She volunteered several years for Oakdale Memorial Gardens in Davenport, and has offered tours there and the colorful, sprawling Chippiannock Cemetery in Rock Island.

Powers-Douglas hasn’t done cemetery tours since 2019, the year she started QC Haunts.

“I get big ideas, and the middle of them, I realize, ‘What have I done?’” she said, noting she wanted to start with Augustana (since she’s a 1994 alum) and its House on the Hill.

“The one thing I don’t love about it is, somebody said, let’s build a college on a hill and it’s not fun,” Powers-Douglas said. “Why am I walking up and down a hill and talking the whole time?”

She has continued QC Haunts at Chippiannock (2901 12th St.), which is not a ghost tour. Powers-Douglas wrote a 2010 book on that cemetery, part of the Images of America series.

“I keep the ghost stuff and cemetery stuff separate, focusing on the history,” she said. “When we do investigations at different places, we talk about the history as well. The history is fascinating.”

A dog sculpture looks over the graves of two children who died in 1878, at Rock Island’s Chippiannock Cemetery.

Among unique features at Chippiannock, there is a graveside statue of a dog. He watches over the graves of two children, Josie and Eddie Dimick.

Both children died of diphtheria on Oct. 22, 1878. The story is that the family’s Newfoundland, named Rex, followed the children’s parents when they visited the grave. It did not take long before Rex was spending every day traveling to the gravesite from sunrise to sunset.

When Rex died, the family commissioned the statue and placed it in its position watching over the children’s grave.

One story on the downtown Rock Island tour that Powers-Douglas is fascinated by is the former Schlegel’s pharmacy, which used to be a four-story building until 1944, when the top three stories were torn down. During that process, two women were killed and nine other people were injured, she said.

“I’ve been calling them Thelma and Louise, going to have lunch at the counter,” she said. “They still come downtown to go shopping. They go to the old Woolworth’s, where El Toro Loco is. There are ladies that have been seen, dressed from the time period, at the bar. That’s where the lunch counter was, and Woolworth’s never dropped a ceiling on them. That’s a place to go.”

QC Haunts this year started tours for kids.

They will be at the next Skylark Eclectic Market Nov. 20, including showing people how the investigative tools work, and QC Haunts merchandise. In January, they’ll do their first investigation at the Village Theatre in Village of East Davenport.

QC Haunts has done investigations at the historic Hauberg Estate, 1300 24th St., Rock Island.

Powers-Douglas (who works as adult programming coordinator for the Silvis Public Library and is married to musician and caricature artist Bill Douglas) is not a fan of haunted houses where people jump out and scare, but she does love horror movies and films.

She is a huge Stephen King fan – among her favorites (books and films) are “It” and “Christine.”

QC Haunts tours can also be scheduled during other times. Email qchaunts@gmail.com or text 309-781-7083 for more information.