The Thousand Steps

photo by Jeff Wallace
photo by Jeff Wallace
Behind a rusty, broken gate at the top of the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi in Eagle Point Park (Clinton, Iowa) is an ancient set of steps plagued with tragedy and wrought with mysteries and fables. Locals call them the “Thousand Steps”, and they were built in the 1930’s along with the rest of the neighboring park to allow access from the top of the bluffs to the beach below. Although originally used frequently by families and other people looking for a scenic hike, the stairs soon fell into disuse and began to decay- becoming filled with holes, structural cracks, and covered in slippery moss, making them very dangerous to use.

But of course, nothing compels children to do something more than being told not to do it.

In the 1960’s, it soon became a right of passage to descend the stairs and live- which many children and adults did successfully, but many others did not. Dozens of children died attempting to master the stairs every year all the way the 70’s, when attempts finally slowed and with it, the death toll until it was down to one per year, where it remains at today.

However, an obviously dangerous set of steps does not a legend make – it’s what began to happen after the many deaths that make the steps so intriguing. Frequent reports of ghost sightings, the confirmed discovery of human remains and even rumors that the sight used to be a Native American “Indian” burial ground began to circulate and gain credibility over the years.

The steps still stand today, as dangerous and mystifying as they were 50 years ago. If none of the legends are true – the burial ground, the human remains, or the ghosts – the death toll still stands. More than 20 people lost their lives on those steps, and the question remains… Who is the next victim?

reader submitted
Celeste Robbins from Clinton, Iowa