Iowa City's Haunted Bookshop

The Haunted Bookshop in Iowa City, although its name would persuade you to assume otherwise, is not in fact haunted. This writer did jump when someone came around the corner of a very large bookcase; however, it wasn’t his fault, I’ve been listening to a lot of crime podcasts lately.

The history of this bookshop is not one filled with frights or tales of things that go bump in the night, but rather a sweet love story from decades past.

The Haunted Bookshop is actually a novel written by Christopher Morley in 1919 that does not reference supernatural phenomena. Instead, the main character is haunted by the books he didn’t read and the knowledge that was therefore never gained. 

This novel was the first book the original owners of Iowa City’s Haunted Bookshop shared together a year before opening the store. 

It was 1977, Jan was getting ready for her first date with Rok. While Rok waited in the living room for Jan to finish, he picked up The Haunted Bookshop and started paging through it. Jan told Rok he could keep the novel.   

After their wedding in 1978, Rok and Jan opened the bookstore, taking the name of their first novel shared together: The Haunted Bookshop. 

The couple has since passed, but their legacy bookstore still remains. 

The store began in a yellow house with a red door on South Johnson Street where it stayed until 1982. After that, the store briefly lived on East Washington Street before moving to its current location at 219 North Gilbert Street in the Wentz House.

The Wentz House was built in 1847 as a boarding house where former senators, statesmen, and educators would stay for periods of time. The Wentz House is as old as the University of Iowa itself. 

At one time, Emma J. Harvat, the first female mayor of Iowa City and first ever female leader of a population of over 10,000, lived in the Wentz House. 

The Wentz House and the legacy of the Haunted Bookshop are just a few of the beginnings of Iowa City’s commitment to literature and education. In 2008, Iowa City was named the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) City of Literature. This honor of a recognition states that Iowa City is regarded as an inspiration and instructional model for other small cities. 

The Haunted Bookshop itself is full of achievements of Iowans and many other writers throughout the country. It carries over 50,000 books currently and is still growing. These books range anywhere from local Iowa history to fictional novels to biographies to political books—you name it, they have it. 

One of the things that stands out from their many books is their around the clock supervisor: Nierme. Her name, of course, comes from the Sindarin language created in a Tolkien novel that means sorrow, because she was a lost kitten before finding her home at The Haunted Bookshop in 2006. 

The Haunted Bookshop has been a part of the Iowa City community for 41 years, helping to develop this City of Literature into one of a kind. Whether you’re stopping by the bookshop to have a “wild Friday night,” or heading in to sip some coffee and read, definitely check it out, soak up the history, and enjoy the cat- that’s what I’ll be doing. 


Image Credit: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5